JCBs are about to move into McLeod Street and start swinging wrecking balls. Offices are empty, commercial areas gutted, whilst an eerie echo circles the old adult education centre. All of it is awaiting demolition. Tynecastle as you know it will never be the same again.
The first phase of work to construct Hearts’ new £12 million main stand is about to begin. Less than a year from now, a bespoke development with 7290 seats will sit in place of the current 102-year-old stand. Stadium capacity will increase to 20,099, there will be new offices, hospitality lounges, a roof terrace, a directors’ suite, state-of-the-art dressing rooms, media facilities, ticket kiosks and a new Tynecastle Nursery School.
The project ends a 19-year wait for Hearts fans to see their stadium completed. The last of the other three stands, at the Gorgie Road end, opened in 1997. Since then, everything from moving to Murrayfield to building a £51 million hotel complex outside Tynecastle has been considered. This solution is unquestionably the correct one, however.
Former Hearts chairman George Foulkes was involved in previous plans to reconstruct the main stand around 12 years ago. He knows the work which is about to start signals the beginning of the end of an exhausting process. His excitement knows no bounds as a lifelong supporter of the Edinburgh club.
“I’ve been talking to Jim Clydesdale, the architect for the new stand. He designed the other three stands at Tynecastle and is a very capable guy,” Foulkes told the Evening News. “He knows football very well and is involved on some SFA committees. He is a very good architect and has come up with a great plan to replace the main stand.
“I was also talking to Eric Hogg [Hearts director] about the plans they have for facilities. There will be informal catering, a supporters’ bar and other things. Once the whole thing is complete, Hearts will have a stadium fit for the 21st Century with all the facilities you see in the best of European stadia. That’s what a club like Hearts and their supporters deserves. The fans have been so dedicated through Foundation of Hearts and they deserve this payback. They deserve a stadium up to European standards.”
Clydesdale has designed a stand in keeping with the other three which will give Tynecastle that proper and long-awaited “finished” look. Foulkes admitted the timescale has been too long. It was he who, after Vladimir Romanov took charge of Hearts in 2005, was tasked with getting out of a deal to sell the stadium to Cala Homes and move the club to Murrayfield.
“I always had confidence there would be a new main stand but it’s taken a lot longer than I expected. Over 12 years ago we were looking at plans for a wider development at Tynecastle, not just the main stand. Of course, none of this would have been possible if we’d moved to Murrayfield.
“The first thing I did when I took over as chairman was stop the move to Murrayfield and get out of the deal with Cala Homes and the Scottish Rugby Union. I had to make sure Hearts stayed at Tynecastle. All credit to Ann Budge and the board that they’re managing to bring to reality something which has been a dream for many years.
“It wasn’t easy back then but all credit to Cala Homes and the SRU. They didn’t make it too difficult for us to get out of that deal. I think they realised Hearts is an institution in Edinburgh and in Scotland and, if they’d done anything to thwart what we wanted, they wouldn’t have been very popular. They helped us and looked at it favourably. The whole thing only took a few weeks to negotiate. They didn’t put obstacles in our way.”
The sway of Hearts fans played a significant part in keeping the club at their spiritual home in Gorgie. Foulkes’ predecessor, Chris Robinson, was ready to effectively render Hearts homeless in 2004. He concocted the proposed Murrayfield move but didn’t account for the ferocious public defiance.
Public protests through Gorgie and outside the main entrance of Tynecastle made it clear to anyone in doubt that supporters wouldn’t leave.
“We had the fans’ momentum in our favour and all credit to Save Our Hearts for that,” admitted Foulkes. “It was their campaign which made people realise the strength of feeling behind staying at Tynecastle. People like Iain Macleod, Gary Mackay, Ken Stott, Garry Halliday, Alex Mackie were all behind it. That made it easier for me to make the point to Cala Homes and the SRU that this deal wasn’t what we wanted.
“Once we achieved staying, we got into a position where redevelopment was possible. All that rubbish Chris Robinson used to say – the stadium wasn’t fit for purpose, UEFA wouldn’t approve it, we couldn’t do anything – was proven completely wrong. This underlines just how wrong he was when he rubbished Tynecastle all those years ago.
“The Romanov era was full of ups and downs. The ups were winning the Scottish Cup twice and getting into Europe, but the downs started with the sacking of [George] Burley and [Phil] Anderton and then I had to resign. The lack of progress on the stadium was another down. What was even more galling was that they came up with these grandiose plans for the main stand, which never amounted to anything.”
The £51m development didn’t get past the planning stage despite press conferences to announce it as the way forward in 2007. Budge’s more pragmatic management style, not forgetting monthly income from more than 8000 Foundation of Hearts pledgers, has finally engineered a solution to a long-running problem.
Planning permission for the new stand was granted by City of Edinburgh Council last month. This morning, Hearts are awaiting the arrival of some heavy machinery to get the project going. “I’ve got a seat in the main stand at the moment,” explained Foulkes. “My son and my grandson sit in the two seats we have in the Wehatfield Stand so I’m in the executive area right now.
“The view from the main stand isn’t as good as the Wheatfield but I think it will be when the new stand is built. You won’t have pillars in front of you, for example, and that’s obviously important.
“Credit to City of Edinburgh Council for approving the plans so quickly. They did very well on that front. It’ll be a great boost for Gorgie. With the new Tynecastle High School, the appearance of the whole area will really transform.
“I’ll be just like every other Hearts fan when it’s all finished – I’ll be sitting feeling proud that our club has such a tremendous home to play football in.”