Ex-Celtic director David Kells is leading the movement to save Hampden
Renewal of lease that sees Hampden host big matches is up for discussion
Hampden has seen some iconic moments, not least Zinedine Zidane's volley
Published: 19:17 EST, 8 December 2017 | Updated: 19:17 EST, 8 December 2017>
The veteran is back in the ranks. It may be an exaggeration to say Hampden is under siege but its future is under a clear and present danger.
The national stadium will be under scrutiny at an SFA board meeting next week, with the renewal of the lease that sees it host finals and semi-finals at all levels and international matches up for discussion.
It is appropriate then that the Defender of the Stadium, the Survivor of the Scepticism of Fergus, the Conqueror of the Tina Turner Drought has popped his head above a parapet that fairly pings with the bullets of criticism.
Former Celtic commercial director David Kells is leading the movement to save Hampden
David Kells, at 71, has walked through the minefields of Scottish football as commercial director at Celtic under the Fergus McCann era and as managing director of Hampden Park Ltd from 2000 to 2009.
He has survived to enjoy a quiet retirement but has stepped back into the line of fire to defend the stadium he helped rescue from administration.
‘There has to be a review,’ he says of the lease that runs out in 2020. ‘Queen’s Park, too, still own the stadium and lease it to Hampden and it will have to take a view that is for the good of Scottish football. It has to be about what is best overall.’
He does not shy from confronting the barbs aimed at the stadium. His resilience has been earned in the fog of war.
The lease on the national stadium will be under scrutiny at an SFA board meeting next week
‘Fergus was a great guy to work for but it would be fair to say that we had a difference of opinion over Hampden,’ adds Kells. ‘He was famously not a fan of the building of a national stadium. He always had Celtic’s best interests at heart but I believe once the new Hampden was in play, it had to be used and improved.’
Kells, though, had to learn fast. The move from his commercial role at Celtic, where the club was growing quickly, was followed by a trip to the south side, where Hampden was emerging from administration and there were immediate problems.
‘The first challenge was a Tina Turner concert,’ he says. ‘I had an experience of one concert when the stadium had run out of water. I had flagged this up but I was assured everything was okay. Just when Tina was about to go on stage, the stadium ran out of water.’ Kells is not referring to the bottled variety.
‘Most stadia are not equipped for large concerts where the profile is different,’ he adds. ‘We had to put in additional supplies to the water tanks to ensure we had enough in future. There have been lots of learning curves.’
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Hampden has seen some iconic moments over the years, not least Zinedine Zidane's volley
Kells believes, though, that the honours have been accumulated by Hampden in the new millennium. He points to a Champions League final, a UEFA Cup final, eight Olympic matches in 2012 and the Commonwealth Games in 2014 as evidence of the stadium’s ‘flexibility and facilities’.
He adds: ‘There is a huge financial benefit to the city and beyond because of all of that. In 2009 alone, there were nine concerts that brought in £16million to the city. Nowhere else can handle some of the concerts. For a U2 or Rolling Stones concert, there are 100 artics piling on to the stadium, and Hampden, with its tunnels, can handle that comfortably.’
He cites May 15, 2002, as the night Hampden was reborn. ‘It had been tough heading out of administration and there were flaws that we had to address but when (Zinedine) Zidane scored that goal, it was a sign Hampden had returned,’ he says of the Frenchman’s spectacular winner that gave Real Madrid victory over Bayer Leverkusen. He also uses that moment to dismiss an accusation levelle
d at the stadium. ‘People criticise the atmosphere, but, in reality, if a game isn’t interesting, then the crowd is flat,’ he says. ‘If a team you are supporting aren’t doing well, then it is flat.
‘Scotland haven’t qualified for any major finals since Hampden was rebuilt but when it is close, the atmosphere is brilliant. When something matters, the stadium reacts.’
The renewal of the lease that sees Hampden host finals and internationals is up for discussion
He cites the views of UEFA and FIFA as evidence that the stadium is still held in high regard across the world. Indeed, it has been held in reserve for emergencies, most conspicuously for the 2012 European Championships, when there were fears some grounds in Switzerland and Austria, the hosts, would not be finished in time. The list of complaints is met by quiet but firm rebuttals.
What about sightlines for fans? ‘The seating behind the two goals is a very slow gradient but that can be investigated and possibly addressed,’ answers Kells. ‘It is a modern stadium that can be improved.’
What about facilities? ‘These are excellent and bear comparison with any other ground,’ says Kells. ‘The south stand is a very good facility and the north stand has recently been upgraded.
‘There are wide concourses and easily accessible internal catering kiosks. There is an auditorium, excellent medical facilities, one of the best football museums in the world and fine corporate seats and restaurants. People underestimate Hampden.’
What about the capacity of just 52,000, shouldn’t that be larger? ‘Apart from a handful of games over the years, it is sufficient,’ adds Kells. ‘Italy in 2007 sold out but most international games do not. If you go to too big a stadium, there is danger you have spaces. Shortage creates demand. It is important to get the balance right.
‘If games move around Scotland, it will be obvious there is a big void between the 20,000 stadiums to the three big ones in Glasgow.’
Part of the massive 133,000 crowd at Hampden watching England play Scotland in April 1944
What about the claims that Hampden needs millions spent on it? ‘There is a lot of ill-informed comment about that,’ he says. ‘Any stadium going forward will take millions to comply with increased regulations and to maintain itself. Yes, 17 years on lots of things have to be replaced but that applies everywhere.’
What is the downside to moving games around the country? ‘You lose neutrality for club matches,’ he says. ‘You lose flexibility for international matches and you lose the practised standards and security that Hampden affords.’
What about transport links to the stadium? ‘There are two train stations nearby. There is also the possibility of continuing with the experiment of shuttle buses,’ he reveals. ‘Hampden has good links to the motorway and that path could be improved.’
So what about building another stadium? ‘That is a nonsense,’ he rebukes. ‘I saw a report the other day that said the cost of the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium had risen from £400m to £750m. That is rightly not going to happen here in the present climate. The Hampden rateable value has shot up by £350,000 and that is something the authorities could be addressing.’
His most passionate argument is about the significance of Hampden. ‘It matters to people,’ he says. ‘Everyone has a Hampden memory. Amateur cup finals and school finals are played there and that means everything to the players. Ask Denis Law or Kenny Dalglish about Hampden and you hear the passion from the greats.’
Kells: 'Hampden is part of football's history. Do you want to see that reduced to a building site?’
Kells knows that the decision has to be made on financial and social factors, saying: ‘Hampden answers those questions better than any other stadium.’
This is the intellectual and economic argument but Kells, a fan of Oldham Athletic, has turned native to the Hampden roar.
‘This stadium is a part not only of the history of world football but the history of Scotland itself,’ he continues.
The businessman who helped pull the stadium from the rubble of financial meltdown knows the very fabric of Hampden is under threat if the SFA takes matches and administration away from an institution that stretches back, in its various incarnations, to 1873 and has been graced by such as Pele, Maradona, Matthews, Puskas, Di Stefano and Zidane.
It is also where Law pounced, Jinky jinked, Jordan struck, Baxter strolled and Dalglish made the spectacular seem everyday. It is where Scotland roared.
It is here that the businessman turns fan and fires his most telling shot: ‘Do you want to see all that reduced to a building site?’
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