IT was a Saturday night at the end of April, 1955. Around the great open-air arena of Hampden Park sat a huge audience of around 100,000, all of them listening intently to an American, his raincoat unbuttoned, his hair ruffled by the cold wind.

Here and there, ambulance workers picked their way through the crowd, tending to casualties. In the gathering dusk some 2,250 people – men, women and children – walked past a barrier to stand on a perimeter track, propelled there by the sheer force of the American’s words.

For Billy Graham, the Christian evangelist from North Carolina, was indeed a compelling speaker. “There is”, he declared, “a lonely arena where you must fight the greatest battle of life all alone. On this turf has been fought many a battle – but the greatest battle ever fought at Hampden Park is being fought tonight, and the arena is your heart, because you stand at the crossroads of life.

“In a few moments the curtain will ring down on this crusade. There may never be another moment in Scotland’s history like this, when you can come and give your life to Christ”.

As he neared the end of his speech, many women, including the hard-pressed ambulance workers, wept. “We have fallen in love with you people”, he said. “We are going to carry a little bit of Scotland away with us”.

Graham was now at the end of his six-week-long All-Scotland Crusade. His rallies had been attended by more than two-and-a-half million people, and more than 50,000 had made symbolic “decisions for Christ”. Among them were those 2,250 at Hampden.

Over a career spanning six decades, Graham preached to 215 million people in 185 countries, reaching hundreds of millions others through his radio and television ministry. He died, aged 99, in February 2018.

His reference to the Hampden turf was appropriate: many great international matches and domestic cup finals had been fought out there since its opening in 1903. But his presence was a reminder that Scotland’s national stadium, its field of dreams, has been the stage for so many events unrelated to football, from royal events and huge outdoor concerts to the World Bowl XI clash between Rhein Fire and Frankfurt Galaxy in 2003 – and Mike Tyson’s lightning-fast, first-round knock-out of Lou Savarese in June 2000.

Just two years before Graham’s visit, in June 1953, Hampden had been the setting for a youth rally, a key moment in Glasgow’s civic welcome for the Queen, newly crowned at Westminster Abbey.

In the colourful words of an un-named reporter for this newspaper: “The spirit of the Elizabethan age assumed magnificent substance at Hampden Park, transformed into a vast kaleidoscope of colour by the 50,000 school children and members of the city’s youth organisations ... The stadium, even in moments of high triumph for Scottish International football elevens, never contained a crowd more intoxicated with the sheer delight of being present at a great occasion”.

The young people, accompanied by 20,000 parents and youth-group leaders, filled in the two hours before the Queen’s arrival by cheering all the preliminaries, from the mounting of guards to the scurry of ambulance workers, who were called to deal with more than 100 cases.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, delayed en route, arrived too late to witness from their box the finishing fly-past of 83 jets and other RAF aircraft. They watched 2,000 performers doing field events before leaving for Rutherglen, a massed choir of 900 voices speeding them on their way.

Glasgow’s White City Stadium had long been home to the Glasgow Tigers speedway team, but in 1969 the outfit relocated to Hampden itself – a residency that lasted only until 1972, when they moved to Coatbridge. Their stay at Hampden was blighted by the death, in September 1972, of the Norwegian Svein Kaasa, who crashed during a league meeting with Swindon.

In its time Hampden has also hosted a clutch of rugby union internationals, the most recent being a Scotland-Australia encounter in 2004, and, during the 1920s and 1930s, Scottish Amateur Athletics Association championships (Eric Liddell, no less, recorded several triumphs at the 1924 edition).

In 2014, Hampden underwent an elaborate, nine-months-long transformation – the playing-surface was raised by 1.9 metres – to enable it to host the track and field athletics competitions and Closing Ceremony at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

It’s in the last 23 years that Hampden has become of the UK’s main arenas for live music, attracting some of the highest-profile names in the business.

The trail was actually blazed in the ‘old’, pre-moderrnised, Hampden on June 26, 1987, when the Princess Royal and 35,000 fans were present as Genesis, fronted by Phil Collins, and supported by Paul Young, brought their Invisible Touch tour to Glasgow. The trio had pledged a proportion of the receipts of their UK dates to the charity, Save the Children; Anne, as president, was on hand to receive a cheque for £70,000.

“The light show which the group used on stage is one of the most spectacular in the rock world”, noted the Evening Times. “The computerised rig has more than 60 lights which are capable of changing colour throughout the entire spectrum”.

Three years later, on July 9, 1990, Hampden welcomed the Rolling Stones’ Urban Jungle tour of Europe. The band had been touring North America with its colossal Steel Wheels stage set; as they later explained, Urban Jungle was a smaller version of it, “because the [European] stadiums were generally less able to cope with the massive Steel Wheels set”.

Even so, a Stones spokesman said that the 200ft high stage at Hampden, which had been ferried over from the band’s previous concert, in Madrid, was “the biggest ever seen at a rock concert”, and was “bigger than Madonna’s’’ and “more spectacular than [David] Bowie’s”. An estimated 45,000 fans thrilled to the band’s catalogue of classic songs.

There was a gap of nine years before the national stadium, extensively remodelled, emerged as a modern all-seater venue in 1999. Rod Stewart was the first artist to appear (a feat he would repeat in 2013 when he opened the Hydro) and reportedly declared it the highest honour he had ever sought.

Many others have followed as more and more artists came to realise the lucrative benefits of entertaining huge audiences at outdoor arenas : Tina Turner in July 2000, and, the following year, Bon Jovi, the Eagles and, for two nights, Robbie Williams. Eminem arrived in 2003, and U2 (their Vertigo tour) and Oasis in 2005.

Hampden’s subsequent record is: 2006 – Bon Jovi, the Eagles, the Rolling Stones, and Robbie Williams; 2007 – George Michael, Rod Stewart, Red Hot Chili Peppers; 2008 – Neil Diamond, Bon Jovi; 2009 – Take That, AC/DC, The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, U2 (the 360° tour, with its distinctive, 190-tonne steel stage named ‘The Claw – pictured above), Coldplay; 2010 – Paul McCartney, Pink; 2011 – Take That; 2013 – Springsteen, Robbie Williams, Bon Jovi; 2015 – AC/DC; 2016 – Springsteen, Coldplay, Rihanna, Beyonce; 2017 – Stone Roses; 2018 – Ed Sheeran, Jay Z and Beyonce; 2019 – Pink.

Today Hampden is hosting Calvin Harris, with Gerry Cinnamon arriving on July 16 and 17, and Coldplay returning on August 23 & 24.

In addition to staging a vast number of memorable domestic and European cup finals and international matches, Hampden has succeeded in hosting some of the biggest concerts ever seen north of the border.