THE other night – four sleeps to Hampden – my son was at his football training where, instead of the usual strips-of-many-nations, all the Hibbies were in full kit.
The dads looked on with pride and the fully-paid-up masochists among them – the ones responsible for giving their laddies this, er, start in life – discussed what will be the 111th attempt to win back the Scottish Cup.
“I’d take a 2-1 defeat,” said one. “I’d take 3-1,” offered another. “Just as long as they make a game of it... Just as long as I don’t have to sneak out... Just as long as they don’t embarrass us.” Now, part of me was thinking: “Realism, fatalism, whatever – it’s the way to go, has to be after last year.” But another part of me (smaller, admittedly, but still beating) was going: “Aagh! Bang it in the top corner, son, do your Leigh Griffiths celebration, and let’s get the hell out of here, far away from this bunch of losers!”
Back at home, sat down with a macaroon bar and the Turnbull’s Tornadoes DVD, I tried to rationalise things. Of course the other dads have a point. We’re playing Celtic, superior in almost every department. And we’re Hibs, champs-in-perpetuity at self-delusion, the impossible romantic ideal and the big-day wimp-out. I suppose if you brace yourself for disappointment, it’s easier to take. But the SFA engraver won’t be scratching “Runners-up: Hibernian, at least they turned up”. A defeat is still a big, fat defeat.
No, better to be Hibs to the end, or until they win the infernal thing, whichever comes first. Better to travel expectantly, and to take the old route to Hampden – straight into Glasgow, hang a left at the cathedral (because this was the way my dad took me, even though there’s now a quicker one). Better to park where he parked, to walk through Mount Florida and wait for my boy to comment on the unusual juxtaposition of suburban pleasantness and rough football thrills, as I once did. Better to think that, surely, we must get rid of that monkey on our backs sometime, the one bearing a grin as sadistic as Daktari’s Judy. Better to buy a programme because, well, you never know. Better to get to our seats nice and early because the history lesson (The Curse of the Girvan Lighthouse, The Curse of Russell Latapy’s Extra Mojito, Hibs being unlucky to lose my first final 6-1, so Jim Herriot told me) takes some time. And better just to smile when the boy recognises his favourite One Direction tune amid the over-amplified tumult and accept he wouldn’t have liked my idea of pre-match entertainment anyway – massed pipes and drums, army dogs jumping through fire hoops, Middle of the Road on a lorry chirruping Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. Better to half-shut your eyes as half-version Hampden fills to remember when 106,101 witnessed a Hibs failure. Better to keep them half-closed to re-imagine that beautifully green shirt, before it got “updated”. But better to open them in time for kick-off, for my boy’s Hibs, no less valid than mine, since he’s not haunted by past defeats (too young, lucky lad, even for 19 May, 2012).
That was terrible, godawful. Well, so they say. I don’t know because, ha ha, I don’t feel the pain. Since that was basically an on-loan Hibs team, I became a dislocated fan, there in body but that was all. It worked pretty well – I still don’t know who Matt Doherty is – but it’s a dangerous state. When dislocation from the Cup goes on this long, way past desperation, you can start to wallow in it, locate the perverse pleasure, and wonder if a century and ten is enough for Hollywood to make a film about your team.
Thank goodness, then, for a new match-day companion with no baggage save for the little rucksack holding his packed lunch. Last year, there was fine dining with grown men, some of whom have since gone missing. Today, for Archie and me, it’ll be cheese sandwiches on our laps as a new era of Hibby hopefulness begins. There may be tears at the final whistle but come training night the strip will again be washed and ready.
He can count up to 100, you know, so 111 is easily achievable – and what’s 112 but just another number?