Date: 27th July 2015
Our writer Ben Ramage discusses why the fans opinion should be taken into account when deciding on the future home of the Scottish national football team.
IN the wake of the World Cup 2018 draw, Scotland have been handed arguably their biggest qualification game in nearly 20 years in a competitive fixture with England.
The SFA’s decision to host the momentous game at Hampden Park is hardly surprising, given that it is the official home of the Scottish national team, at least until 2020.
But at the fans’ level, it has fuelled further discussion as to the long-term suitability of Hampden as the national team’s home ground. And with SFA chief Steward Regan admitting that options are being looked at as to the long term future of Hampden, the time to discuss how to progress is now.
While Hampden has been Scotland’s official home for 112 years its popularity is continuing to wane, with many Tartan Army fans believing that the layout of the stadium is not conducive to a sparkling atmosphere.
First and foremost, the running track which runs in front of the South stand increases the distance significantly between fans and the action on the pitch. This continues around to the East and West stand, the least popular spots for fans to sit albeit the most affordable as a result.
This distance has been cited as the main reason that the atmosphere sometimes feels lacking at Hampden Park. Singing is often hard for the Tartan Army to orchestrate, given the massive distance from the East to the West stand.
Granted, for larger games the atmosphere can be terrific but that is arguably down to the size of the opponent and magnitude of the games. A sold-out stadium full of Tartan Army fans will always produce an atmosphere, if anything this is more in spite of the stadiums layout.
This distance also plays a significant factor in attendance figures. Anyone who has been to Hampden knows that these stands, specifically the goal-end East and West stands, provide the worst viewing but are also the cheapest. The view from these stands is arguably unacceptable on the national stage.
The problem is that the cheapest tickets are still not cheap. In this campaign alone, Tartan Army loyals were charged £35 to sit in these stands to watch Gibraltar, competing in their first-ever international group stage.
Should fans know that the atmosphere and view they were going to receive for £35 were to be excellent, this might not seem as expensive. However, knowing they are paying that much for a poor view and atmosphere is certainly off-putting.
Another argument for moving stadiums, particularly for the biggest qualifiers, is the extra capacity it will bring. While Scotland games rarely sell out for the biggest games, i.e the upcoming Germany game which has already sold out before reaching public sale, the capacity at Hampden is a hindrance.
Shy of 52,000 is more than accommodating for most of the national team’s fixtures, but for Germany in September, or the recently announced England World Cup qualifier, the extra 8,000 seats at Celtic Park or even 15,000 at Murrayfield would be sold.
This would not only generate extra revenue, the atmosphere would be improved due to the extra voices and the improved layout of the stadium. Lionel Messi recently said that Celtic Park had the best atmosphere in Europe when he visited with Barcelona, and who are we to argue with the Argentine maestro.
Celtic Park is fairly undisputed as one of the most atmospheric stadiums in Britain, as is Ibrox, so why not utilise this for the national team. The distance from the stands to the pitch is intimidating for visiting sides, and we should always be looking to give ourselves the best advantage over opponents.
One option is to follow the German national team model, where the national team travels around the country at stadiums fitting the proportion of the game.
This would allow Scotland to play their largest games at the largest stadiums in the country, Celtic Park, Ibrox and Murrayfield, and the smaller games at stadiums around the country, such as Pittodrie, Tannadice, Tynecastle and Easter Road.
Not only would this take the national team away from the Edinburgh and Glasgow, which believe it or not is not where the entire country lives, it will also allow the SFA to avoid the rental fee they pay to rent Hampden from Queen’s Park.
This would allow the national team to fill the biggest stadiums in the country for the largest games, and pack out smaller stadiums for smaller qualifiers depending on the opposition.
Rebuilding Hampden Park is another option, but is obviously the most costly and time consuming. Hampden is already home to a brilliant museum, the SFA offices and of course Queen’s Park, so considering them is imperative.
But it is also imperative that the Scottish fans who pay massive amounts of money to follow their side through thick and, more often, thin should be considered when deciding where they watch their beloved team.
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