Roberto Carlos’ physics-defying goal inspires Oriam stadium

Stewart Harris, sportscotland chief executive, on the tour of the centre with Oriam CEO Catriona McAllister. Picture: contributed
Stewart Harris, sportscotland chief executive, on the tour of the centre with Oriam CEO Catriona McAllister. Picture: contributed
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BY the time Fabien Barthez picked the ball from the back of his net, yellow-shirted Brazilian football players stopped hugging and those watching around the world reattached their jaws. The free-kick scored by Roberto Carlos was already being described as “the goal which defied physics”.

His kick, from 35 metres out, left not only keeper Barthez but the world stunned by its swerving, curving, trajectory past the wall and into the goal.

So if you were looking for inspiration for the current and future Scottish stars of football – and even rugby – then that sublime goal scored 19 years ago might just be the very thing. And if it is, then why not build it into the very fabric of a sports centre where those sportsmen and women will train?

That’s the thought behind the curvature of the roof of the new National Sports Performance Centre currently being built at Heriot-Watt University.

Called Oriam – Or is Gaelic for gold, which combined with I and Am make up the I Am Faster, Stronger, Positive . . . and ultimately, hopefully, I Am Gold marketing campaign – the building is, remarkably in the world of public finance, currently on budget and on time.

Although with chief executive Catriona McAllister standing ankle-deep in mud in the main arena where the sports stars of the future will train on a 3G pitch, there is certainly more than a final touch required before the grand opening in August.

“The height in here is the same distance from which Roberto Carlos scored his goal,” she says. “And the curvature of the roof is the same curve the ball took, which scientists did eventually figure out. It’s been quite an inspiration.”

Catriona, who is also director of sport and exercise at the university, can barely contain her delight at the progress of the project and the potential it will offer to basketball, handball, squash, rugby and football players, to name but a few.

“It is going to be amazing,” she says. “It’s what Scotland needs, it will put Edinburgh back on the sports map and it will also be available for the public to use, which is what will really make the whole place work. The storms have held us up slightly, but we’re on schedule for the building to be handed over on August 8 and opening on the 29th.”

If a Brazilian footballing hero is part of the inspiration behind Oriam, another is, more surprisingly, a bespectacled politician from Fife. Indeed, the whole idea of a national sports performance centre came from former first minister and schoolboy internationalist Henry McLeish, being one of his 103 recommendations in the review of Scottish football he published six years ago.

So in 2012 the Scottish Government pledged £25 million to the building of a centre of sporting excellence aimed at international success and while other funding partners were sought – the total cost is to be £33m – organisations were invited to bid to build the indoor field of dreams.

“We beat stiff competition, especially from Stirling,” says Catriona. “But I think we were successful because of our location in terms of transport, our sports expertise on site and our ability to expand in the future if we need to.”

Set in the green and leafy campus at Riccarton, the undulating white PVC roof of Oriam pokes just above the trees, reminiscent of clouds, or the soft foam packaging which apples are often stored in to stop them bruising; apt perhaps, as Oriam will also offer sporting talent the best in rehabilitation for bruises and strains.

With fluorescent safety vests, hard hats and steel-toe capped boots on, Catriona leads Stewart Harris, chief executive of Sportscotland – Oriam’s main partner – on his first tour of the site. Mr Harris, a former international basketball coach, was one of those who judged the Heriot-Watt bid as the best one for the centre.

“To see how much work has been done is fantastic,” he says. “It really will be an amazing place, and brings so many sports under one roof and hopefully they will all gain something from each other.

“It will also boost Edinburgh’s sporting reputation.”

Glass doors open on to a rather windswept atrium which will be an impressive public reception area. There will be a second entrance where international athletes can come and go. “We didn’t just want to build a square box, but something which would shout out that this is a place of excellence,” says Catriona.

Then there’s a red brick wall which will run the length of the interior. “It’s listed. It was part of the original vegetable garden of Riccarton House so we’ve made it a feature. It’s great to have something historical in a modern building.

“It runs the length of what we call ‘The Street’ which has the indoor 3G pitch on one side and the changing rooms and indoor courts on the other. Above the wall will be a glass wall, so there will be lots of light and people will be able to see into the courts and on to the pitch.

“The halls will be used by basketball – Basketball Scotland will be based here – volleyball and handball and netball organisations and clubs.”

She adds: “The way it’s planned to work is for students to use the courts from 5pm-7pm and then community clubs after that till 10pm. At weekends it will be used by the national organisations or for events and competitions. Similarly, the 3G pitch will probably just be used through the day by international or national squads so will be available to hire in the evenings – and the gym will be open to the public.

“Prices will be comparable to Edinburgh Leisure rather than private health clubs.”

The main indoor area is awash with mud, the roof with its Roberto Carlos concept is not yet complete and the PVC flaps in the wind. “It’s the biggest indoor training space in Britain and might be in Europe,” says Catriona. “It’s like a large tent really – it won’t be heated – with a full-size pitch so players can continue training indoors with the space they need. There are 500 seats for spectating.”

Perhaps most amazingly, Oriam has enticed the SFA out from its Glasgow entrenchment. All national teams, coach education, referee development and the regional office will be based there. “The changing rooms have TV for real-time analysis and there’s a hydrotherapy pool for rehab and recovery – which might also be used by disabled groups, we’re in discussions with NHS Lothian about that – and the SFA performance arm will be based here,” she says.

“In the rehab area there’s a 20m running track and a medical area. And there’s also the synthetic pitch outside and the full-size grass pitch, too.”

Mr Harris adds: “It is going to be fantastic and will hopefully turn out more and better quality athletes on to the world stage. And at the same time increase community involvement in sport and bring the health benefits that can come with that.”