THERE was a fair old difference between the atmosphere at Hampden from when I was going along as a fan and when I was in the dugout as Scotland manager. And apart from the odd moment, it wasn’t for the better.

The last time I was there as a fan was about 1971 and there was 137,000-odd there, but times have changed.

I was at the France game when we beat them on that rope-a-dope day a few years back, and when the ball went into the back of the net I said to Gavin ‘Have a look at the French players’ faces’, they were just looking at each other in total bewilderment.

It was great defending, great enthusiasm that day from the team and the crowd, and eventually it was enough to get the win. And then the day when I was manager and we went 2-1 up on England, that was incredible.

Those are the exceptional moments at Hampden though rather than the rule. It has to be specific points in the game where something happens, everyone goes ‘Wow’, and they all join together.

By contrast, if you think back to the Ireland game where we won 1-0 at Celtic Park, it wasn’t only an explosion of noise when Shaun Maloney scored. It was 90 minutes of this noise, which you just don’t get at Hampden.

I remember playing Georgia at Ibrox too and despite only winning 1-0, we played really well. The atmosphere that day was great, the boys loved it, the staff loved it.

For me, I would have all the big international games at Celtic Park or Ibrox. Then I would have the rest at Easter Road, Tynecastle or Pittodrie, stadiums like that. You could perhaps have three groups in fact, with Celtic and Rangers for the really big ones, just underneath them it’s Hibs, Hearts, Aberdeen, and the real smaller ones you can play at the smaller grounds. As long as it’s not plastic, of course.

I think that would be a great way to generate a better atmosphere, and I do think that when the atmosphere is on top of you, it is more intimidating for opposition players. Perhaps more importantly though, it’s far better for our players. As a player, you just love that feeling of everybody being with you.

The ball comes back in quicker at these other stadiums too. Sometimes at Hampden the ball goes away and it takes ages for it to get back.

I think the fans are of a similar mind now to me, and they feel more a part of it at these other grounds than they do at Hampden.

This will give the people at the SFA a heart attack probably, but I’m not telling them anything that they don’t know themselves. They know it themselves.

There shouldn’t be any excuse for getting a bad result or a bad performance, but I think crowds and atmosphere do play a part. Just look at the stats now that there’s no crowds in at all, there’s more away victories now in the Premier League than there’s ever been. There has to be something in it.

Some of Scotland’s poorer performances have been at Hampden when there’s been a smaller crowd and it just seems soulless. I know everyone will say that they are professional footballers playing for their country and none of that should matter, but it does.

It’s the same for the fans. If you were at that Ireland game then you’re involved in it and your heart rate is up there. You’re screaming and you’re shouting and getting behind the team. If you’re sitting at Hampden with 15,000 folk in, you as a fan aren’t involved in the same way.

We actually get all of that back on the pitch. Whether it’s moaning and groaning at us for being rotten, or you’re cheering us on, it makes a difference.

I don’t care who you are, adrenaline is an incredible weapon to have, and it does make a difference, it just does.

If you come out at Hampden and there’s 20,000 people there let’s say, and there’s big gaps between all the fans, it makes for a terrible atmosphere. Take those fans to Tynecastle or somewhere like that and they will be bouncing off each other and it would be fantastic.

If it was up to me, we’d be using these assets that we have to our advantage. It isn’t up to me, it’s up to the powers that be, and I know and understand they have to make money to keep everything going.

You’ll make more money though if you keep qualifying for more major championships, that’s for sure, and the best way to do that is to harness the fans you have to make the best atmosphere possible.

Hampden, I’m afraid to say, has had its day.