Hampden Park's refurbishment has been expensive, unwanted and left Queens Park struggling for survival. Gary Oliver reports
Critics deride the project as having been profligate, ostentatious and a monument to vanity – not the Millennium Dome, but refurbished Hampden Park, which has begun the new century facing another financial crisis. The transformed 52,000-capacity ground continues to be owned by Third Division Queen’s Park and its rebuilding was administered by a subsidiary of the club, National Stadium plc. However, a three-year £65 million makeover has left the amateur club crippled by debt.
Salvation seemed to have arrived late last year when the Scottish Executive, the “government” of Scotland’s parliament, committed taxpayers to contributing half of an immediate £4.4 million injection; long-term rental payments from the SFA were then to bankroll Queen’s Park in return for control of the stadium passing to the Association. But in January that rescue plan was cast in doubt when Queen’s Park, claiming to be under pressure from an unnamed creditor, went into voluntary administration.
Regardless of whether Queen’s Park are eventually bailed out on stringent conditions, or even forced to liquidate their principal asset, control of Hampden Park seems certain to pass from Scotland’s oldest club. But whoever runs the stadium, the awkward question for expensively rebuilt Hampden remains: what is it for? Certainly the arena was not enhanced to stage Queen’s Park v Montrose.
Although regarded as Scottish football’s spiritual home, Hampden has lacked the mystique and magnetism of Wembley. Visits there have seldom been a novelty, the park hosting not only finals and internationals, but lower league football and Cup semi-finals (for which the ground was often eerily empty).
At a time when there was – is – minimal interest in the national team, the modest stadiums in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Kilmarnock have hosted qualifying ties against humdrum opposition more than adequately. The national stadium provides a neutral venue for Old Firm skirmishes, yet when it was unavailable both sides were happy enough flipping a coin to decide the venue of a Scottish Cup semi-final. Indeed, Rangers and Celtic would both prefer Hampden did not exist.
Ibrox was rebuilt in the late 1970s and Rangers’ influence was crucial when the incoming Conservative administration scuppered a planned upgrade of Hampden. More recently, former Celtic chief Fergus McCann was one of the most vociferous critics of the national stadium project and always insisted that SFA funds should have been put to alternative use – such as paying to hire Celtic Park.
For supporters of provincial clubs, who balk at subsidising the Undeserving Rich, Hampden is therefore of incalculable benefit. Nevertheless, fans attending the new-look stadium may be mystified by where all the money has gone. The derelict warehouse of 20 years ago is thankfully unrecognisable, but much has been spent in areas most punters will never see. As Sunday Post veteran Doug Bailie observed: “People who don’t pay for match tickets... have been looked after much better than they needed to be.”
Having a stadium that can pamper UEFA’s entourage was, no doubt, crucial to Hampden winning the right to stage the 2002 Champions League final. “We are aware of the difficulties involving Hampden Park and have every confidence the Scottish FA can sort them out,” said a UEFA spokesman, giving the venue a vote of confidence and maintaining Glasgow’s unique boast of housing three five-star rated stadiums. All the city needs now is to produce five-star teams to play in them.
From WSC 157 March 2000. What was happening this month