BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Robbie Neilson is adamant Hearts’ decision to remain at Tynecastle will be welcomed by the whole of Scottish football after candidly contrasting the atmosphere in Gorgie to “soulless” new builds and the surreal silence of Murrayfield.
The club’s supporters have been united in celebration after Ann Budge’s announced her intention to renovate their Gorgie home, with construction of a new main stand set to be completed in 2017.
It ends more a decade of uncertainty regarding the future of Tynecastle, finally quashing the persistent suggestions of a move to Murrayfield or a move to a new stadium.
The announcement, made at the club’s AGM on Thursday, thrilled Neilson, who pointedly described Tynecastle as “home” as he reacted to the news.
Recalling his first experience of a truly raucous Tynecastle, the 3-2 UEFA Cup win over Stuttgart in 2000, in which he replaced Gary Locke after 29 minutes, Neilson admits he could not imagine Hearts playing anywhere else.
“As a young kid coming through the ground staff, you watch a lot of games and was a great atmosphere,” Neilson said. “But I remember the Stuttgart game was one of the first I played in. It was a full house under the flood lights, which was incredible.
“I also played at Murrayfield when it was moved for the Champions League and it was night and day. There were 25,000 at the game but it felt like 3,000 because of the size of the stadium.
“So to stay at Tynecastle at redevelop it is fantastic. It’s really important for the club. We have been here for such a long time and it is a home to everybody.
“We’ve all been to these stadiums which are miles outside the city and don’t have any soul, it’s just not the same environment.
“The club, the staff, the players – and even opposition fans will be delighted, because it is one of the best stadiums to visit. For the players and the fans, it’s intense and I think the new stand will take it to a new level.”
Neilson fully expects visiting players to be similarly delighted by the prospect of a new main stand, joking that it has not been updated since it’s construction in 1914.
On a more serious note, however, it will see the club rid of what has become a financial millstone around its neck in recent years.
“The three stands on the other side are great, but the main stand has served its purpose and is becoming difficult to maintain,” admitted Neilson.
“The stand is probably exactly the same as when it was built! It takes a lot of upkeep and is probably the worst away dressing room in Scottish football for players to come to.
“It’s been a great stand and has served us well for more than 100 years – but it’s time to move on.”
Today’s visit of Inverness Caledonian Thistle could see Hearts register their ninth consecutive home sell-out as they thrive on their return to the Ladbrokes Premiership.
That is a pattern which Neilson believes would be sustainable – even if the stadium did boast an extra 2,500 seats.
“You want a stadium which is full, so you strike a balance between the size and making sure you fill it,” added Neilson. “The market we are looking at is correct and, if we keep going in the right direction and progressing, we will fill it.”