There’s a piece of television news footage from last year which pops up on social media of a Hearts fan buttonholed in Gorgie Road for his opinion on Robbie Neilson. It’s a cold, dark night which suits the supporter’s mood completely. No, he says, he won’t be crying into his Bovril over Neilson’s departure. Why? Because this was the man who “let” Hibernian win the Scottish Cup.
Now, Edinburgh cup derbies don’t need any formal introduction. These clubs don’t win many trophies so to kick your rivals out of the competition while at the same time prolonging your own involvement for a while longer can often be as good as it gets. Last year, though, it got a bit better for Hibs and after beating Hearts in the fifth round they went on to lift the cup. Today, back in the fifth round, back at Tynecastle, the old foes re-convene. Safe to say this tie has a bit more needle, hype, tension, grudge and back-story going on.
In that diabolical voxpop you get a vivid reminder of just how gloriously self-contained the football fan’s world can be. He doesn’t see the big picture – it’s overrated – and only thinks of the small picture. He’s conspiratorial, perverse and true. All supporters are like this, by the way, or have the same tendencies. But these tendencies were writ especially large in that Jambo wail.
It didn’t matter that Hibs had to overcome two more teams to reach the final, both from the division above, that they had to win a replay in Inverness and a penalty shootout in the semi just to get to the position of being behind 2-1 in the showdown against Rangers with only ten minutes remaining. What mattered was that they beat Hearts in the fifth round. That was when the cup was won. So here comes the chance for revenge.
Hang on, though, didn’t Hibs have their chance for revenge the season after Hearts had beaten them in the 2012 final? Surely that tie, which Hibs did win, was freighted with as much needle, hype and the rest as today’s match? Well, quantifying these things is not an exact science, for sure, but Hibs in 2012 only failed to stop Hearts winning the cup for the third time in 14 years, though the defeat was particularly heavy. Hearts – in the eyes of some of the faithful – failed to stop Hibs lifting it for the first time in an astonishing 114 years, having had the tie in their grasp.
Who’s got most to win and who’s got most to lose? The answer to both questions, I think, is Hearts. Hibs might well want to retain the trophy but could their desire really be greater than Hearts’ desire to yank it from Leith mitts, bringing to a definite end the Hibees’ grand Persevered tour, given Jambos cannot be entirely convinced that at half-time today David Gray & Co won’t attempt to sneak it round Gorgie City Farm and Dalry Swim Centre?
Of all teams, Hibs won’t want it to be Hearts who force them to relinquish the cup, but should they lose, they can holler one of football’s hoary euphemisms – “Now we can properly concentrate on the league” – and in their case that’s an absolute imperative.
But how would maroon sensibilities cope with being sent packing from the competition two seasons running and by a Championship-languishing Hibs at that? There are more than a few folk – and I include Hibs fans in this – who reckon that Hearts might just want this one a little bit more.
Football changes quickly these days. Since the tie 12 months ago both clubs have acquired new managers, considerable amounts of new personnel and new playing styles. Hearts’ Johnny Hamilton, who appeared in both the 1958 and 1966 all-Edinburgh cup clashes at Tynecastle – Hibs winning the first and their rivals the latter – would be surprised at this. Old Iron Man himself, John Cumming, who also turned out in 1966 having previously played in the 1955 game between the teams on his way to 600-plus appearances for his only senior club, would have been absolutely astonished.
Put simplistically, Hibs play slightly less football than a year ago and Hearts, though the Ian Cathro experiment is still very new, slightly more. Hibs will certainly be without six of the 13 who took part in the 2-2 draw and it could be more. Like them, Hearts could field an almost entirely different line-up from before.
It’s the fans, with their funny way of looking at life, who will as ever provide the continuity in the fixture, and especially now that that Tynecastle’s old main stand, which has reeled and rocked to the thrills of the previous ties, is hosting its last-ever. Hibs supporters have a big and boastful cup songbook which they’ve been performing all season long. They will be shouted down lustily today, and especially if the team troop away from the ground as former cup holders.
In that eye-catching win against Rangers the other week, the game which persuaded the Jambo contingent that this match might be one to relish rather than dread, some were seen brandishing rattles. They seemed to date from 1955 when the Terrible Trio vanquished the Famous Five to continue a Hibee tale of woe in the cup which would grow and fester and become unbearable for the fans until the curse was finally smashed last year.
Quite clearly, Robbie Neilson, pictured left, didn’t “let” Hibs win en route to that triumph and, with a League Cup final to come at that point, along with ambitions to claim the Championship title, I don’t think Alan Stubbs’ side were any more obsessed with the Scottish Cup than the ones which tried and failed before them.
The defeat after a replay, though, properly enraged Hearts supporters. Having already knocked out Aberdeen and seeing Celtic faff around in the cups under Ronny Deila, they really thought 2016 could be their year.
It turned out to be Hibs’ year at long last and if their fans have been obsessed with that great day in May, and Hearts supporters have been obsessed with Hibs’ obsession, this is hardly new. It’s local rivalry and it’s football. Much has been said of the capital derby being a huge miss; here’s a chance to show why. Let’s hope for a match fit for birling rattles.