Heart of Midlothian v Celtic
Scottish League Cup semi-final
Ground: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
The semi finals of the Scottish League cup were a major cause of controversy even before any ball was kicked. The SPFL planned the semi final weekend just after a European week. With Celtic and Rangers both qualifying for the Europa League group stage it became clear neither could play on a Saturday as they have to play a European game on the Thursday. When both teams reached the semi finals, many people involved in the planning of the semi finals will have hoped they would be drawn together, so they can play on Sunday and the other game can be on Saturday. However, the draw kept both teams apart with Celtic playing Hearts and Rangers playing Aberdeen.
The original plan of the SPFL was to play both semi finals at Hampden Park on the Sunday, with Aberdeen v Rangers in the early afternoon and Hearts v Celtic in the evening. Unsurprisingly, neither the non-Glasgow clubs, nor the local authorities were very pleased with the plan. The SPFL claimed that due to a contract they had to play both at Hampden Park. However, as pressure mounted, the SPFL got an exception to the contract and they decided to move the Hearts v Celtic game to Murrayfield, home of Scottish Rugby. This time Celtic were unhappy as they claimed this was an unfair advantage to Hearts with the ground being virtually next to their Tynecastle ground, conveniently ignoring the fact that they are advantaged for almost every other semi final and final in Scottish cup competitions against non-Glasgow opposition by playing in their own city, not far from Parkhead.
As football at Murrayfield is quite a rare occurrence, I decided to go to this game. The ground was opened in March 1925 as the national rugby stadium in a Five Nations game against England for a 70,000 attendance. Scotland won their first ever Five Nations Grand Slam that year. The army used the ground for the Second World War. In 1983 the East Stand got built and in the early 1990’s the ground got further redeveloped to the 67,144 capacity all-seater ground that it is today. Other the Scottish national rugby team, Edinburgh Rugby played here between 1996 and 2017. Murrayfield hosted matches of the 1991, 1999 and 2007 Rugby World Cups. American football team Scottish Claymores also played here between 1995 and 2002 in the NFL Europe league. The ground has been used for football when Hearts played 4 home games there last season when Tynecastle was being redeveloped. Celtic played 2 Champions League qualifying matches here in 2014. Between 2004 and 2007 Hearts played their European fixtures here as Tynecastle didn’t fit the UEFA requirements in those years. Both Hearts and Hibs also played a pre-season friendly against Barcelona here. Recently, Murrayfield was an option to replace Hampden Park as the national football stadium. However, the SFA ultimately decided to remain at Hampden.
I had tickets for the Hearts end. I took the train to Haymarket where I met a friend with who I had a pre-match drink in the one bar near Tynecastle that was still allowing in people when we got there. Hearts impressively nearly sold out their 30,000 allocation, meaning they were taking more fans than fit in Tynecastle. From the pub we took the short walk to Murrayfield. There was just a large group of fanatic Hearts fans walking as well, who were singing some sectarian songs. Games against Celtic unfortunately bring out the extremes in the Hearts support, while normally sectarianism isn’t much of a problem in football in Edinburgh. The game was close in the first half and I started thinking Hearts might pull off a win. Early in the second half, Celtic scored a penalty. A howler by the Hearts goalkeeper resulted in the 2-0, after which Celtic never looked in danger anymore. A distance shot resulted in the final score of 3-0.
I’m glad I went to this game as Murrayfield is an impressive stadium and it might be many years before football is being played again there.