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Bulldozers move in as the Tartan Army make off with hallowed turf

THE playing surface of a national football stadium on these isles hasn't been laid to waste on this scale since Wembley circa 1977.

The Hampden redevelopments get underway yesterday
The Hampden redevelopments get underway yesterday

And, just like back then, members of Tartan Army scarpered off home with some choice chunks of the hallowed turf to plant in their back gardens.

Yes, yesterday was the day when the diggers finally moved on Mount Florida as work began on Hampden Park, transforming it from the home of Scottish football into a state-of-the-art track and field stadium for the Commonwealth Games. Literally and metaphorically, you might say, the goalposts were being moved.

While such an act of architectural vandalism had a sacrilegious feel to it, a new surface will now be built in Scotland, on girders. A structure of steel stilts will raise surface level by 6ft in order to provide the width and length required for an approved International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) athletics track, temporarily requiring the reduction of the stadium's capacity from 52,000 to 44,000 in the process. While athlete Meggan Dawson-Farrell, who will compete for Team Scotland in the T54 1500 metres, was on hand to see the ground broken on the project, the smattering of Tartan-clad Scotland football fans who pitched up for the occasion left with enough grass to re-enact Woodstock.

There have been a multitude of changes to this grand old stadium since it was opened in 1903 - just shy of 150,000 crammed in here once for a Scotland v England match - but this is a fair old facelift, not just a few cosmetic changes here and there. It actually all began quietly last year, with a fairly extensive piece of work to the North Stand and the concourses completed in time for the Scottish Cup final.

While Scottish football's heart will continue to beat from Mount Florida - the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Professional Football League will maintain their offices in the South Stand - the stadium's absence from the regular rotation of events will certainly be felt. With Lesser Hampden also being turned into a warm-up area for the world class athletes who will throng here next summer, regular occupants Queen's Park will decamp to Airdrie for the duration. They have, at least, been compensated with a new pavilion to replace the Portakabins on Somerville Drive. Occasional tenants Scotland will have to play international matches elsewhere, although the stadium due is to re-open and return to its original use for February 2015 at the latest for a friendly against England.

The Scottish Cup final will take place at Celtic Park, the semi-finals at Ibrox, while the League Cup final venue has yet to be determined. Even the likes of Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen and co will have to do their thing elsewhere next summer.

Football's loss, however, will be athletics' gain: while the work should be completed by mid-May in order to host to the Scottish Schools Athletics Championships in June, there was also heady talk yesterday about the venue hosting a Diamond League athletics match next summer.

Eilidh Child, Scotland's medal hopeful in the 400m hurdles and a Hearts fan, is well acquainted with the stadium as a football venue - even if she missed her side's epoch-defining Scottish Cup final win in 2012 due to a family wedding. "I have been to Hampden obviously as a football stadium so now to see the work getting under way to turn it into an athletics track it feels like it is all coming together," Child said. "I am wondering when I go out whether it will feel like the Hampden I know or if it will it feel like a different stadium. I suppose I won't know till I am there but I know the atmosphere is going to be as good as it is at football games.

"After six years of detailed planning, today is another key date in our calendar," said Hampden Park managing director Peter Dallas yesterday. "The Games will add another chapter to Hampden's long and proud history. Like so many world-class footballers and rock stars before them, the athletes will savour the unique passion and energy created by a full capacity crowd at Hampden."

David Grevemberg, the chief executive of the Glasgow 2014 games said: "Hampden is known the world over as the home of Scottish football and we are thrilled that our exciting, innovative and sustainable plans will temporarily transform one of the world's great football stadiums into a fantastic athletics competition venue for the elite athletes of the Commonwealth."

"As the home of Scottish football, Hampden has a special place in the hearts of many Scots," said Commonwealth Games minister Shona Robison.

"It's fitting that our national stadium will play a key role when Scotland welcomes the world in 2014, when the Commonwealth's best athletes and more than 44,000 spectators will experience for themselves Scotland's legendary Hampden roar."

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