It has become a common sight, but even still, the scene at Hampden Park for Scotland’s opening Nations League fixture against Albania on Monday night was jarring.
This game mattered. The Nations League represents Scotland’s best chance of making it to a major tournament, yet there were swathes of empty seats visible in the stands of the national stadium come kick off.
For some, this was illustrative of a widespread apathy which hasn’t just grown towards the Scotland team, but towards the Scottish football matchday experience in general.
Hampden has become the purest manifestation of that apathy, with the future of the Mount Florida ground debated by many within the Scottish game for years.
WATCH: Scott Brown says Hampden is one of the worst stadiums he has played in for atmosphere.
— STV Sport (@STVSport) September 11, 2018
On Tuesday afternoon, though, one part of that debate was settled. Following a bidding process which saw the Scottish Rugby Union put forward Murrayfield as a possible home for Scotland matches and cup finals, it was announced that the Scottish FA had agreed a deal to buy Hampden from Queen’s Park for £5million when the current lease ends in 2020.
That amateur, lower league side Queen’s Park owned the national stadium in the first place was something of a circumstantial quirk, but now that the red tape has finally been cut through Scotland can get to work on producing a matchday experience that is befitting of a ground of Hampden’s reputation and history.
So… are we finally getting a redeveloped Hampden? 🤞 pic.twitter.com/YZHBK6wUDF
— Graham Ruthven (@grahamruthven) September 11, 2018
Hampden is outdated and grossly unfit for purpose as a modern football stadium. It might have been freshened up twice in the past 21 years – with £59 million in National Lottery money in 1997 and for the Commonwealth Games in 2014 – but both renovations were done on the cheap.
The bowl that forms the basis of the stadium is the same bowl that hosted a record crowd of 149,415 for a match between Scotland and England all the way back in 1937.
If the Scottish FA allow Hampden to stand as it currently is for much longer, their decision to buy the ground will have been in vain. Scotland has no shortage of top class stadiums.
From Celtic Park and Ibrox in Glasgow, to Easter Road and Tynecastle in Edinburgh, to even the new Kingsford Stadium soon to be built in Aberdeen, Scotland games and cup finals could have been moved around the country without any issue.
What’s more, this solution would have allowed the Scottish FA to tailor its scheduling on the basis of the specific match and occasion. For instance, Monday’s game against Albania, which was expected to draw a modest crowd, could have been played at Tynecastle, where a tighter atmosphere could have been generated.
Scottish Cup finals, where over 60,000 tickets could feasibly be sold, could be played at Murrayfield, or even Celtic Park or Ibrox depending on the teams involved.
This option was ruled out early on by the Scottish FA, narrowing the debate down to a straight choice between Hampden and Murrayfield.
For all that Hampden has become a target for Scottish football fans, moving the sport’s national stadium to Edinburgh was never really feasible.
In reality, Murrayfield was likely used as little more than leverage by the Scottish FA to strike a deal.
There are still questions to be answered. There appears to be no plans in place on how to fund the much-needed development of the ground, with Scottish FA chief executive Ian Maxwell admitting on Tuesday that efforts will now be made to pitch to the world of private finance. That won’t be an easy process.
Until then, fans will have to make do with incremental changes. The site Hampden sits on in the south side of Glasgow is gigantic.
Space for fan festivals and pre-game events around the stadium won’t be an issue. There is potential for more fundamental development, although the vast natural bowl that the arena itself is built around might be an obstacle.
Scottish football in general can be guilty of looking to the past a little too frequently. In a way, Hampden reflected that as a symbol of past triumphs, but also as a symbol of the way the sport has been neglected in the country.
Now, Scotland can finally look forward to a new generation and a new future at its national stadium.