Somehow, after a courtship lasting long into the last century, the fit seems right. The national football stadium is now the property of the Scottish Football Association, guardians of 'the beautiful game' north of Hadrian's Wall.
Writing as long ago as 1976, Robert Brown, a leading journalist and keen observer of the nation's foibles, declared: 'Hampden stands four square with Bannockburn in the Scottish psyche'. Its story can be traced to a time when football in Scotland was in its infancy and matches between ad-hoc teams were becoming popular in towns and villages across the country. Almost any kind of rough stuff was allowed and many fixtures were decided on the basis of strength rather than skill.
In 1863, The Football Association (note the assertive definite article in its title) had been formed to impose order on the game in England, the first organisation of its kind in the world. Nearly another 10 years passed before eight clubs met in a Glasgow hotel (on 13 March 1873) to form the SFA.
Scotland was equally slow to follow England's lead and allow professionals. Clubs in England had been openly paying players since 1885. It was feared that unless the game in Scotland followed the English example, it would perish. Illegal payments, which were rumoured to exist, was certainly not the way forward. Why was anyone surprised when young men with a talent for the sport were told they could be earning two wages (one from a regular job which the club helped provide, the other playing football) and found the idea attractive?
According to social historian, Bill Murray, football had become the game of the working class. To the worker with magic in his feet, Murray believed, football 'offered a way out of the industrial system; to him for whom the magic was only in the mind, it offered a few hours of escapist release'.
A struggle for the soul of the game was underway, in April 1890, when the Scottish Football League was formed. One critic condemned the new body for pursuing a set of rules which 'stink of finance, money-making and money grabbing'. Queen's Park, the amazing amateurs who dominated the game in Scotland (and much of England) throughout its early years, were convinced that serious money could be generated from owning a first-class football ground outright. Crosshill, in the Mount Florida area of the city, offered the sort of space that Queen's Park considered necessary for the state-of-the-art enclosure they wished to create.
Born in 1595, John Hampden was the son of a land-owning Buckinghamshire family, educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, and the Inner Temple in London. Recognised with a statue in the central lobby of the House of Commons, he is remembered chiefly, both in Britain and the United States, as an outspoken parliamentarian who refused to believe in the divine right of kings; and was generally admired for his 'urbanity, veracity and all-round good character'.
Hampden was one of a small group of English parliamentary commissioners who, in August 1641, accompanied the ill-fated King Charles I on a visit to Edinburgh, 'ostensibly to cement relations with the Scots Covenanters but covertly to keep an eye on Charles lest he should plot anything to the disadvantage of Parliament'. According to one biographer, Paul Hooper, it was this visit which 'seems to have confirmed him in the belief that Charles could not be trusted'. Hampden died, aged 48, on 24 June 1643, having sustained a shoulder wound at the Battle of Chalgrove, fighting on his cousin Oliver Cromwell's side, in the English civil war. Winston Churchill was a modern-day descendant; as are Princes William and Harry, on their mother's side.
Hampden's association with the turbulent, unpredictable world of Scottish football predates Queen's Park's membership of the Scottish Football League by nearly two decades. George Eadie, a Glasgow builder active in the Mount Florida area during the last years of the 19th century, is often credited with bringing them together. The names of English notables provided an easy, uncontroversial and seemingly endless supply of street names in Scottish towns and cities. However, there was surely never one as lastingly significant as Hampden Terrace, the name George Eadie selected to identify a row of smart-looking houses in the Mount Florida area, overlooking Crosshill.
The years Queen's Park spent at Crosshill ended with the expansion of the Cathcart Circle railway line. Then it was found that the ground known to Queen's Park supporters as second Hampden offered few opportunities for improvement. Unable to accommodate large numbers of spectators in ever-increasing numbers, the club decided it would be unwise to 'sink a great deal of money in the present premises'. They much preferred to buy a piece of ground outright, and on it construct the 'finest football stadium in the world'.
Work on the definitive Hampden Park started in season 1900-1901 (the year Queen's Park relented and joined the Scottish Footbal League) and concluded three years later with a grand opening. What existed then, according to the Evening Times
, was 'a ground for the greatest things, grand in conception and great in area, and only the greatest successes can be deemed adequate reward for the enterprise which rendered such an enclosure possible'.
No-one could live through the second half of the last century, care about the state of Scottish football, and not despair at the sight of Hampden Park in decline. The much-mooted idea that international matches, and other showpiece games, could be played at Murrayfield never seemed right. As one senior administrator put it to me at the time: 'There is no case to be made for the Scottish national football team generating money for another sport. Football needs every cent that it can generate for itself, as does rugby. Rugby would never contemplate playing at Hampden with the money going into the coffers of football'.
There were a number of major disappointments along the way, none worse than the occasion, in 1980, with the demolition people already on site and plans in place for a new national stadium to emerge in stages, the Tory Government reneged on a promise to provide the necessary funds. I will never forget someone close to the negotiations telling me then: 'What happened was disgusting'.
Not for the first time, Scottish football – and Hampden – is facing a fresh start. Who can forget that this was once the biggest and the best football stadium in the world? Could it be again? Almost certainly not, I know. I am also aware it sounds foolish to ask. Yet, should it be?