FOOTBALL: A compact temple for modern times: Hampden Park's vast spaces of old have given way to the scaled-down stadium which reopens tonight. Phil Shaw reports

Phil Shaw
Sunday 23 October 2011 06:16

Hampden Park landmarks

1873 First Hampden Park built, and named after an English Parliamentarian in the Civil War.

1884 Queen's Park move to nearby Mt Florida, staging the first all-ticket fixture (Scotland v England) 110 years ago this month.

1903 Completion of third Hampden on present site, with stand designed by Archibald Leitch added 34 years later (and demolished in 1972).

1930 A crowd of 95,772 watch Queen's Park v Rangers - still the biggest home attendance recorded by a British club.

1937 Scotland v England is watched by 149,415, Britain's highest-ever gate. Cup final between Celtic and Aberdeen at tracts 144,303, which remains unsur passed for a club game.

1948 Some 143,570 spectators watch Ran gers against Hibernian in Cup semi-fi nal, a record for a club match other than a final.

1960 Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in what is still widely regarded as the greatest European Cup final of all.

1961 British record crowd for a friendly, 104,500, see Rangers play Eintracht Frankfurt.

1970 Celtic overcome Leeds to reach the European Cup final before 136,505, a record for Continental competition.

1994 The new, all-seated, all-covered Hampden opens.

Source: The Football Grounds of Great Britain by Simon Inglis (Collins Willow).

ARRIVING in the eyrie that passes for the Hampden Park press box, where dusty, cobwebbed booths still bear nameplates for the long- defunct News Chronicle and Daily Herald, is like entering a twilight zone where it is forever 1955.

The time warp might have been said to envelop most of Hampden, especially the vast, open terraces that once housed mountains of raucous humanity. But tonight, following a pounds 12m refurbishment which took two years to complete, the famous old ground in the Mount Florida suburb of Glasgow finally enters the post-industrial, post-Hillsborough age.

To celebrate the rebirth and indeed survival of Hampden - not to mention the end of the national team's exile at Ibrox, a place not exactly beloved of non-Rangers supporters - Scotland play the Netherlands. The 38,000 tickets went weeks ago, and for the first time in the venue's 121-year history, every spectator will have a seat and protection from the elements.

Before the war, when such niceties concerned only the well-to-do few, those who created the Hampden Roar needed no cover in order to raise the roof. In 1937, Scotland's defeat of England was witnessed by a British record crowd of 149,415. Gatherings of 130,000 were commonplace at what was the world's biggest stadium until Brazil opened the Maracana in 1950.

Hampden's far-sighted owners, the legendary amateurs of Queen's Park, play there still, performing for scattered hundreds. That may seem rather like Corinthian-Casuals calling Wembley home. Yet if refusal to espouse professionalism makes Queen's Park an anachronism, the same can no longer be said for their facilities.

With funding from the Football Trust ( pounds 5m), the Government ( pounds 3.5m) and the Scottish Football Association ( pounds 3.5m), both the massive North Terrace of blessed monochrome memory and the East Terrace (the so-called Celtic End) have been roofed and seated. The Rangers End already had seats and cover, which means that the South Stand - with its roof-top press box designed to make vertigo sufferers of us all - is the only part of 'old' Hampden in use.

Even that is to be replaced by a 17,000-seat, twin-deck cantilever stand that will take Hampden's capacity to 52,000 - though a further pounds 12m to pounds 15m must be raised before the hard hats move in.

'A huge programme has been undertaken, both externally and internally, but we're still only at half- time,' Jim Farry, the chief executive of the SFA, explained. 'In monetary terms, we need to do the same again to build the new stand. The aim is to get to full-time by 1998, though ideally by '97. We don't want extra time on this project.

'In order to comply with Lord Justice Taylor's Report, we've had to compress a five-year plan into two years. Now we hope the button can be pressed as soon as possible for the rest of the redevelopment.'

Farry is seeking support from the commercial sector - development and enterprise agencies in particular - because, when Hampden is finished, 'the Glasgow area will have a magnificent national facility'. The complex will eventually house a museum celebrating the Scottish game, shops, restaurants and the SFA offices. 'Then it really will be the home of Scottish football,' he said.

The SFA sees the new Hampden as the centrepiece in an ambitious plan - which would also involve Ibrox, Pittodrie, Tannadice, McDiarmid Park and possibly Murrayfield - to host the European Championship finals. The Uefa Under-16 Championship in 1998 might well serve as a dry run for the showpiece event.

Critics point to the anomaly of pouring so much money into a national stadium which never stages rugby or athletics (let alone shinty). They also claim it would have been better to concentrate resources on a new, green-field site on the outskirts of the city. Hampden and its built-up environs, it is argued, will never have enough car-park spaces.

Nevertheless, the sight that will greet tonight's crowd offers tangible proof of Scottish football's determination not to be left behind. The new structures include 1,800 tonnes of steel (enough to manufacture 4,500 saloon cars); 253,000 red bricks (sufficient to build 20 three-bedroomed semis); 181 kilometres of electric cable (which would stretch from Clydebank to Carlisle); plus 43,000 screws securing more than 20,000 new seats.

But enough of the statistics. The nuts and bolts of the occasion were summed up with uncharacteristic succinctness by Farry: 'New stadium, new manager, new image, new challenge.'

(Photograph omitted)

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