THE season-ticket holders had grabbed the best seats, as is their right (these are people, braver than me, who are currently being urged to renew for next season, even though they don’t know if it’ll be the SPL or the First).
And the crash-barriers were up for the first day of general sale for Hibs’ Scottish Cup semi-final with Aberdeen. So Rab leans against the barrier – singular, only one is needed – surveys the lack of excitement, anticipation or anything resembling a queue and says: “Really don’t mind if you sit this one out.”
Now, those of taste and discernment will know that to be the opening line of Thick as a Brick, the classic 1972 concept album by prog-rock legends Jethro Tull. It’s still one of our favourites and after the semi my chum and I will be winding our way up to Perth to see Tull supremo Ian Anderson trill on his flute, possibly while standing on one leg, maybe while wearing a codpiece, as he performs the whole, one-song epic in celebration of its 40th anniversary. So, we’re bound to enjoy at least part of the day.
“Let me tell you the tales of your life/Let me sing of the losers who lie in the street.” You don’t have to scan the lyrics of Tull’s magnum opus too closely to find words which describe the Hibee condition re the Scottish Cup. Even the perfunctory stat of the year the album was released resonates and chimes: 1972, my first final, Celtic 6, Hibs 1. I cried, and on the car journey home, probably wished I’d bought Thick as a Brick on eight-track cartridge a few weeks before rather than vinyl, so it could thrum along the M8 and I could indulge my teenage pain some more: “I’m a bad dream that I just had today.”
That was close to the best Hibs team in all my fandom; only the injured Alex Cropley was missing. Turnbull’s Tornadoes, fully-formed, couldn’t win the cup either. By 1979, the whooshing winger Arthur Duncan had lost some of his wind-power, and when he put through his own goal to decide that thrice-played final in favour of Rangers, he was a full-back. The following season the Tornadoes had been reduced to zephyrs. The Hibees were battling relegation but, bizarrely, had made it to Hampden again. This was the Hibs of Ally Brazil. They lost their semi and duly went down.
“Spin me back down the years and the days of my youth,” sings Ian Anderson. “Draw the lace and black curtains and shut out the whole truth.” Hibbys would want to draw a veil over 40 years of cup striving. In that time we’ve reached just three finals, producing two easy defeats and an utterly tragic one. The whole truth is staring us in the face. “Mark the precise nature of your fear,” continues Anderson. The fear is that we’ll die before Hibs win the cup.
And yet… and yet… wouldn’t it be strange and wonderful and so typically us if a bunch of players who know so little about the club’s history, some only pitching up a few weeks ago, one or two perhaps not previously able to place Hibs on the map, were to go and actually do it? Infinitely superior Hibs teams couldn’t win the Scottish and neither could teams packed with local lads who first stood in the Cowshed as fans. Purists might wish the honour had gone to the Famous Five, the Tornadoes or Tony Mowbray’s bright young things but we are beggars and we cannot be choosers when it comes to this infernal silver pail.
“Your wise men don’t know how it feels/To be thick as a brick.” Celtic fans, Rangers fans, Falkirk fans, East Fife fans and those of 13 other clubs (one since disbanded) – you don’t know how it feels to be a Hibs supporter because you’ve all won the cup more recently.
So we don’t know how it feels to see our team bounce on an MDF stage while cranked-up pop naffness (no Tull) scares all the cats out of Mount Florida, and we’re getting desperate.
Remembering that next Saturday is only a semi-final, we can at least search for omens. Here’s one – Ian Anderson, Edinburgh man. But he was schooled at Roseburn Primary in the gloomy west which probably makes him… a Jambo.