19 October 2012

(Not your typical) SFL3 Preview: Queen's Park, Hampden, and the SFA


by Peter Ewart | CRO Contributor

It's normally about this time that I put out a preview for the upcoming SFL3 club we are playing. And this time it's Queen's Park. It won't be taking the usual of format though because as a Rangers fan you'll definitely know where Hampden is and if you can't get a ticket for Queen's Park away frankly you’re doing something drastically wrong.

Instead I'm going to look at the obvious question: How can Queen's Park supposedly own Hampden but appear to have little financial clout and limited success on the park? Having had a dig around it seems there is quite a history to it.

The Club

Even if they did have Hampden riches (and they don’t – see below) one rule that has been a present since their creation in 1876 has meant any success on the park has been very limited – their amateur status. They don’t and have not paid a wage to any of their players in their long history and are proud to retain the title of the only amateur club in the Scottish Football League. 

Their website explains that there has been a few tweaks along the way – they can sign ex-pros or take professional or semi-professional players on loan and pay players expenses - but Queen’s Park players are not on a wage. That’s simply remarkable in today's game.

And there's that little bit about the oldest club in Scotland. Rangers v Queen's Park: It truly is The Original Glasgow Derby.

Hampden

Queen’s Park FC own Hampden and the 33 acres of land round about it, and have done for a very long time. But then Scotland Internationals and Cup Finals have been played at Hampden for a very long time and it seems the SFA has the whip hand in the relationship.

The current arrangements for Hampden can be traced back to the arduous and over-budget revamp of the stadium before it re-opened in 1999. You won’t want bored with the detail (I’ve barely been able to scratch the surface) but a Queen’s Park subsidiary (The National Stadium plc) was responsible for the development despite not funding it. Funding came from various sources including the Scottish Executive, Sport Scotland, BT Scotland sponsorship, the Millennium Commission and the National Lottery Sports Fund, Glasgow City Council and the Glasgow Development Agency.

The project suffered cost overruns of around £8m. The Queen’s Park subsidiary took the brunt of the criticism and a rescue package with all parties was eventually reached, after Queen’s Park were in voluntary administration. It left the club heavily indebted, which they are still paying off.

Was it really just Queen's Park to blame? I know that football administrators wear Teflon blazers, but were the SFA not heavily involved the Hampden revamp which was after all primarily for their benefit? And if not why not? And what about the politicians?

As part of the lease deal between Queen’s Park and the SFA, the future running of the stadium was handed over to the SFA under a subsidiary – the Hampden Park Ltd. More on that another time.

The SFA currently lease Hampden from Queen's Park on a 20 year lease (from 2000) with an option to extend another 20 years. Queen’s Park received over £580k from the SFA in 2011, but they still have that debt to pay down. There was over £1.4m of bank debt remaining at 2011.

So Queen’s Park may be legal, even beneficial owners of Hampden, but it looks like an asset they will never realise. Unfortunately the details are difficult to pin down as the lease is not as publicly available as RFC’s tax affairs, but I cannot imagine that QPFC could sell Hampden from under the SFA, so they are just left with the debt. It’s a stadium the owners can’t afford, and the tenants can’t afford them to sell and can’t afford to buy from them. Messy.

What does all this mean? Well it means that the SFA have been in charge for all the piss poor attendances at Hampden over the past decade. But most importantly it means that Queen's Park, as owners, will benefit from two Rangers visits in SFL3. All the gate receipts from those games will go to QPFC. Definitely. I have confirmation from the club that is the case. And it could stand to be a pretty decent income for them – there could be 50,000+ tickets sold over the two games.

Getting back to the football on Saturday: They’re top; we’re not. Let’s make it a sell out and get that fixed.

Peter is a regular contributor to the CRO. He can be reached on Twitter at @Seasider06 or via email: pewart@thecoplandroad.org