THE bustling streets of the Capital will be eerily quiet tomorrow with the crunch Scottish Cup final expected to see thousands of people desert the city.
Around 50,000 Hibs and Hearts fans will leave the city for Hampden from 9am, returning in waves – either buoyant or devastated – from around 7pm.
Despite the exodus, pubs are expected to be bursting at the seams as ticketless fans meet up to generate their own cup final atmosphere.
The picture is less clear for the traditional shopping districts, which experts suggest might see footfall plummet significantly due to interest in the football.
However, others believe this could be a prime opportunity for canny consumers to avoid the queues and enjoy a quieter city centre than usual.
Michael Apter, chairman of the West End Association and manager of Studio One and Paper Tiger, said: “Undoubtedly it will be quiet on the streets, as it would be at any big event like this, which will have an impact on footfall but everyone in Edinburgh understands how big a deal this is.
“It was generations ago that it last happened and football is a much bigger deal now.
“I’m sure the bars in the West End will be rubbing their hands with glee and will welcome in fans from both teams with open arms. I’m sure there will be a great atmosphere but retailers are used to dealing with these kind of events. There will be a lot of football widows of both sexes looking for alternative things to do.”
This view was echoed by Gordon Henderson, development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses in Edinburgh, who said he expected a 90-minute respite from the normal hubbub as the first all-Edinburgh cup final since 1896 is played out. “This is a huge event not just for Edinburgh but across the Lothians,” he said. “Residents in Midlothian and East Lothian are either Hibs or Hearts fans so it will have an affect there as well. I stay in Dalkeith and I imagine the town will be almost empty for 90 minutes on Saturday but I think you will find that retailers and shops, especially small businesses, won’t shut for the game because they can’t afford to.
“But for savvy shoppers that cannot stand football this will be a great time to get into the city centre.
“The glass is half-full for me. I would encourage people to get into the town and take advantage of the quieter streets and lack of queues.”
Last week the News told how the city economy could be set for a bumper £10 million pay day as bars, shops and restaurants cash in on the “Super Saturday” of sport with the Champions League final scheduled for later that night.
The buzz surrounding the showpiece is expected to bring thousands into the city centre and provide a major shot in the arm for the Capital’s food and drinks industry.
Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, said the impact of the game on the city was “hard to judge”.
“It’s not happened for more than 100 years so we don’t know how for sure what will happen,” he said.
“I would not say it’s all doom and despondency though, there’s a lot of women who are not interested in football that will be quite pleased to come out to shop and then there’s the tourists and visitors to the city.
“So although the number of men might be significantly reduced there’s still the visitors and tourists that will keep the city centre going. I think there are large numbers of people who do not have tickets to the match and a number of pubs that will have it on and it will be a nice atmosphere in Rose Street and elsewhere.”
Contingency plans have had to be deployed for some sporting fixtures scheduled to clash with the cup final.
In bowls, the Scottish Cities and Counties Championships featuring Edinburgh and Leith Bowling Association against Midlothian has been rearranged for earlier in the day to cater for players determined to travel to Hampden or watching it on TV.
“Normally we expect bowls players to put the sport first but these are exceptional circumstances,” said Stewart Meikle, Evening News bowls correspondent.
Meanwhile, Bill Campbell, director of operations for Lothian Buses, said: “Saturday, the day of the Scottish Cup final, will have minimal impact upon Lothian Buses’ services and our passengers. Information communicating some very localised bus route diversions around the winning team’s stadium will be available on our website and cannot be confirmed until we are aware of the final outcome of the match.
“As regards drivers with a keen interest in the final, some have taken annual leave entitlement or swapped shifts with colleagues.
“The impact upon our services will therefore be minimal on Saturday, so it will be business as usual for Lothian Buses and our passengers.”