It’s ridiculous to suggest that Spartans should move their Scottish Cup tie with Hearts
Ticket scrambles and the prospect of lower league teams having a shot at an upset is what contributes to the magic of the Scottish Cup, so it seems crazy that news of Spartans drawing Hearts in the fourth round has sparked so many calls for the game to be moved to a neutral venue.
It is understandable why Hearts fans may wish for a switch – with a capacity of just over 3600 the demand for tickets will far exceed supply – but if they are being honest with themselves (and, to be fair, many have been, as have the club) they would not be so in favour of bending over backwards and forfeiting home advantage to accommodate rival fans.
Imagine, they get through and land a home tie against Celtic or Rangers. Then imagine either of the Glasgow sides suggesting a switch to Murrayfield or Hampden to allow more of their supporters to attend. It would earn them more gate money, so judging by the arguments being put forward by advocates of a Spartans switch, that would be a no brainer. In reality few, if any, would back such a move.
Truth be told, this tie will already bring in a welcome wedge of cash for the League Two side, especially, if as anticipated, it is selected as one of the televised matches but there is more to a cup match than big bucks. There is the prestige and the romance of welcoming one of the nation’s biggest clubs to their gaff. And, while the current stadium – with two stands – is geographically close to their former City Park ground, at which the club performed logistical miracles to successfully host top-tier sides in Livingston and St Mirren in previous cup outings, it is a million miles away from its rutted, sloping pitch, decaying environs and steep surrounding banking.
The fact is, Ainslie Park has hosted age group internationals and welcomed Manchester United and Liverpool select sides, as well as Dundee United in this season’s League Cup and the only downside to the significant ground upgrade is the fact that it will be nowhere near as much of a leveller as City Park used to be.
In the days since the draw was made, there has been ill-informed nonsense spouted about the ability to meet ground requirements, whether that be turnstiles, floodlights, even whether the all-weather pitch will be playable if there is a cold snap (how many outwith the undersoil heating of the Premiership are?).
It’s ridiculous. This is a competition where Aberdeen’s trip to Darvel will go down in history and they are a side much lower on the Scottish football ladder and, with all due respect, one that would love to boast the home venue enjoyed by Spartans.
Hearts also travelled to Brora Rangers where the facilities there are not as modern or suitable as those at Ainslie Park.
The fact is, when it comes to the romance of the cup and the chance it has to make bigger teams feel ill-at-ease by chucking them into a set-up as far removed from there as is possible in competitive action, the only downside about the Pilton site is that it isn’t as raw and rugged as the very best fairytale encounters would demand.
But, like the team, it has every right to enjoy its day in the spotlight.