I had heard about this place opening in August and finally got round to visiting it for a game. My mate, the legendary fitba daft Jamie McQueen, had been at the recent Victory Shield games involving the Scotland U16 team. I was away most of that week but when I got back I found the final game against the Republic of Ireland was a 500 sell-out so that was that.
The Oriam Centre cost £33M and is the national performance centre for sport, based at Heriot-Watt University at Riccarton. £25M came from the Scottish Government with the rest coming from Sportscotland, Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Council. A quick look at Wikipedia tells me that curve of the PVC roof, supported by a steel frame, has been likened to the trajectory of “the goal which defied physics” which was scored by Roberto Carlos against France in 1997. Jamie and I had previously been at the Ravenscraig Regional Sports Facility in 2013, when Thorniewood played their Scottish Junior Cup replay against Camelon, but Jamie assured me that Oriam was much better.
Apparently the 3G carpet is the largest of its kind in Europe, and at 116M by 76M is the same as the Hampden pitch. The roof height varies from 28M at the centre to 15M at the sides.
My links to Heriot-Watt go back a long way as it is where I studied back in the 70s and where I met my missus. I started off as a student at Chambers Street in Edinburgh but in the New Year some faculties moved to the new Riccarton campus and I was one of the 300 men and 30 women who were on campus that first year. Towards Easter there was an outbreak of a dysentery bug, shigella boydii, and although I got away home before I knew I had it, I spent a week in bed and was pretty ill with the doctor coming in every day. Luckily our fancy new-build council house had 2 toilets 😉 .
We had some jolly japes back then, especially as you could open a car with almost any key. My flatmate had an old Vauxhall Viva which some of us pushed up to the car park at the top end instead of the one near the front gate which we were allowed to use. This used to drive the jannies daft and Grant the flatmate kept getting nasty notes in his mailbox asking him to remove his car, even though he didn’t know where it was 🙂 . Our favourite jannie was actually called the building attendant, but we just called him Bill Ding. I suppose you had to be there.
We used to play in what was called the air hall – a large inflated rubber tent which was usually free during the afternoons and big enough for 5-a-sides. Later I played a few times on the grass pitches at Riccarton and picked up a goal of the season trophy for lobbing the goalie in a staff game between our school and the Watt 🙂 . I saw Whitehill Welfare play there a few times in the East of Scotland League before they left Heriot-Watt behind and joined the Lowland.
All this time the campus had been growing and as far as I know there are now about 5000 students on campus. From watching Whitehill there I could see the amount of building going on but I had never really looked around. So when I saw that Hearts were playing Rangers in the Scottish Youth Cup I rolled up an hour early and paid for my £3 ticket as I heard it might sell out. Then I went for a wander through the main building. It seemed very busy for a Sunday afternoon with students everywhere, either eating in the cafeteria or actually working 🙂 . After wandering through corridors for ages I finally located a bit I recognised. We had 3 lecture theatres next to a small bar and what was called the ‘sunken lounge’ where we all used to hang out. For me it was all a bit like time travel. And I got the feeling I was the oldest person there, although nobody actually stared.
Anyway, back over to Oriam and the first thing that struck me was the cold. They keep the inside at the same temperature as the outside to avoid condensation, and I can tell you that there was frost on my car at the end of the game. There’s a decent cafe though, where you can warm up although you can’t see the game, although you do overlook the other hall where there were 3 women’s netball games in progress. The seats are in 3 rows along one side, making the capacity 500.
There were possibly 300 watching the Hearts game. They played the ancient Hearts song before the start so you could close your eyes and pretend you were at Tynie in midwinter. The Jambos started brightly and took the lead through a Hamilton header. However the Rangers team looked pretty strong and gradually got back into the game, equalising with a goal by Burt, before their striker Hardie put them ahead with a penalty just on half time. Two more second-half goals gave Hardie his hat trick as Rangers took a commanding lead. However Henderson gave the Jambos a bit of hope with quarter of an hour left, making it 4-2. Right at the end came the goal of the game when Burt chipped keeper Mason from about 40 yards out. Full time Hearts U20 2 Rangers U20 5, and Rangers go on to the last eight where they were later drawn to meet Falkirk.