HIBERNIAN in the Scottish Cup final is seriously serious stuff for the family of the club’s former defender Gary Smith.
So serious that the 42-year-old’s three offspring – ranging in ages from 15 to nine – have banned him from attending the confrontation against Celtic at Hampden this afternoon. Smith, now a fireman, could have swapped shifts, but his children thought his presence might send Hibs’ hopes of a first cup success since 1902 up in flames.
“I never went to the semi [won 4-3 against Falkirk] so they have told me to stay away,” says Smith, six years at Easter Road from 2000 in a career that began at Falkirk, brought him a League Cup winners medal with Aberdeen – with whom he had two spells – and included shorts stays with Stade Rennais, Cowdenbeath and Dundee. “We were all there at last year’s final... and it all went Pete Tong. We stayed to the bitter end though [of the 5-1 defeat to Hearts]. I think I went to the toilet just after half-time, missed two goals, and I had to wait at the top of the stairs for about five minutes for everybody leaving. I stayed because the kids wanted to stay.”
Maybe Smith’s offspring aren’t tagging him a hexer of Hibs’ Scottish Cup hopes solely on the basis of events in the past year and a week, though. In the club’s last Scottish Cup final 12 years ago, he conceded a penalty, though the award came in the 80th minute and established a 3-0 winning margin for Celtic.
“It was a dubious penalty,” smiles Smith, who, as he no doubt wouldn’t like reminded, was red-carded for Hibs, albeit in the closing minutes, when they were thumped 4-0 by Hearts in the 2006 Scottish Cup semi-final. “That season of 2000-01 we had done really well up till Christmas and at that time there was a winter break. After that we never really kicked a ball.
“Russell [Latapy] had signed a pre-contract with Rangers and his mind was elsewhere, so after Christmas we weren’t as good as we were before. But we managed to get to the final, beating Livi in the semi, and on the day Jackie McNamara scored the first one just before half time and I think the first goal was important. I remember starting the game quite well.”
Smith believes as important as how Pat Fenlon’s men start today is how they set out, with his preference for Leigh Griffiths to be played as a lone striker. “I wouldn’t put money on them but the more often they get to semi-finals and finals, the more lessons they will learn,” he says. “I hope the manager has learned lessons from last year. There’s not as much pressure because it’s not a derby and they are not expected to win.
“They’ve got a chance but I think they need Celtic to have another off day at Hampden, and I don’t know if that will happen.
“Last year in the final I felt they went toe-to-toe with Hearts and sometimes, if you look at other teams, even like Chelsea in the Champions League last year, you just have to box clever against teams, get men behind the ball and stay in the game as long as you can.
“Obviously that is the manager’s decision. For me, if they did that, and stayed in the game, and frustrated Celtic, as time went on Celtic would start to think ‘here we go again’ [with the upsets they have had at Hampden in recent years]. In saying that, it could be over within the first 15, 20 minutes if Celtic steamroller them and get a couple of early goals, or even one early goal.”
Even if the Leith club happened to find themselves on the wrong end of a lop-sided scoreline, the outcome could not inflict the psychological scarring that the horsing by Hearts left on the club, says Smith. “The supporters are going through there and I don’t think the majority of people expect them to do anything. I think if another 5-1 happened, it would be another sore one to take, but you just lick your wounds and move on – it’s not the end of the world.
“On the other hand, you could go and win it, and be the first Hibs team to win it in 111 years. That is what the club has to cling on to. If they go through and get gubbed again, everyone will move on till next year.”
Smith has had to reluctantly move on from football. He didn’t pursue a vocation in joining the fire service, he pursued a more prosaic need. “It took me a wee while to get used to it... it was never something I wanted to do. I needed a job,” he says. “I would have liked to stay in the game. But the time I went to Cowdenbeath was a bit of an eye-opener. I applied for a couple of jobs and didn’t even get an interview. I kind of thought I need to pay the mortgage so I applied to the fire service.”
His new skill set might just come in handy today. For if Hibs somehow do put to rest a bogey, his het-up children are likely to need hosed down.