In an era where shiny new flat-pack stadiums are being hastily erected across England and the rest of Europe, Scotland has remained steadfast in its commitment to traditional, unconventional and often bizarre football grounds.
This stand against mundanity and modernity is admirable. We are lucky in Scotland that a culture of pride and sentimentality drives our football clubs and aids the protection of our football grounds.
With recent news that Hearts have permission to develop, rather than demolish, Tynecastle, the world of Scottish football can breathe a sigh of relief that once again history and tradition has triumphed.
To show our support to football fans and stadium aficionados of a traditional disposition, here are a few examples of why Scottish stadia continue to defy modernity and, as a result, remain endlessly fascinating.
The old vs the new
The modern, shiny, multi-functioning arenas that are popping up around Europe offer a disturbingly high degree of symmetry and are far too architecturally sensible.
In Scotland, a stadium should not be defined simply by a single bout of development but should embody the very evolution of the club, punctuated by structural misnomers that have developed over the decades.
Take Stark’s Park, the home of Raith Rovers, for instance. Very little of the stadium makes sense. The Main Stand only just wraps around the South-East Corner flag, yet only covers half the length of the East-side of the pitch. The West Stand is divided in two and the stands behind each goal are single-tiered behemoths. Who cares about the quality of football when the stadium is a fully-functioning, fully-operational visual memorial to the club’s evolution.
Pittodrie is another example of how different eras of the club can meld beautifully into one spectacular beacon of football. The Dick Donald and Merkland Stands couldn’t be much more different – the former (built in 1993) proudly and solemnly stands tall at the beach end whereas the Merkland is squashed onto the west side, gnarled by the bi-weekly stampede of Dons over the decades. Add in an old-school uncovered concrete bank along with two vintage single-tier stands and Pittodrie makes for an inimitable match-day experience.
Arguably, the jewel in the crown of Scottish stadia is Tynecastle. First opened in 1886, the sense of history is almost tangible. The neat Main Stand, set for refurbishment as mentioned, is offset by the other bigger stands and creates a compact cauldron. The tightly aligned stands loom over the pitch, making the crowd feel like they are suspended over the players – spectating from an almost birds-eye view. Most importantly, the atmosphere generated in the stadium is always electric. Another great feature of Tynecastle is the winding, weaving walk to the ground – it’s almost mystical as the closer you get to the stadium sections begin to appear through the lanes and alleys of Gorgie. Hopefully the new developments don’t upset this fine balance between the old and the new.
The “ach that’ll do, we’ll finish it later” attitude
Defying all notions of modernity and conformity, Scotland exhibits a number of open-ended, seemingly unfinished football grounds – even amongst our top clubs.
Not only do these open-ended grounds allow for better views of the surrounding area but ensure that sufficient wind and rain can whip round the stadium, creating that kind of special atmosphere that is wholly unique to Scotland.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle – experts in amalgamations, cup runs and English lower league scouting networks – typify this ‘ach that’ll do’ approach to building a stadium. With only three stands, holding a maximum of 7,530 fans in total, the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium can’t exactly be described as intimidating – but it is certainly intriguing. Questions are often asked as to the whereabouts of the fourth stand. To be fair, with ICT struggling to get 3,000 fans for a match, the fourth stand won’t exist any time soon. Besides, the current set up means there is an excellent view onto the pitch from the nearby Kessock Bridge.
An eternal classic of the open-ended model of stadium is Firhill. Again, the Jags, sticking two fingers up at convention, have opted for just three stands. To be fair, the reason for the gaping space behind the south goal is attributable to death of the standing terraces at football. In an attempt to rid the eye-sore from the view of fans, Partick Thistle decided to replace the concrete terrace with a big mound of mud and grass – which is now adorned with a gargantuan advertising billboard. This refusal to develop another stand is in some ways a form of resistance against the status quo. At the very least, it’s a bit different.
From the ancient to the downright bizarre
Scotland is rife with ancient old football grounds that are neither safe nor sensible and certainly not new. Whether it be decrepit stands or untouched terracing, there are many clubs throughout Scottish football that plainly refuse to move into the 21st Century – not even a little bit.
Ayr United are one the renegade clubs in lower league football, intent on preserving Somerset Park as a relict from the 1920s. Some developments have been made to the ground – mainly new roofing and extracting asbestos from stands – but these have been tweaks rather than overhauls. There has been no real structural change to the stadium since its opening almost 100 years ago. The greatest feature of Somerset Park is the open-air terrace that runs along the full length of the touchline, opposite the Main Stand. Forget the modern era, Ayr United are content to remain in the mid-20th Century. And quite right.
Moving from the ancient to the more bizarre, Albion Rovers’ stadium is just a bit weird. Cliftonhill manages to be both quaint and eerie in equal dozes. The fringes of the pitch are desolate and empty, with the old terrace acting as a creepy ghost of the past. The one and only stand exudes an industrial feel – accurately reflecting its location in Coatbridge. Yet, the main stand, with its strange steel and corrugated shelter that juts out from the roof, maintains a homely charm. Although not the most picturesque or inspiring venues, Cliftonhill still has far more character than most new-builds in the country.
However, there is only one winner of the ‘most bizarre stadium in Scotland’ accolade and that honour is firmly held by Central Park in Cowdenbeath. Not only is this home of Cowdenbeath FC, it is also the home of car racing and has previously been home to speedway, greyhound racing and Cowdenbeath’s biggest car boot sale. Currently, the football team ground-share with Scottish stock car racers. Aided by the circular racing track that surrounds the pitch, Central Park is clearly the most versatile stadium in Scotland – the tyre barriers, skid marks and high steel fences are evidence of this. Whether it creates a pleasant match-day experience or not is a different matter.
Overall, Scottish clubs are bucking the trend of modern football. The unquenchable thirst to build newer, bigger, shinier arenas is pervasive in European football – but it doesn’t need to be this way. The above stadia show that tradition and history are far more important than style, branding and global appeal. After all, it is the quirks and oddities of such age-old institutions that makes us fall in love with football in the first place.