Robbie Neilson is delighted that Hearts will remain at their spiritual home as he believes a brand new stadium would never be able to replicate the renowned atmosphere of Tynecastle.
It was confirmed at the club’s annual general meeting that, after more than a decade of uncertainty and speculation, the Jambos will be staying in Gorgie and intend to build a new main stand in time for the start of the 2017/18 campaign, which will increase the ground’s capacity to at least 20,000.
Head coach Neilson has been involved with Hearts for the best part of two decades, and is buoyed by the news that the club have decided to remain in their west Edinburgh heartland. He believes that the completion of the new stand will serve to take the atmosphere at Tynecastle, which is already widely deemed to be the best in Scotland, to “a new level”.
“It is great that the club are going to stay at Tynecastle,” he said. “The fans, the staff, the players and even opposition fans will be delighted, because it is one of the best stadiums to visit. It’s really important for the club because we have been here for such a long time and it is a home to everybody. We’ve all been to these stadiums which are miles outside the city and don’t have any soul – it’s just not the same environment.
“For players and the fans, the atmosphere at Tynecastle is intense. The fans are right on top of everything and I think the new stand will take it to a new level. The three stands on the other side are great, but the main stand has served its purpose and is becoming difficult to maintain.
“It’s probably exactly the same as when it was built. It takes a lot of upkeep and is probably the worst away dressing-room in Scottish Cup football for players to come to. It’s been a great stand and has served us well for more than 100 years, but it’s time to move on.”
Neilson would have been disappointed to leave Tynecastle, scene of so many special occasions for him, after being underwhelmed on the few occasions when Hearts played home games in Europe at Murrayfield.
“As a young kid coming through the ground staff, you watch a lot of games and it’s a great atmosphere, but I remember the Stuttgart game [in 2000] was one of the first I played in; a full house under the floodlights, which was incredible. I also played at Murrayfield when it was moved for the Champions League and it was night and day, there were 25,000 at the game but it felt like 3000 because of the size of the stadium. So to stay at Tynecastle and redevelop it is fantastic.”
Hearts are regularly selling out the 17,400-capacity Tynecastle as they ride high in the Scottish Premiership, and Neilson believes they will still be able to fill the stadium when the new stand goes up.
“You want a stadium which is full, so you strike a balance between the size and making sure you fill it,” he said. “The market we are looking at is correct and, if we keep going in the right direction and progressing, we will fill it.”
Neilson hopes Hearts can complete the building of the new stand in the 2017 close season, even if it means a build-up of away games at the end of one season and the start of the following one.
“It would be great to get that done, and hopefully we can achieve that. It’s possible. It will be tight and we might need to re-arrange a few games. That period could be difficult with five or six away games in a row [over two seasons]. But it needs to be done if we want to stay at Tynecastle through the season. Going to Murrayfield is not something we want to do.
“The club and SPFL would need to come to an agreement to swap some fixtures and it could mean playing a run of away games after the split. If it’s a choice between getting a new stand and playing a few games away from home, a new stand wins every time.”
Midfielder Prince Buaben also welcomed the news that Tynecastle will remain home to Hearts.
“We’re all very happy with the good news about staying at Tynecastle because it’s a great stadium. I first played there years ago [with Dundee United] and we all know how tight it is. I think everyone is happy we’re not moving.
“As an away player, it was a bit hard because the fans were so close – but it was also really enjoyable. It gives every player a buzz.”