ONE of the country’s most respected football coaches says a potential new sports village for Edinburgh would develop the players needed to propel Scotland back to the FIFA World Cup.
Former Hearts central midfielder Donald Park lauded plans for the £25 million National Performance Centre for Sport as images were released for the first time of how the proposed stadium would look if built at Heriot-Watt University in the city’s south-west.
This exclusive set of pictures obtained by the Evening News show the indoor Hampden replica football pitch proposed for the university’s Riccarton campus.
The main centre’s unusual roof has been designed by top Scottish architects Reiach and Hall to mirror the trajectory and angle of one of the greatest goals in football history.
That wonder strike by Brazilian Roberto Carlos against France in 1997 curved so sharply it left goalkeeper Fabian Barthez perplexed as it crashed into the net.
A further seven outdoor pitches, including one synthetic surface, would also be built to cater for both rugby and football.
Edinburgh presented its ambitious bid before a high-profile, seven-person judging panel at Hampden Park in Glasgow yesterday.
The Capital is vying with Stirling and Dundee to win the rights for the stadium, with a winner to be announced next month.
Park – the Scottish Football Association’s head of coach education, who made 194 appearances for Hearts – said the centre would be at the “top-end” of sporting facilities in Britain.
And he admitted it would be a genuine boost for the beleaguered Jambos if Edinburgh’s bid was successful, with the club’s youngsters able to take advantage of the facilities at Riccarton where they already train.
Park said: “It’ll only be of benefit to the game, there’s no doubt about that. It is disappointing that there’s no huge indoor facility in Edinburgh like there is in Glasgow, Motherwell and Aberdeen.
“This decision is for the benefit of the game for the nation, so that we can actually develop our national players and get us back [to the World Cup]. It’ll be huge. We’re talking about on the sports science side having a £1m investment. That sort of investment puts you up there as one of the best facilities in the UK.”
Scotland has not qualified for world football’s most prestigious tournament since 1998.
A nine-court sports hall, 3G indoor football pitch, fitness suite, and world-class sports science and medicine facilities will be located inside or around the main building and connected by a striking sports promenade.
A 170-bed mid-market hotel and three outdoor tennis courts were also pitched as part of Edinburgh’s bid.
The high-powered panel overseeing the bidding process is led by SFA chief executive Stewart Regan. Representatives for Edinburgh’s bid also had to impress SFA head of women’s football Sheila Begbie, EventScotland chief operating officer Paul Bush, Winning Scotland Foundation’s Alistair Gray and Scottish hockey high performance group chairman Douglas Potter. Sportscotland chief executive Stewart Harris and Donnie Jack – the Scottish Government’s deputy director for sport – complete the panel.
The Riccarton site’s strong transport links, with close access to the nearby airport and tram line, has been sold as one of the biggest strengths of the Capital bid.
The city’s large population, Heriot-Watt’s sporting expertise and the backing of the country’s rugby officials are the other main weapons in Edinburgh’s arsenal, with Edinburgh City Council to chip in an extra £5m in a bid to sway judges. Scottish Rugby has chosen the Capital as its preferred location for its national training base in a significant fillip. Director of commercial operations Dominic McKay said each bid had its own individual merits, but Heriot-Watt would be the “closest fit” for Scottish Rugby’s requirements.
He said: “The facilities already provided at the university and those being proposed bring a great strength to the Edinburgh bid. Also critically important is the proximity of the Edinburgh campus to Murrayfield, Edinburgh Airport and the domestic transport network that would be beneficial to our players, coaches and staff.”
Lothian Greens MSP Alison Johnstone, who is a qualified UK athletics coach and former runner, said the released images added “sparkle” to Edinburgh’s bid. But she warned: “We must make sure that it’s a centre that provides for grass-roots sport as well as the elite.”
Lothians Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said the pictures were inspiring, adding: “There’s clearly been a huge amount of work put into developing these proposals. Let’s hope the campaign to bring the national centre to Edinburgh pays off.”
However, Marcel du Coudray, head of coaching at Merchiston-based Tennis Academy Scotland, said he was disappointed indoor tennis courts were not part of the centre’s design.
Mr du Coudray said in the wake of Andy Murray’s Wimbledon triumph that a high- performance indoor tennis centre was needed to capitalise on the Scottish champion’s legacy.
He said: “We’d put in proposals of how we’d use the courts. It’s quite interesting that they’ve decided not to do indoor courts. It could come down to finances.”
Support from all sides
More than 4000 pledges of support for Edinburgh to host a major sports hub have come from all realms – the public, city sports clubs, businesses and even neighbouring local authorities.
Edinburgh Airport and Lothian Buses are among the major corporate companies to support the drive to host the £25 million venue.
Members of the Edinburgh Business Forum, which includes Harvey Nichols, Morton Fraser and the National Galleries of Scotland, have also given their backing for the centre to end up at Heriot-Watt University.
There have also been no shortage of sports stars willing to put their names on the line for the Capital.
Two of Britain’s greatest Olympians – Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Steve Redgrave – have become campaign ambassadors, while former Scottish rugby captain Gavin Hastings has also said publicly that he wants the Capital to be chosen.
The preferred option chosen by the seven-person judging panel will be presented to Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who will make the final call on the winning bid.
Heriot-Watt principal Professor Steve Chapman said: “Our bid’s innovative and iconic design offers a world-class National Performance Centre for Sport that will deliver an excellent sporting environment where athletes will feel empowered to excel. Our vision matches the ambition of Scotland to compete and be recognised at the highest levels of sporting competition nationally and worldwide.”
City culture and sport convener Councillor Richard Lewis said the bid process had reached an exciting stage.
He said: “This would also bring overwhelming benefits for sport in the city, significantly adding to Edinburgh’s sporting infrastructure and allowing us to build on the legacy of the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games.”