It’s been a long time since Gordon Strachan could claim he was a true Hibs fan. He was forced to put distance between himself and the club when he travelled north to sign for Dundee aged 15, so beginning his journey as a professional footballer.
But witnessing Hibs’ Scottish Cup final victory over Rangers on Saturday was always going to be an emotional experience. It brought some of the old feelings flooding back.
His father Jim was a devoted fan, who took the young Strachan to his first football match – Hibs v Aberdeen, in 1962. Poignantly, Strachan accompanied his father to his last football match, an Edinburgh derby a few years ago. Strachan Senior passed away from lung cancer in May 2011.
Strachan was working as an analyst for Sky Sports at Hampden, alongside former Aberdeen team-mate Alex McLeish. He was saddened by the chaotic scenes at the end. “Of course players should be protected,” said the Scotland manager, who was attacked by a Celtic fan while a game was still going on, in 1980.
Strachan is more comfortable talking about how football can be a force for good. He helped make the draw yesterday for the Homeless World Cup, which is being hosted by Glasgow in July.
He couldn’t resist a reference to Saturday’s scenes when inviting all the participants back to Hampden for a tour: “As long as you help put the grass back together!”
Strachan later described how he had been affected by the communal singing of Sunshine on Leith after the Hibs supporters were ushered back to the stands following Saturday’s pitch invasion.
“Sunshine on Leith will always bring a tear to your eye,” he said. He stopped short of returning to his old stomping ground for the cup-winning parade on Sunday, providing the reasonable explanation that it would not have been the done thing for a Scotland manager.
“I don’t think it would look good for me, as a Scotland manager, to be standing in Leith cheering Hibs on, hanging out my auntie’s windae down Leith Walk. It would have been good though, wouldn’t it?” he smiled. “Last time I did anything like that was the Save Hibs campaign. Remember that? I did that, and went on the bus then.”
Seeing footage of Sunday’s cup-winning parade, when 150,000 people flocked into the streets of Edinburgh, “brought back a lot of memories” for Strachan.
“I stopped supporting Hibs, as such, when I was 15 and went into professional football,” he explained. “That’s when you stop supporting a team, because you are a professional. But my dad took me to my first game at Hibs – and I took him to his last game there. So it was quite emotional, really.
“People say to me: ‘You’re a Hibs supporter.’ No, but I’m a supporter of my community, I’m a supporter of Leith. I still go back there, I work with Spartans (football club), all my relatives are in that area. So it’s Leith that I support.”
“Sunday looked great,” he added. “They went to Leith Links, where I used to play my football. My dad used to go to the school there. So I know all those places.”
Strachan prefers to view Hibs’ historic Scottish Cup win through the prism of the joy it brings to those from Leith and its environs. “It does mean a lot to the community,” he said. “You saw the same last year when Inverness won it, and how much it means. It’s fantastic. I wasn’t among those who thought it would never happen. Because of how close Rangers and Hibs had been in their games this year, I thought it would be really close.”
“It was really good to watch, plenty for Alex McLeish and myself to talk about on TV,” he added. “There’s a lot of things we couldn’t squeeze in because the game was so great. Usually, when you’re struggling, you can pack all sorts of rubbish in. Was it a penalty, was it a handball? This game had so much that we didn’t need to do that.”
Strachan returned home to the Midlands on Saturday night – “to see the grandchildren,” he explained – so could not attend the parade in Edinburgh, where his mother still lives, in any case. He is putting the final plans in place before heading off later this week to Malta, where Scotland will prepare for forthcoming friendlies against Italy and France.