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Saturday 28th October 2017 ko 12.30

Scottish Premiership


RANGERS 3 (Miller 43 65 Windass 72)

Att 32,852 (14,102 away) at Murrayfield, Edinburgh

Entry £30

Programme £3.50

The home of Scottish Rugby Union certainly sees a lot more football than its English equivalent does. Be it Celtic using it for 2 European qualifying matches in 2014 when Celtic Park was in use for the Commonwealth game, or Edinburgh giants Hibs and Hearts have used it for friendlies, or when Easter Road, or Tynecastle has been either unsuitable, or out-of-use. This time round, it was Tynecastle’s turn to be unavailable, but for bizarre reasons!

The reason was the demolition and rebuilding of the main at Tynecastle. The old stand dated from 1912 and was designed by Archibald Leitch and as such was a listed building, but nevertheless permission was given for its destruction. Now I’m aware that the changing rooms were no longer fit for purpose and that the other 3 sides dwarfed the Leitch stand but a piece of British sporting heritage has been lost forever; surely at least the facade could have been retained?

I was fortunate enough to have visited Tynecastle in November 2008 and the Leitch stand was very much to the fore. You’ll see just how close the ground is to Murrayfield and with this game being also against Rangers, you’ll see two players who featured in both games- 9 years apart!

The demolition of the Leitch stand began immediately after Hearts last home game of last season, but it soon became clear that the club would be unlikely to start the season at Tynecastle. The reasons are many and varied, the programme for this game saw fit to devote 4 pages to an interview with Chairman and CEO Ann Budge on the subject. There were problems with the concrete, problems with the roof, problems with the ticketing, and best of all problems with the fact that they hadn’t ordered the seats in time! They opted to reverse their tie at home to Partick Thistle and play their first 3 SPL games at Murrayfield, this one scheduled to be the last.

But Murrayfield isn’t bad Plan B is it? With a capacity of 67,144 it’s the 5th largest stadium in the UK, and the largest in Scotland. The big issue the Scottish Rugby Union has with the place is making it pay, particular with Edinburgh RUFC opting to play the majority of its games at New Myreside this season. This was clearly an arrangement that suited both parties.

For our visit Robyn and I decided to try out Edinburgh’s much derided trams. The background is that the line opened in 2014, 7 years late, £400 million over budget and it’s 8.7 mile route way shorter than planned. But there is a free Park & Ride at Ingliston and the service got us and over 32,000 others in and out of the capital remarkably efficiently.

The stadium is, as you’d expect so obviously a rugby ground with the gaps between the back of the goals and the front of the stands larger than is the case at joint use grounds like Swansea City/ Ospreys. The surprise is the concourses, or rather the lack of them. The idea isn’t for the supporter to buy in the concourses and eat in their seats. Here a patch of grass has been set aside for picnics, with no end of food and drink vans to satisfy demand.

Other than the unusual configuration, it is a fine stadium, albeit one with far less legroom than at the likes of Wembley, or at Bayern Munich and you can see why Scottish Rugby are to bid to host Scottish cup finals and internationals, when the SFA’s deal with Queens Park to use Hampden ends after Euro 2020. They could offer over 15,000 extra seats, but would the SFA be prepared to risk the future of one of Scotland’s most iconic amateur clubs?

In the here and now I wasn’t expecting much. Hearts were struggling below mid-table playing the dour football that is a hallmark of manager Craig Levein. Rangers position wasn’t dissimilar with the level of rarefied expectation that comes with the Auld Firm, manager Pedro Caixinha was dismissed a 2 days earlier with the club 4th. Whatever the rights or wrongs of that decision this game was settled by a Rangers legend sidelined by Caixinha- Kenny Miller.

The striker is now 37, and is now having to rely on experience rather than pace. He played long periods in a deep-lying midfield role, but was cute enough to be in the right place at the right time. His guile was needed, Hearts look the lead with a thunderbolt free-kick from another Rangers legend Kyle Lafferty, but Rangers soon asserted their authority and former Accrington Stanley striker Josh Windass applied the coup de grace.

The standard wasn’t high, roughly League One if you’re comparing it with football south of the border, but it was exciting. Of course Hearts did end up playing another game at Murrayfield, versus Kilmarnock, but have now played their first game back at Tyncastle, albeit with the safety certificate issued on the morning of the game!

Will there be more football played at Murrayfield? There appears to be nothing in the pipeline for the near future, and I doubt whether there’s much appetite for moving finals and internationals away from Hampden. Perhaps the way to rationalise it all is to look at it as nothing more than an interesting interlude. Now when can someone organise a game and Lords and at Twickenham?