FORMER Hearts and Hibernian midfielder Paul Hartley insists it is a ‘no-brainer’ for the Edinburgh clubs to share BT Murrayfield at the start of next season.
The home of Scottish rugby became something of a regular haunt for Hartley during his successful three-and-a-half-year stint with the Jambos, with several continental clashes switched from Tynecastle.
Hearts’ 2004/05 Uefa Cup campaign was played there, with Braga, Schalke and Ferencvaros – managed at the time by future Gorgie gaffer Csaba Laszlo – all visiting Murrayfield.
The following season saw the venue host Champions League qualifiers against Siroki Brijeg and AEK Athens before a Uefa Cup exit at the hands of Sparta Prague.
Despite a lukewarm attitude towards Murrayfield among many Hearts fans, Hartley is adamant he had no qualms about playing there – and believes it could be the perfect solution to getting supporters safely watching football in the capital next term.
He said: “I remember we had about 30,000 fans in there for Hearts’ European games, which might not seem a lot because the stadium is so vast, but the fans did their best to create a racket and they were still good occasions – unique, for sure.
“I really didn’t mind playing there. No, it’s not Tynecastle. It’s not Easter Road. I understand that the atmosphere and the attachment from the supporters aren’t the same, but I had no problem with it as a venue.
“And if it means we can get fans back into the ground, then why not? It seems like a no-brainer.
“That familiarity Hearts have with Murrayfield should mean they are open to the idea. It seems like Hibs are too. I’d applaud the clubs and the SRU [Scottish Rugby Union] for thinking outside the box and, after so much negativity in recent weeks, this is a positive idea.”
The SRU proposes to implement a ‘bio-bubble’ around the stadium, creating a single sporting hub in order to get both rugby and football back up and running in front of fans.
While it is likely that any events would initially remain behind closed doors, a small number of supporters could gradually be allowed to attend depending on the latest government guidelines regarding Covid-19.
And he reckons that would be a much-needed morale boost for fans after watching Scottish football ‘take a battering’ in recent weeks.
Hartley continued: “The facilities are brilliant, it is state-of-the-art behind the scenes.
“You are talking about a world-class international stadium, so I’ve no doubt they would be able to implement all the precautions needed.
“When you consider the size of Murrayfield – 67,000 seats – then even with social distancing, you could still be looking at 10,000, 15,000 or maybe even 20,000 in a couple of months.
“The game is about the supporters and it feels like we have forgotten that over the last period of time. There have been so many arguments, debates and rows, and the fans have been forgotten.
“Scottish football has taken a real battering lately and this is potentially a wee bit of good news.”
Hartley has dismissed the notion that the capital clubs could suffer from the move, asserting that the notion of ‘home advantage’ will be a thing of the past for some time.
Moreover, the Jambos – who still hope to be playing Premiership football next term as owner Ann Budge fights for reconstruction – also have relatively recent experience of hosting fixtures at Murrayfield.
Hearts played three games there when work on their new Main Stand was being completed in September and October of 2017, while their 3-0 Betfred Cup semi-final defeat against Celtic took place there 12 months later.
Hartley added: “Hearts played there when the Tynecastle Main Stand was being finished so there’s no fear of the unknown for them. I don’t think it would faze them.
“I doubt it would faze Hibs either. At the end of the day, it’s a football pitch.
“I don’t see a great deal of difference between that and an empty Tynecastle or Easter Road. It would still be strange and a bit of a challenge.
“But I don’t think either clubs’ results would suffer.”