A NEW stadium in West Edinburgh built and run in partnership with the city council and other organisations such as Edinburgh Rugby, modelled as a place for supporters to socialise and able to generate an atmosphere in which Hearts can thrive on the field.
Those are the stipulations laid down by a majority in a group of prominent Hearts supporters expressing their views in light of a report published earlier this week that recommends the club moves from its Tynecastle home in order to grow.
The vision of former club chairmen Leslie Deans and George Foulkes and councillors Steve Cardownie and Eric Milligan dictates that use of any new facility should be maximised but should not include athletics, with a running track expected to detract significantly from the intimacy between the crowd and the action at football matches.
But who would own and run it? The former Hearts goalkeeper and fans’ favourite Gilles Rousset is the unlikely voice of reason, at least as far as Deans is concerned, on the issue of multiple ownership and a partnership between the club and the city council. “Twelve or 13 years ago,” recalled Deans, “when I was trying to put together the necessary financial package to allow us to complete the redevelopment of Tynecastle, I remember speaking to Gilles. He was amazed that we were funding that ourselves. He said every club in France will have their stadium provided for them by the local authority. I’m totally comfortable going into partnership with the council and, indeed, Edinburgh Rugby.”
Cardownie confirmed that discussions had not yet taken place between the council and Hearts.
Foulkes, meanwhile, was adamant that the club should have at least partial ownership of a new stadium. He said: “It’s a difficult one because ownership gives you that leverage, that negotiating power that the club wouldn’t have if it was a tenant. A joint venture, where both the club and the council have an interest in it, is best.”
Foulkes is not the only opponent to athletics taking place at a new home for Hearts, but says “clever designing” could allow rugby and indoor sports to be housed in the same arena. Further, he thinks a new stadium could engender a family-friendly atmosphere.
“A lot of people walk to the ground and stop for a drink and something to eat,” he said. “We went to Stuttgart and Basle in Switzerland and they had excellent facilities, where you can eat and drink. You’re not treated just as a walk-up and walk-away fan.”
Cardownie agreed on the point of athletics being incorporated. He said: “There’s never been any desire to have a running track around the pitch. I’ve been to several stadia with running tracks and it detracts from the atmosphere. British grounds are generally close to the pitch and that augments the atmosphere. As long as the stadium is designed correctly, there’s no reason fans can’t replicate the kind of atmosphere [Tynecastle currently provides].
Milligan added: “If you’re going to build a new stadium, you want to maximise the use of the stadium, especially if the council was involved in it. We want to encourage people to participate in sport, not just spectate. Any facility that was established, we would want to maximise the use of it, not just make it exclusive to the football and rugby clubs.”
Deans thinks the council and local clubs can create a veritable legacy for the city. He said: “This could be the vision for the next 100 years: a multi-purpose stadium. There are certain things you have to be careful about. A running track around the pitch is an absolute no-no.”
Milligan, who was raised and still lives in Gorgie, posseses a “great emotional attachment” to Hearts’ current home but admits the time has come to consider a flit from Tynecastle.
“Hearts are in the same place as they have been since the late 1800s. The consultants [who published the report this week], as I understand it, have said that Hearts, if they have any ambition, have to increase their income stream and to do that have to increase the capacity of their ground. Most people are now of the point of view that it’s probably better to change our address rather that develop our existing address.”
Should the club be forced to up sticks from its traditional Tynecastle habitat, former Labour MP and MSP Foulkes would be strongly in support of the Sighthill Park plot mooted as a potential site for a new stadium. “I live in Corstorphine and I see a lot of fans coming from the Sighthill, Whitson, and Saughton area of the city. The good thing about Sighthill is it’s on bus routes and the tram will run right alongside it. If we went any further than that, we risk being away from the community and fans drifting away.”
Cllr Cardownie sees that plan being met with no little resistance by the West Edinburgh residents. He said: “I’m not convinced that Sighthill will be best for a stadium – the people who live in the area will object to stadium being built on a public park.
“It doesn’t bother me where Hearts play – I’m from Leith. As far as I’m concerned, they could play in the Firth of Forth! I would have thought people from outwith Gorgie and Dalry would feel like that, but I understand why some people want Hearts to stay in the West of Edinburgh.”