HAMPDEN PARK: Home Pleasures

Completing my Glasgow groundhopping trilogy was a visit to Scotland’s National Stadium. I didn’t pay for tickets to the encounter until the night before the game, as Wales were taking on Hungary at the same time in a winner-takes-all match to reach Euro 2020 and Scotland’s contest against Kazakhstan was a dead rubber that neither nations could qualify from.

Rather than stay inside and watch Wales in our Airbnb flat – or find a rare viewing of the match in a Glasgow pub – I figured the best thing for my nerves would be to watch Scotland play instead. Plus, it was a chance to tick off the second-biggest stadium in the country: Hampden Park.

The Highs

Journey through Scotland

The game was a late kick-off, so the girlfriend and I awoke early and grabbed a train to the village of Balloch, which sits at the foot of Loch Lomond.

As indicated in my previous posts, public transportation in and around Glasgow is super cheap and this journey was exactly the same: under a fiver for a return (with railcard). It took 45 minutes to reach Balloch and I quickly learnt how close further football-related places on the route – such as Dumbarton and Partick – were to Glasgow.

With a trip to Hampden lined up later on, we were wary not to overexert ourselves at Loch Lomond. The weather was ridiculously cold, too. Therefore, we did a one-hour circle route through Balloch Country Park.

Around the park were a couple of interesting features like a castle and a walled garden. Meanwhile, Ben Lomond was also visible in the distance and was the first snow-capped mountain I’d ever seen from ground level (I’m a summer baby, what can I say?).

Unfortunately, there weren’t any real breathtaking views around the loch but we made a note to return to Lomond National Park and scale some of the magnificent-looking peaks around the area once we didn’t have to wrap up everything but our eyes and nose.

Once we returned to Glasgow, we headed straight to Hampden to pick up our tickets, which gave us a chance to explore Cathkin Park during daylight hours.

Cathkin is a place I’d been longing to visit for some time. It used to be the home of professional club Third Lanark FC, who were founding members of the Scottish Football Association and Scottish Football League. However, they went bust in 1967 and their former ground is now a converted playing field with terracing still in place around three sides of the pitch.

Being at Cathkin was bittersweet. It’s an amazing piece of Scottish footballing history and there was a special vibe on the terraces. But while we watched a lady playing with her dog on the pitch, I imagined what the ground would have resembled when it hosted the likes of Rangers and Celtic. There’s definitely a heart still beating from those days and it’s a shame the place hasn’t been shown future life.

Just around the corner stands Scotland’s National Stadium – the third ground in the area to be entitled Hampden Park, with Cathkin originally being the second. It was located within a housing estate and looked as old as its 1903 opening date.

After a quick walk around, where we found Scottish League Two side, Queen’s Park’s, home ground for next season, Lesser Hampden, we collected our tickets and headed back home to rest before the evening’s match.

Turning things around

Despite the game being a glorified friendly, there was a positive atmosphere on our train from Glasgow Central to Mount Florida – just down the road from Hampden. It continued when we arrived, with several men dressed in kilts and a busking bagpipe player gave us a stirring welcome.

Scotland were missing a number of Premier League stars for the game including Andrew Robertson, Scott McTominay, Ryan Fraser and Kieran Tierney, so I didn’t know much about their starting line-up. But I looked forward to potentially seeing some unknown future talent.

Those hopes were quashed in the opening half, though, as Kazakhstan took a 1-0 lead into the break. It was a super hit from Baktiyor Zaynutdinov for the goal. From 25 yards out, he found space and unleashed a ripper that curled past David Marshall in the Scotland net.

The group of Kazakh fans in the opposite stand waved their flags in delight while the Tartan Army booed off their team – no doubt still sore from the 3-0 hammering they received in the reverse fixture which severely dented their pride, and hopes of reaching Euro 2020.

But the night turned during the opening few minutes of the second half. Not only did John McGinn equalise for Scotland via a deflected free-kick but, elsewhere, Aaron Ramsey had given Wales a two-goal cushion in their qualifier against Hungary which meant we were almost certainly going to Euro 2020.

I was buzzing and the rest of Hampden joined me in my giddiness when Steven Naismith gave Scotland the lead. The veteran Hearts centre-forward missed a number of great chances before his headed effort from Liam Palmer’s cross brought up his 10th international goal.

Scotland had been in complete control during the second period and made sure of the three points – along with their third straight qualifying victory – in added time with another goal from McGinn. That form from the team – and McGinn, who bagged seven goals during the campaign – will give home supporters more confidence that they can win their play-off matches in March and join Wales at Euro 2020.

The Lows

Out on a school night

We had a good evening at Hampden but we somehow kept finding school children around us who were very annoying.

There were the group of kids who jumped ahead of us in the coffee queue on the way in. Then there were the hyperactive kids sat in front of us who were hitting each other with inflatable hands – one later used his as a hat.

But by far the worst bunch was the gang sat behind us who spent the game throwing their tickets at ourselves and the supporters around us. The Scotland fan near us who cried out ‘thank God’ when they left with 10 minutes to go, summed up the feeling in our section.

The Verdict

A combination of freezing weather, lack of international stars and a qualification campaign that never really got going, contributed to the attendance at Hampden being less than half full. But even with a sparse crowd, I loved the ground.

It looked a lot more modern on the inside and significantly more mammoth, too. It’s understandable how it holds the record attendance figure for a European international match.

I’m always going to take points off a stadium that’s pitch is not touch-tight to the stands but I still highly rate Hampden. It’ll forever remind me of Welsh football extending their golden period by qualifying for consecutive European Championships and I’ll be taking extra notice during the play-offs next year in the hope that Scotland make it as well.

Scotland 3
Kazakhstan 1

Euro 2020 Qualifier

Ground rating: 8/10

Best Of The Rest

During the one day of our trip that didn’t revolve around football games, we visited some of Glasgow’s best attractions – which were all free.

First we went to Kelingrove Museum which houses work ranging from sculptures and paintings to armour, taxidermy and a spitfire. The floating heads by Sophie Cave and the Christ of St John of the Cross by Salvidor Dali were our favourite exhibits.

Next, we walked over to the Glasgow University campus and stood out as non-students by taking lots of pictures around the incredible architecture of the main buildings before heading up the road to the botanical gardens.

Having visited Edinburgh’s impressive gardens last year, I had high hopes for Glasgow’s equivalent but they didn’t have quite the same beauty. Being there at the beginning of winter might have influenced that but we were thankful for the warmth provided by the greenhouses.

With daylight fading fast, we quickly hopped across the city and climbed Glasgow Necropolis. Situated next to the city’s cathedral, it was a stunning hill-top graveyard that spanned quite far. The dying light and dipping temperatures added to the ambiance and I also managed to catch a glimpse of Celtic Park in the distance.

Even from so far away, Scotland’s largest stadium looked very impressive and I dreamt of seeing a game there on my next venture north – which I don’t think will be too long, as I’m falling for the country more and more with every visit.

Thanks for reading. To keep updated on the latest hops, stories and photos from the mental health stadium tour, you can follow the blog on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

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