WIN it and it could end up being remembered as fondly as the cup final victory, says Hearts manager John McGlynn. Lose it and, while it would hurt, everyone associated with the fixture knows that it would go no way at all towards diluting the respective highs and lows of that day ay Hampden in May.
“Everyone who was there at Hampden – Hearts minded – will have those memories for the rest of their lives,” said McGlynn. “It was a special occasion, a great occasion and it couldn’t have gone any better for everyone connected to Hearts but, under the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in now, completely different circumstances from that day, this would be every bit as big a victory considering a few weeks ago we were looking at the football club possibly going into administration or even liquidation.
“So there is a bigger battle going on and, because of that, this game might become even more significant in years to come. ‘Remember when we were just about out of business yet we went on to beat Hibs and everyone lived happily ever after?’”
There is rarely a mundane derby, never one without a side story. This afternoon’s capital head-to-head has a few. There is the fact they are back, starting this term’s Scottish Cup challenge, exactly where they left off at the end of last season. Once again Hearts have a say in whether their biggest rivals’ hoodoo can be extended by yet another year. There is also the fact that the game might never have been played if HMRC had pressed the courts for a winding up order over Hearts’ unpaid tax bills.
Then there are matters on the park. Hibs’ shambling squad of last season has been replaced by a more settled and resolute unit, the days of trying to repel relegation replaced by a title push, their terrible home form turned on its head. Hearts are the team struggling at the wrong end of the league table, currently stranded in ninth.
McGlynn said: “It’s football and it’s 11 v 11 and, on any given day, any team can beat any other team. Yet we go into it having, over a number of seasons, accumulated a sequence of results that sees us unbeaten in 12 games against Hibs.
“That is a fact we can’t hide from and one we want to enhance.”
In a side comment, possibly even a snide comment, Hibs manager Pat Fenlon spoke about Hearts’ stranglehold on the Edinburgh derby this week and suggested there was an “obvious” reason for that. He said he didn’t want to go into it, but seemed to be suggesting that overspending had played a part. When that point was put to him, Hearts manager McGlynn took time over his response. “I’m not sure about that because, if you look at Graeme Souness and Walter Smith, they won nine in a row and I still saw them picking up Manager of the Year trophies.
“Nobody really said: ‘But you spent more money than us’. They still got the awards, they still got the trophies, and it might be something that isn’t directly connected with money.
“Momentum is a massive thing. That self-belief and that confidence is massive. Instead of thinking you are going to win, you actually know. Well, almost know. You go in with such self-belief.
“Attitude is everything. Attitude is so, so important,” said McGlynn.
And the opposite thing, complacency, was an issue in the season’s first derby. “People thought it was just a matter of turning up but we had to dig out a draw but I think it’s different going into this game, such has been Hibs’ form.”
McGlynn says that is why Hibs should be favourites on paper. Especially as they are at home, where they have lost just once this season. But have yet to prove they aren’t spooked by their neighbours and can release Hearts’ hold over them.
Whether or not finances are the reason for the Gorgie side’s derby superiority money is playing a massive part in the way things are at the club right now. Fans and players have rallied and the club maintains it will be able to make the necessary payment to HMRC ahead of tomorrow’s deadline. From a very dark place, they are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. It was even suggested by director Sergejus Fedotovas this week that some of the money coming in from the share issue, which ends this month, could be spent on strengthening the squad. But McGlynn said: “I’m not sure about that. I wouldn’t imagine that we would be going out to buying players. That’s to the other extreme.”
More worrying is the prospect of losing personnel. Those out of contract in the summer include Marius Zaliukas, Andy Webster, Ryan McGowan, Darren Barr and Andy Driver and they could be picked off at knockdown prices or pre-contracts in January.
“To cut the wage bill, you would expect the guys who are earning the most money to be the ones to go and you may find that these guys, with all the uncertainty at this club, might want to go and get something that is more settled,” added McGlynn. “I wish we weren’t in this situation but we can’t hide from it. Two or three weeks ago the football club was facing a winding up order so players are going to look at their own careers. How can anyone give them any confidence about where the club is going to be in two,three,four months?”
Their troubles leave Hearts open to losing players, and make them an easy target for opposing fans.
In a derby, McGlynn expects little sympathy for the club’s plight.
“It’s just banter. It’s just terracing banter and it’s to be expected and it would happen on both sides and probably has in the past.”
McGlynn is still hoping for the happily ever after. First, though, Hearts will have to extend that unbeaten derby run to 13 and their rivals’ Scottish Cup woe to 112 years.