As the Scottish Football Association delays its decision on where the national side should play its home games, Hampden Park or Murrayfield, I find myself in the position of a neutral. Or I should do. As a Glaswegian who now calls Edinburgh his home and as a lifelong fan of both football and rugby, I have fond teenage memories of these two iconic theatres of sport.
An international at Murrayfield was always our big day out in the 1970s. Indeed, the fun usually started on the train through from Queen Street to Waverley, where we would start drinking the carry-out we had bought for the game.
In those days, you could take your own alcohol into the ground. While the posh people were having their sophisticated picnics out of the boots of their Jaguars in the car park, we’d be on the old open terrace, swigging cans of lukewarm McEwan’s Export. Being smaller than most people in the crowd, I used to stand on my empty cans to get a better view. Health and safety had not been invented in 1972.
At the same age, I would take the bus across Glasgow to the South Side to stand on the much more ramshackle, yet more imposing terrace of the old Hampden Park. The old wood and ash terrace was an accident waiting to happen. Happily it never did. Empty beer cans were also put to use, as it was quite a long walk to the toilets. The atmosphere was much more earthy and raucous than the more genteel surroundings of Murrayfield, but it was sporting theatre of world-class standards.
Both stadiums were rebuilt in the 90s, Murrayfield at the start of the decade and Hampden before the end. At the home of rugby, there is little doubt that the spectator experience has been greatly enhanced, at football’s HQ the exact opposite is the case.
At the new Murrayfield, I have never sat in a seat that did not have a clear view of the action on the pitch, which was certainly not the case in the old days. Conversely, the view from behind either goal at the refurbished Hampden is so poor, one might as well be watching from Edinburgh. It cannot be easy for the fans to generate the right type of atmosphere there, and that cannot help the players. Add to this Murrayfield’s transport links by tram and by a short walk from Haymarket train station, as opposed to the difficulties fans face getting to Hampden, then the argument to move the football team 40-odd miles east becomes even more compelling.
Add to this, the stadium’s relative proximity to the bars, restaurants and nightspots and the entire day out spectator experience for out-of-town fans is far superior to what Hampden can offer.
I think it would be a good thing for our city too. The Six Nations and the Autumn Tests bring excitement, colour and vibrancy to the Capital’s streets on five or six weekends a year. If we could double that number of weekends by adding home football internationals to the calendar, I for one would be in favour.
Moving the Scotland football team to Murrayfield would be good for the fans, good for the team and good for Edinburgh. And I say that as a Glaswegian.