Following the trip to Rochdale that ended in Bury, I am off to Edinburgh. From a financial point of view, one of the most important things about groundhopping is getting the train tickets right. You have to buy in advance – and find the cheap departures. As my train is not until 12.46, I have time to meet up with Emily, a good friend and colleague who always find a new hip place to meet. This time, we are at the Ezra and Gil in the Northern Quarter. It is Emily I have to thank for becoming a groundhopper. It was her who tipped me off on a football museum conference in Manchester back in 2012, which led to my working at the Manchester United museum for a month, doing 17 matches in that time from my base in Chorlton.
The train ride is great. I write on my blog, but often stop to look at the beautiful landscapes that we cross, And there is even a little sunshine to give it a glossy appearance. That is a good omen. Surely, this match cannot get postponed like the one in Rochdale the other night because an alleged water-logged pitch. For another trip, it would be ideal to put in Carlisle on the way from Manchester to Edinburgh. I have already been, but Carlisle would be a great choice, if there are no fixtures at unvisited grounds.
The train arrives at Edinburgh 16.25. That leaves me just about one hour before it gets dark. I have almost given up on taking decent night time photos with my camera, so if I am to get any of the Archibald Leitch stand, I have to hurry. I check in at my hotel and leave my suitcase and rucksack. But Edinburgh being such an incredibly beautiful city, I decide to walk to the ground rather than getting on a tram, train or bus. I choose the way along Princess Road and look up on the castle, rather than taking the Royal Mile towards the castle.
Approaching Haymarket, I notice a memorial with poppy wreaths beneath it. It turns out that it is not just any memorial (well, memorials are by nature special). It is a memorial erected in 1922 for the Hearts players who lost their lives in The Great War – with the casualties of WWII added as well. The entire Hearts team volunteered in 1914 as the first team to do so, and the club send them packages with tobacco, food etc. – and footballs. Seven of them never returned. From a Danish perspective, the 1914 Hearts team was also special. They had taken part in the annual football festival in Copenhagen back in May 1914 and won it. Later that summer, there was a debate in Britain whether they should boycott playing continental teams after some bad episodes in Central Europe. The chairman of Hearts wrote a letter to a newspaper and stated that an exception should be made of the “unspoiled” Scandinavians, as you could have crowds of 20.000 for matches there without a single policeman. It was the absence of gambling, he thought, that kept the Scandinavians in this unspoiled state of the game.
The walk seems pretty straight forward. But there are not any signs leading towards the ground – and there are not yet any other matchgoing people in the street. So I do wonder if I am heading the right way after all. Fortunately, I finally encounter a programme seller, who has taken up her position quite early and quite a long way from the ground. I missed out on a programme for my recent match at Burnley because they sold out before I went to the shop. But even though I have vowed never to leave it to that late again, the descending dark makes me ignore her – I have to get some photos while there is still a glimmer of daylight left.
I finally see The Tynecastle, the pub on the corner of Gorgie Street and MacLeod Street. To my horror, the area in front of the ground is a building site. It appears that they have already started on the new stand to replace the Archibald Leitch main stand!
I am not an archaeologist but a historian. But I guess this is what it must be like to be an archaeologist. To be alerted to some fascinating historical site that has been unearthed because of a new building enterprise – but the archaeologists are just called in to register the location of the elements, before the bulldozers destroy them and their history forever. It is almost unbearable.
As the area is a building site, they only allow staff in before the gates open. I look at it from the distance, There are no delicate ornaments like the Craven Cottage stand, but the light yellow skeleton of concrete holding the red bricks in place and the factory-like windows tell of a different age. This stand is also from 1914, although some of the stadium web sites claim that it was not completed till 1919. I am quite upset that it is about to be demolished.
If it wasn’t for this condemned gem overshadowing everything else, I probably would have appreciated the look of the Roseburn stand from the 1990’s, with a big stairway to a seemingly inviting concourse. Much more inviting and distinct than most stands from that decade.
I also discover that Hearts have a club museum as well as memorial garden. Alas, both are closed today – and I have an early morning train the next day, so I won’t be able to make it. I cannot even peek into the garden through the gates. It must be a bit strange to have the ashes of your nearest in a memorial garden that is closed on match days. I gather that most people would go here and want to remember their loved fellow supporter on matchdays rather than Thursday between 10 and 16. But then again, you would risk having drunk away supporters shouting at you – and the website says that it is for security reasons it has to be closed on matchdays. There is something special about Tynecastle, Hearts and their fans. When the club was in debt some seasons ago, a move to Murrayfield was suggested. But so strong was the fans’ sentiments for Tynecastle that the move was given up.
It is not quite Evertonian, but Hearts also have a neighbouring church that along with the other houses lining the ground towards Gorgie street gives it a distinct Edinburgh feel, just like the wall hedging in the car park and the football pitch for the academy in front of the Wheatfield stand.
Around the pitch, barbed wire has been added on top of the wall, and there are signs prohibiting any photography. Basically it is good that everything is done to prevent child abuse, but it does seem sad that it should be necessary to lock kids up behind barbed wire when they play football. I think of my childhood with hundreds of kids gathering on the pitches on the outskirts of the park playing football every afternoon.
I go to the club-cum-ticket office, collect my ticket and ask if there is any possibility of getting a quick look at the memorial garden. “No” is the answer. Equally disappointing, Hearts do not sell any books on their history from their shop. I have to settle for the matchday programme.
Outside, it is getting dark, and I decide to go back to the Dalry Road leading to the stadium where I had spotted a few restaurants. I haven’t had lunch and it is rather cold, so some food and warmth will probably be a good idea, rather than hanging around in the cold outside the ground for two hours before kick-off. I go for the place I encounter, a very tiny Chinese restaurant where I get a table next to a couple in their 50’s (which is another way of saying roughly my age).
As the waitress come down to take my order, the man – having spotted a group of fans with Hearts scarves – ask her, if there is a match on. “I wouldn’t know. I don’t really like football, I prefer racing”. As I had planned to go through the programme during my meal, I decide that I have better come clean and say “Yes, I am actually going to the match”. “Who do they play?” “Ross County” “And who do you support?” he asks.
I explain that I don’t really support any of the teams, but that I am groundhopping. He is dumbstruck. He has never heard of groundhopping, and he cannot believe that anybody will go and watch the football served up at Tynecastle unless they really have to.
If they had planned a dinner for two, well, then it is spoiled. We talk about quality of football, about Klopp and Mourinho, about Lou Macari and Scotland, and then about Laudrup and Denmark. And on to what is happening in Denmark at the moment. I do not dare put the issue of Brexit to him. It somehow seems embarrassing to me to remind Brits about the fact, in case they are just as frustrated as me.
As they are about to leave, I write down the name of my blog for him – he is a bit intrigued by this groundhopping phenomena that he hadn’t heard of before. In fact, we keep talking so much so that the waitress later discover that his wife has forgotten her glasses on the table. Just under an hour before kick-off, I also leave for the ground. Now I can get close to the Main stand. One of the stewards explain to me that the groundwork being done is to prepare office buildings, shop etc. and that the stand will be demolished after the last match of the season and building on the new one will commence.
I guess that they must have started ripping the façade of the stand of elements, as all the electricity is hanging randomly from the wall. It looks hazardous if not downright dangerous.
People are making their way through the turnstiles, and I look at the numbers. At first, I cannot find my turnstile, but then discover that it is still locked in the dark. There are a few other people standing there, all a little confused. A steward explains that the ticket scanner doesn’t work, and that they for security reason cannot let anybody in without being registered in the system. But he assures us that the electricians are working on it right now. More and more people gather. And suddenly two electricians enter the ground. And another steward tries to calm us down by saying that now the electricians are on it. Shortly afterwards, they leave again to pick up a ladder.
People are getting a little frustrated by now. “You cannot get in before we get the scanner to work” “But you must have a plan B!” a lot of people say in their wonderful Scottish accent. I am by now pretty convinced that my premature registering of the planned grounds on my groundhopping map HAS jinxed this trip. But rather than panicking, I take it as quite a unique experience.
Eventually, 15 minutes before kick-off, the four broken down turnstiles are opened. I can see that the people in front of me in the queue have plastic season tickets to be scanned. I have a good old fashioned paper ticket for once, although with a bar code for the scanning. When it is my turn, I think I have to put the ticket in a scanner. But there is no scanner. An elderly chap that I can only assume is Mr. Scanner, has a look at my ticket, and allows me in.
Oh, how I love these old stands! Odd stairways, bricks, wooden panels. Really intimate and distinct. I had only taken a very light meal at the Chinese restaurant, so I still have appetite to try a Scotch Pie. It is difficult to tell what is in it. Probably a mixture of mashed potatoes and boiled minced meat. Still, it beats the Scouse Pie I had outside Goodison some years ago.
I cannot quite point to what it is. But the crowd looks a little different to the average English crowd. I guess that it is something about the way they are dressed. The nearest I can think of is the Fulham crowd. Not posh in any way, but more middle-class-like. Or maybe it is because there is no alcohol served under concourse, and they therefore do not seem to be in the same high spirits.
Entering the ground is fantastic. There is something about wooden floors in a stand, rather than the modern concrete. When I visited Bradford back in October and read about the Bradford City Stadium fire, I decided that that was the end of my romantic feel for wooden stands. But now that I am once again sitting in one, it just feels like the real thing. The concrete stands give another acoustic experience, and you feel basically as though you are sitting in parking house. The wooden stands with it’s vaulted ceiling, pillars obstructing the view but given a superficial decoration, and a less hard acoustic soundscape give you a sense of being in the theatre.
As the players are about to enter the field, an old Hearts tune is played over the tannoy. That enhances the feeling of travelling back in time.
This is my first match in Scotland, and I am curious what the crowd will be like. As the match is about to kick-off, the announcer appeals to the crowd over the tannoy “let’s make some noise!” And there are all the oohs and aahs of a British crowd living the flow of the match, but no singing or chanting at all. Well, there is one attempt at the start of the second half. And a single chant for the scattered few Ross County supporters who have made the journey. But still, it is an enjoyable atmosphere.
I am surprised by the style of play. It is all neat passing and one-touch moves. Which the crowd seems to appreciate, although they appreciate sliding tackles just as much. But there is not much cutting-edge in it. Hearts have a lot of possession but seem reluctant to put the ball at risk and therefore don’t really get into dangerous positions. Hearts only dangerous effort is a long-range shot against the crossbar, with a forward miserably ballooning the ball over the bar on the rebound. Ross County seem to be slightly more direct when they go forward.
At the start of the second half, the pattern is the same. But the very moment I decide that I will write that the players seem remarkably comfortable on the ball, Hearts Greek midfield general takes a very heavy touch inside the penalty area, and a Ross County forward pounces and scores. From that moment, you really sense the frustration in the crowd. Nobody seems to believe that all the possession will ever get them a goal. And moans and groans take over, having a reverse effect on the players. 15 minutes before the end, with the score still only 0-1 and Hearts still having 60% of the possession, the first fans start to leave. The guy next to me leave 5 minutes before the end after another attack breaks down. “I have had enough of this”.
And that is how it ends. 0-1. Although Hearts have some good footballers, I can see the point of my friend in the restaurant. It never ever felt like Hearts were going to get goal, despite all their neat touches. I take the same way back to my hotel. It is 15.000 crowd, but very quickly there are only a few scattered groups making their way the same way towards the city centre. Most of Hearts supporters probably live in the opposite direction.
I take a stroll on the Royal Mile just to have been there, and go to the bar of the hotel. I really ought to have a whisky, now in Scotland, but I have to catch a train at 6.50 the following morning, so I ask for a single glass of red wine. The bartender asks me which one. “The Spanish” I say. The bartender discovers that there is not enough wine in the bottle for a full glass, and calls somebody and ask for another bottle to be brought up. It will only be a minute, he assures me. The minute drags out, and eventually the bartender himself go searching for the bottle. It turns out they have run out of Spanish wine, so after a 15 minute wait, I eventually get a glass of Chilean wine to take to my room and digest the impressions of Tynecastle.
I know that it is inevitable that the old stands will have to go. And I feel privileged that I did get to experience it. But I still feel a little sad. That said, the new stands at Tynecastle does have a distinct Edinburgh look and the claret of Hearts – and in the light of the floodlights the white steel tubes that hold the roof the new stands do look impressive.