Aberdeen’s Scotland supporters’ group and national team legends Willie Miller and Craig Brown have welcomed the Scottish FA’s decision to stick with Hampden Park – but want wide-ranging changes.
The SFA revealed yesterday it had agreed a £5 million deal with Queen’s Park to buy the national stadium.
Scottish Rugby tried to lure the SFA to BT Murrayfield in Edinburgh, with chief executive Ian Maxwell admitting a move came “incredibly close” to happening.
Many punters also pitched the idea of going without a national stadium and instead moving matches around the grounds of Premiership clubs, including Aberdeen.
But yesterday the SFA confirmed Scotland’s matches would stay at Mount Florida, which has hosted them for 112 years.
Brown lauded Lord Willie Haughey and Sir Tom Hunter, who put in some of the cash to make the deal happen, which he thinks shows their commitment to the grassroots game in the country.
Miller said: “I thought it was going to happen to be honest.
“I know in negotiations you have to have a business head on but I couldn’t really see them moving across to Edinburgh and in Murrayfield.
“I don’t think sharing with rugby would have been the solution for Scottish football.
“Hampden is the home of Scottish football, it has its negatives but I think these can be rectified.”
Chris Kerr, speaking on behalf of Granite City Scots, who run coaches from the north-east to every Scotland home game, said: “I thought they’d push through the sale to take care of the decision. There was a lot of opposition to playing in a rugby stadium.
“The decision now leaves the SFA with the issue of how to fill it for minor fixtures.
“I can’t see them using Pittodrie or Tynecastle for future games when they have their own stadium.”
Current attendances for Scotland games are an issue, with just 17,455 fans at Monday’s UEFA Nations League opener with Albania – at which adult tickets were £35 – and not much more at the friendly with World Cup bronze-medallists Belgium on Friday.
Kerr said: “Hopefully they will reduce ticket prices and get the seats filled as it does generate a good atmosphere when full.
“For friendlies it should be cut to maybe £20 for adults and £5 for kids. Similarly for qualifiers against smaller nations.
“I don’t mind paying £30 when bigger teams are the opposition for meaningful games.”
The supporters’ group spokesman also thinks week-night fixtures make it “really hard” to draw travelling fans in numbers.
Ex-Scots boss Brown said he wouldn’t like to see free tickets handed out, because it doesn’t guarantee those people will attend.
Former Aberdeen captain Miller and Brown, who was Scotland manager between 1993 and 2001, during which time attempts were last made to improve the stadium, pointed to the often cited poor Hampden atmosphere as something that needs fixed, with Maxwell also saying the SFA would now use its ownership of the ground to seek cash for redevelopment.
Brown said: “The stands need to be moved I think, particularly at the ends, by bringing them in and making them tighter and more steeped the fans would get a better view. Behind the goal you’re far back and need a pair on binoculars.
“But what’s never been said by anyone is the facilities within the stadium for players and staff are phenomenal.
“The spectators don’t see this, but there’s a warm-up area, an excellent gymnasium and there’s a hydrotherapy pool.”
Miller said: “When fans go there and are behind the goals they are quite far away from the pitch.
“It won’t happen over night but if they could do something over a period of time to make the stadium more atmospheric for fans and players that would be the way forward.
“If you do that you could also look at increasing the capacity for bigger games.
“But I don’t think the capacity needs increased much.
“It’s about getting the look and the atmosphere right so that people can enjoy it.”
Miller claimed the stadium’s design should be changed from a “multi-purpose” venue to a football-specific design that “people will love coming to”.
Maxwell cited the redevelopment of Stuttgart’s Mercedez-Benz Arena as a model the SFA were aware of.
The Bundesliga outfit rebuilt both stands behind the goals to bring them closer to their pitch.
Both the Granite City Scots and Miller agree it is important for the Scotland men’s team to address the indifference of non-diehard supporters as a way to boost attendances at Hampden and, in the process, the stadium’s sometimes flat atmosphere.
Having beaten Albania 2-0, Alex McLeish’s Scotland side are now in a strong position to reach the Nations League play-offs and give themselves a second shot at reaching Euro 2020.
If they do so, it will be Scotland’s first major tournament since the 1998 World Cup finals in France.
Next up, Scotland face Israel in Tel Aviv, providing an opportunity to boost the new feelgood factor created on Monday night.
Kerr said: “Winning helps. If the team can get a result in Israel, we will have a great chance of reaching the competition’s next stage.
“I like McLeish and I like how he’s brought in a lot of younger players. They will learn in every game how to play together and bond as a unit. For me the future is looking positive.”
Miller said: “If you ask most fans whether they enjoy going to a stadium when their team isn’t winning the answer is no, despite how good the stadium is and how atmospheric. Look at when England came last year and when Scotland scored two goals in two minutes – Hampden was rocking.”