Aidan Smith: Hearts v Hibs, let’s hope for a classic

High point: Wayne Foster enjoys the adulation of fans after his last-minute winner at Easter Road in 1994. Photograph: Gordon Fraser
High point: Wayne Foster enjoys the adulation of fans after his last-minute winner at Easter Road in 1994. Photograph: Gordon Fraser
Share this article
4
Have your say

THERE simply aren’t enough occasions, quite frankly, when you get to mention Juventus and Morton in the same breath. Where exactly am I going with this? Apologies if you thought it might be my assertion that Andy Ritchie was good enough to have played for Juve. Sorry, too, if you wondered whether I’d found the strange connection between the image of Jesus on the Shroud of Turin and the image of Jim Tolmie on a 1979-80 Panini sticker. Though let me state here and now that Andy was great and Jim’s hair was every bit as sensational as that of the Son of God.

I’m talking Hibernian and epic weeks. Today Hibs conclude a potentially season-defining eight days when they visit Hearts in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup. The previous weekend they were also at Tynecastle for a League Cup semi-final against St Johnstone and sandwiched in between was a trip to Cappielow in the Championship. The last time they had such a week Juventus were the meat paste.

It was October 1974 and the sequence for Eddie Turnbull’s team was Celtic at Parkhead in the last season of the old First Division, Juventus at Easter Road in the UEFA Cup then back to Glasgow to play Jock Stein’s Celts in the League Cup final at Hampden. As every Hibby of a certain state of decrepitude will tell you, all three games were decisively lost – 0-5, 2-4 and 3-6.

This time Hibs – albeit in a reduced state with the stakes not being as high – have won the first two. Reaching a final brings them in from the metaphorical cold following their flying heidie from the top flight. The real cold of Greenock on Tuesday night would have tripped them up in other years but they came through that one. Hearts in the Scottish Cup, though, will be a whole different kettle of brown trout.

“That Christophe Berra – he leapt like Tammy Troot to get our Steven Fletcher sent off!” This was pretty much the gist of then Hibees’ manager Mixu Paatelainen’s complaint after the least painful – but sore enough – of the defeats Hearts inflicted on their city rivals in the four ties contested between 1994 and 2012.

That one was in 2009. Back in 1994, when Easter Road required fences for such rumbustious occasions, Wayne Foster mounted the one at the old Dunbar End to milk the acclaim for his last-minute winner as a cage full of Jambos went ape, but Hibs fans didn’t know how they’d lost. Hearts’ semi-final victory in 2006 was more decisive, the 2012 final even more so.

Paul Hartley scored a hat-trick in the first of these games, a goal for each of the crucial absentees: Derek Riordan (suspended), Scott Brown (injured) and Garry O’Connor (sold to Russia, admittedly for big money, although many questioned the Leith team’s ambition). When the Hampden DJ spun the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, a notorious chant was coined: “Oh the Hibees like show-tunes.”

O’Connor was back for the 2012 final but would be hurling a losers’ medal across the dressing-room. There were a couple of his team-mates who, if they’d been struck by it, would then have been able to claim some physical involvement in the events of that apocalyptic afternoon for the green-and-white support. Can you name the Hibs side in the biggest Edinburgh derby of them all? That’s bound to be the first question in the sport section of the pub quiz for any of their fans ending up in Hell – and it will be repeated every week until the line-up is complete.

Hibbies can whinge about not having a goalkeeper in 2006 or a proper team four years ago but both times they were biffed by stronger opponents imbued with the derby belief who rose to the occasion rather than shrivelled. Men against boys? Or, since we’re talking musicals, guys against dolls? Whatever, Jambos earned the right to hoodwink politicians and D-list celebs into making the five finger-one finger celebration.

But Hibs won the most recent cup clash, the two there were in the 1970s and the last to be played in Gorgie – and it was a Hibby who produced what’s still the most dazzling individual performance in the fixture when the 17-year-old Joe Baker scored all their goals in a 4-3 triumph back in 1958.

Hearts’ Alex Young was in no doubt that the 41,666 Tynie crowd had witnessed budding greatness: “We were running away with the league and huge favourites to win that day but Joe was terrific. He was diving in for headers, as brave as you like, and quicker than a greyhound. There weren’t many faster than Joe and it was obvious to anyone who saw that game that he was a special player.”

Baker was back at Hibs after his great wanderings for the 1971 tie at Tynecastle, your correspondent’s first derby cup clash and the most exciting game I’d witnessed until that point, well worth the seven shillings admission to the enclosure (I still have the stub) and topped off by an Arthur Duncan wonder goal. The point from which he began his run has stretched further and further back upfield in fan reminiscences, but I’ve maintained perspective and know it to have been the top of Robertson Avenue, high above the old ground.

Cup derbies have often been pivotal for both clubs. Hibs went all the way to the finals of 1958, 1979 and 2013 after beating Hearts and to a replayed semi-final against Rangers in 1971 which they were unlucky to lose. Hearts of course won the cup in 2012 and also in 2006. Robbie Neilson’s side, studying Celtic’s carelessness in knockout competitions, will seriously fancy their chances if they win today. Alan Stubbs will claim, rightly, that promotion back to the top flight is the priority but the faithful will look back to last weekend and how the team coped with supposed cup tension and with Tynecastle and they’ll get excited.

Taking over Tynie for the day, some jolly japesters sported make-believe nuclear fallout clobber with “Gorgie Survival Suit” scrawled on the back along with dust-masks and bore signs warning “Fragile roof”. These guys won’t have the run of the place this lunchtime and it’ll be angsty. The match programme in ’58 enthused of the Edinburgh rivalry: “Schoolboy chums, youths, men and young women, all pals, wearing different team ties, scarves and rosettes – is there any parallel in Great Britain?” Not much chance of a repeat of that but let’s hope for a classic.