For most Scottish football supporters Hampden Park holds memories, of big games won or lost, of events that brought success or failure, with joy or disappointment.
Mine include the Scottish Cup final of 1959, St Mirren 3 Aberdeen 1. I was 18, and enjoyed the event – although cleaning my shoes afterwards was a chore.
In 1960 I attended the landmark European Cup final, when Real Madrid defeated Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3. At 5’ 7”, standing facing the sun, 100 yards from the pitch, I think I saw two of the 10 goals.
And, in 1970, on a visit home from Canada, I was among the 136,000 who saw John Hughes and Bobby Murdoch propel Celtic to 2-1 win over Leeds United and a second European Cup final.
My Hampden memories of events later in life were rather more negative.
In charge of Celtic, and having to rent the stadium for the 94/95 season, I had to tolerate the mean-spirited behaviour of Queens Park officials throughout that period. This began with a clause in the lease – a “deal breaker” as their attorney made clear – that forbade “the display of any foreign flag.”
Shades of SFA 1952.
Celtic supporters did not enjoy the experience either, although their season ticket price was reduced from £180 (for standing at Celtic Park) to £170 for a seat on the Hampden terracing, a long way from the field.
Celtic Park soon became the largest and finest stadium in the UK, adding greatly to the prestige of the club and the enjoyment of fans from everywhere.
But the financing of its rebuilding was affected by the efforts of Queens Park and its SFA cousins. Celtic’s application for a £5m Football Trust grant was turned down, while the Hampden renovation project received a total of £10m. Sunderland FC received £5m for their stadium – a project 30% smaller than that at Celtic Park.
Queens Park FC’s balance sheet shows the stadium as an asset costing circa £73m – mainly the new south stand and roof erected in the 90s. None of this was paid for by its owner. But about £64m of taxpayers’ money went into the project.
So, now we have had Glasgow’s number three stadium used a few times a year for SFA events and Queens Park matches attended by a few people in the ‘elite’ south stand. A ‘boondoggle’ as the Americans would call it.
With two other, far superior, stadiums in Glasgow available for big matches over the last 20 years, why did this bad ‘investment’ occur? Whatever way you do the arithmetic, Hampden Park is a liability, not an asset.
Any financial comparison showing the net result of ad hoc renting of the best suited venues in Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere for Internationals, ‘neutral’ club finals and semi-finals, would show how big a mistake the £73m of the 90s was and the present use of Hampden is.
So, put aside my “Celtic-Minded” feelings in this debate.
There is no valid case for continued use of Hampden Park, indeed no case for a Football Association to operate a stadium. Many countries, including Netherlands, Italy and Spain have no national stadium or need for one.
A possible use of the property might be to retain the 17,000-seat ‘elite’ South Stand and demolish the rest. Play under 21 and other events there, possibly athletics; Queen’s Park to remain there and sell the rest of the land for £1 to the SFA for it to create a Training Centre combined with Toryglen. The SFA has the money to do this and benefit its clubs, and the football public, daily.
Scottish football, with its limited resources and competitive disadvantages, has to be managed efficiently, and the stadiums in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen – all getting better – can stage games profitably for the benefit of all the clubs – and their supporters.
Yes, we can feel some nostalgia for the Hampden Park events of the past. But the mistakes of the 1990s must not continue.
The future should belong to the supporters who buy the tickets, and the clubs they own and support.