Nov 17, 2009

Ranking the world's soccer meccas: No. 5, Hampden Park, Glasgow

For ranking methodology and other information about the series, see the original post. To read the about the No. 6-rated stadium, the Estadio Bernabeu in Madrid, click here. To see all "soccer mecca" entries click here.

No. 5 Hampden Park, Glasgow, Scotland
Open since: 1903
Capacity: 52,000
Tenant(s): Queen's Park, Scotland
World Cup hosts: Never

What's this? A ground that never hosted the World Cup or Euro tournament at number five?!? Believe it. This is one of those instances where the stadium's iconic value outweighs its intrinsic one (though one could of course argue there is no real intrinsic value in a soccer stadium, least of all one that can qualify it as a "mecca". That's another argument for another day).

All right, so what is this iconic value of Hampden Park? Simply put, the stadium has taken over as the defacto historic home of British soccer after Wembley's facelift. It is one of the oldest grounds in Britain (and the world) still used for topflight matches.

(As an aside, if you object to the term "British" for Scotland's national stadium I refer you to the fact that the ground is named after an Englishman, John Hampden.)

The present-day Hampden Park is actually the third rendition (not including several renovations) of the place. The first, that gave the stadium its name, was "in an area of land across from the Recreation Ground under the shadow of Hampden Terrace"--a street named after the aforementioned Englishman, according to That lasted a mere decade, until 1883, before primary tenant Queens Park found a new home nearby. The second home appears to have been known more as Cathkin Park than Hampden Park, for whatever reason. It was taken over by the now-defunct Third Lanark FC, who rebuilt it from scratch. Glasgow's city council took over the land in the 1960s after Third Lanark went bankrupt. Three quarters of the stadium's 1903 structure survives to this day.

Hampden Park as we know it opened at its present-day location in 1903. Perhaps setting the scene for the "century of hooliganism" that would follow it, Rangers and Celtics fans in 1909 effectively destroyed that rendition of the stadium after a Scottish Cup final replay.

Speaking of the Scottish Cup final, it has been held at Hampden Park every year since 1874 (except for war years, of course).

"The atmosphere is superb when it's a full crowd," says one Scottish football fan who has attended many matches at Hampden Park. "I think the natural geography of that part of the southside of Glasgow helps - the area is a natural 'bowl'-shape, so when you are walking from the train station to the stadium, the area dips down as you approach it, creating a kind of 'cauldron' effect."

That effect is partly responsible for the "Hampden Roar" that dates to the 1929 British Home Championship if Wikipedia is to be believed (which it probably isn't). Some have argued the Hampden Roar hasn't existed in decades, however.

Hampden Park is not all about iconic value. It does hold several records--chief among them the highest attendance at a European soccer match, a record that at nearly 150,000 will probably not be broken--and has hosted many historic matches in its day. Most notably, it was here that Real Madrid won its fifth European Cup, capping a 1959-1960 tournament that was described as "possibly the greatest in the competition's history...with possibly the greatest ever team as winners," by The Web site describes the final match as follows:

On a warm, windswept night in Glasgow, May 18th 1960 was a date for records to be broken. The Hampden Park attendance of 127,621 is still the biggest for a European Cup Final, the gate receipts of £55,000 were then a British record, there were an estimated 70 million television viewers around Europe, and they were about to see the highest scoring European Cup Final ever.

Ten goals were scored in total on a night that left the crowd "simply awestruck." Eintracht Frankfurt, who had beaten Glasgow Rangers in the semifinal, took an early lead before the Spanish side turned on the style, scoring six straight goals. The final score of 7-3 is not likely to be replicated any time soon in any serious competition, much less a cup final of this magnitude. "At the end, the Real players, with goalkeeper Dominguez carrying the cup, did a lap of honour around the Hampden track to a continuous roar that has seldom, if ever, been heard at a neutral venue," writes ECH.

Four-Four-Two calls the match "the European Cup final that sparked a revolution." Present (and deeply inspired) at Hampden Park that May night was one Alex Ferguson, then 19-years old and a Queens Park trainee striker. He wasn't the only one. Don Revie, then a young manager at Leeds United, made his team switch to white kits in honor (or something) of Real Madrid. Despite not performing particularly well in international competition (England lost a game to the U.S. at the 1950 World Cup for God's sake), Scotland and England to that point in association football history still had an insular air of superiority about their game. That ended May 18, 1960. "After the 1960 final...the blinkers came off," writes Four-Four-Two.

U.K. coaches began studying the continental game, a strategy that paid dividends for Celtic seven years later when it shocked Inter Milan in the European Cup final. Celtic's manager Jock Stein had also found religion from that 1960 game and showed it to his players before their clash with Inter.

The match was also ranked the top European Cup final by the Daily Mail's Jeff Powell.

But it was by no means the only historic event to take place at Hampden Park. Much of European club football history has been written here. The European Cup final was held at Hampden Park again in '76 and won this time by Bayern Munich (with Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeness among others) over Saint Etienne (with former France, Olympique Lyon and Tottenham Hotspur coach Jacques Santini--though not yet with Michel Platini, who would join the squad in 1979).

In 1970, Celtic took a 1-0 lead from the first leg of their European Cup semifinal with Leeds United into the "home" leg at Hampden Park and---after spotting Don Revie's side a goal--won to advance to the final (where they would lose to Feyernoord Rotterdam). The 136,000 plus who were on hand to watch the match constitute another record (biggest crowd at a European cup match) that is not likely to be broken.

An entire book could be (and probably has been) written about the Scottish Cup finals alone. In 1928, 118,000 saw Rangers beat Celtic 4-0. Nearly 30,000 more were at the 1937 version of the event, between Celtic and Aberdeen (won 2-1 by Hoops). Celtic were winners again in 1965, giving Jock Stein the first of many trophies after just six weeks in charge. Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen won four Scottish cups, including three in a row from 1982-84. Only three other clubs (Rangers, Queen's Park and Vale of Leven, though surprisingly not Celtic) have matched that feat. Nobody has won more than three in a row.

Then you have the aforementioned British Home Championships, many of which were decided at Hampden Park. Several times the stakes were even greater than mere "bragging rights" (though this being England and Scotland do you really need any stakes?), perhaps none more famously than in 1950. That year Scotland turned down an invitation to appear in the FIFA World Cup, then agreed to partake only as the champions of Britain--a title that would be settled April 15, 1950 when England played at Hampden Park. The game was decided midway through the second half on a goal by 24-year old Englishman Roy Bentley. The Independent did a terrific story on the match a decade ago.

Until that 1950 tournament, Scotland actually had the edge over England on Home International titles, 18-17. From 1951 until 1984, the last time the tournament was held, it was 15 title wins for England and six for Scotland. One could certainly argue that 1950 game was a watershed event from which Scottish football (at the time one of the preeminent world powers) has yet to recover.

The Tartan Army would get its revenge on England though, with several compelling victories over the 'auld enemy'. The 1967 "pitch invasion" victory at Wembley was the first "unofficial World Championship" but Hampden Park would also be the scene of several Scottish triumphs: In '76 (the same year as Bayern Munich's European Cup victory) a 25-year old Kenny Dalglish got Scotland the winner in its 2-1 victory over England. It was the last time Scotland won the title on their home ground.

Of course Hampden Park was not always about England and Scotland. In 1979 "the 18-year-old Diego Armando Maradona revealed his genius to the world," the BBC reported. Maradona scored his first international goal in Argentina's 3-1 friendly win over Scotland. This was not Maradona's first game in an Argentina shirt, as has wrongly been claimed at points. That came in 1977 at the Bombonera in Buenos Aires (ranked ninth in our list of soccer meccas).

Nor did Hampden Park host the world's first football international in 1872, though this did take place elsewhere in Glasgow. In 1872 England and Scotland squared off at the West of Scotland Cricket Club's Hamilton Crescent ground in the Partick area of Glasgow. The game finished goalless.

The history of Hampden Park continues to be written. This decade it hosted at least a few events that will surely make the soccer history books. In the 2002 Champions League final, Zinedine Zidane's "wonder goal" (link to YouTube video) clinched a record ninth European Cup/Champs League title for Real Madrid. The goal in many ways serves as the defining moment of the "galacticos" era of dominance at Real Madrid, much as the 1960 final did for the Alfredo di Stefano generation. Zidane and Real Madrid were then at their peak; neither would approach those heights again. Zizou was injured for the first two (if memory serves) of France's disappointing "three and out" at the 2002 World Cup and we all know what happened in 2006. The seven years (and counting) since Real's last European title constitute the longest stretch since the 1966-1985 period.

Photo taken from without permission


  1. Hugh, Scotland and Hearts fan, LondonNovember 17, 2009 at 4:23 PM

    Excellent, well-written and insightful piece. Really enjoyed the background story of the stadium and the stories behind Real Madrid's famous European Cup win. If you ever get a chance, you should go to the brilliant Scottish Football Museum within Hampden, loads of great photos, shirts and memorabilia in there. Cheers.

  2. lets see if you will forget "the hell" or not in your awesome list of soccer meccas...

  3. What "hell" is that? I have a feeling I know what you're talking about. Only four are left so you'll know soon....

  4. Really enjoyable read, its a shame that Hampden has lost a lot of its beauty and passion since it was redeveloped.

    I had some great days on the open terracing with no roof, regardless of the weather...but its not the same now, even Cup Finals are a bit soulless.

    As I said though, really good post though, thanks!