Glasgow is a sporting city. Ibrox, Hampden and Celtic Park are temples of football; they have played host to some of the biggest names from across the world and have each seen great displays of skill, competitiveness and athleticism over the years. If you mention Glasgow to someone who does not hail from the “dear green place” they are most likely to reply with some quip about the football rivalry which courses through the city’s veins like the Clyde does through its very heart. Indeed, Hampden hosted the largest crowd for a football match anywhere in the world only to be beaten by Rio’s Maracana.
Football is vital to Glasgow. However, some would argue that this has been to the detriment of other sports. Rugby has arguably suffered ; when speaking to Kevin Ferrie on a feature about the Six Nations for The Saint last year, he lamented the dreadfully non-existent record of a state educated Scotland international being produced from the country’s largest city. Provision for rugby is very much limited to those who don the striped ties and coloured blazers of the city’s private schools (Though intensive exposure to egg chasing at St Aloysius College, my alma mater, had little effect on me). Even last season, when Glasgow Warriors were enjoying success both at home and abroad crowds were paltry in comparison to those at Ibrox or Celtic Park. If you looked from a car or train window and saw a sports field, it would often look like a sad old dog missing part of its ear. Even Celtic until fairly recently played on what their former captain Jackie McNamara described as a pretty poor facility at Barrowfield in the shadow of the stadium.
The area around Barrowfield has been transformed, however. Quite simply because the Commonwealth Games is in town. The last time the Games visited Scotland, back in the 1980s, was such a disaster that it required the disgraced former owner of The Mirror, Robert Maxwell, to effectively bail it out. Glasgow however has been on time and indeed on budget.
For eleven days football will be put to the side as seventeen sports and two hundred and sixty one medal events take place from the 23rd of July to the 3rd of August. The opening ceremony, at Celtic Park, will see seventy nations from across the Commonwealth take part. The club’s founders, if they were still here, would no doubt be bemused that The Queen will be there to declare the Games open, while many will no doubt crack a wry smile as the National Anthem is played at what is normally an inhospitable venue to that sort of thing. The ceremony will thankfully not include the pulling down of Glasgow’s architecturally infamous Red Road Flats, something which was mooted then hastily taken off the agenda.
However, tearing down and starting afresh is a vital aspect of these Games, so I could understand where the idea came from. Take the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome for example. Built over wasteland across the road from Celtic Park, it is a sparkling modern facility which will provide excellent cycling facilities which are among the world’s best, as will the new national hockey centre and the new aquatics centre in Tollcross. In the west end of the city the new Scotstoun athletics arena will provide a training base for athletes, down at the Clyde the recently opened Hydro will host gymnastics while at Kelvingrove a new home for Scotland’s most successful sport, bowls, will be housed.
The Hydro provides the city with yet another world class concert venue while Scotstoun provides a first class leisure centre for the local community, while it has also become a permanent home ground for Glasgow Warriors. The legacy of these games has been assured; at last the city has a sporting infrastructure it can be proud of and one worthy of its citizens.
Beyond the sporting side, however, there is another important legacy for Glasgow. The city’s transport network has been improved. Train stations, particularly in the east, have been renovated while the city’s Scalextric-esque underground system has been given a fresh coat of paint. While it may not change the fact that it still runs in a circle it has finally been dragged into the 21st century; a new Oyster card style system has been installed while the orange signage untouched since the 70s has finally been updated. The M74 motorway has also been updated, making arrival by car in to the east end much easier.
The athlete’s village is the jewel in the crown of the regeneration project; it will provide the particularly run down area of Dalmarnock with a new focus and I hope, affordable and well-built housing for those who live around it. While certain people feel that the vast majority of the investment is going into the east when there are other areas of the city in a similar plight, it is a start. I hope it’s an enduring legacy, however, much in the way that parts of Manchester have benefited from their 2002 experience with the Commonwealth Games.
It is easy to knock Glasgow; some of my initial conversations at St Andrews were based on notions of the Glasgow kiss, the city’s culinary range being confined to a deep fried Mars bar (actually invented near Aberdeen) or a fish supper and that it is seemingly twinned with Somalia or Dagestan. Admittedly, aspects of Glasgow can irritate me ; the absurd notion that you have to support a football team because of your family’s religious background, the crimes against architecture that the city’s planners got away with in the 1960s, the absurd number of empty buses clogging up the streets and the occasional lack of civic self-belief. However I hope that the Games will show that this is a vibrant city with fine Victorian architecture, that here you can eat more than a slab of fried sludge but most importantly that this is a city that can pull off this sort of thing. After all, as one our most successful exports after ocean going liners and great footballers, Billy Connolly once put in the most Glaswegian of terms, “F**k yes, I come from there”.