Hibs face a hectic end to their SPL season with three games in just six days – starting with Sunday’s derby against Hearts – following the abandonment of their third last match against Kilmarnock as medics battled to save the life of a Rugby Park fan who later died in hospital.
The supporter, later named as 49-year-old James Haswell, a loong-standing Kilie season ticket holder,, collapsed just minutes into the second half of a game tied at 1-1 with Kris Boyd having cancelled out an earlier strike from Easter Road kid Alex Harris.
Shouts of “kick the ball out” were heard as the fan was carried by fellow supporters from the rear of the East Stand towards the touchline where Killie doctor Gerry Canning and his Hibs counterpart Duncan Reid along with physios from both clubs administered treatment.
Referee Kevin Clancy brought play in the televised match to a halt in the 51st minute, before leading the players up the tunnel and to their respective dressing rooms as the frantic fight to save the man’s life continued in hushed silence, both sets of supporters united in their prayers for the stricken fan.
Twenty six minutes elapsed between that moment and an ambulance, with blue lights flashing, carrying the unfortunate individual to hospital, accompanied by a round of applause from the crowd who also showed their appreciation for the efforts of the medics as they trudged forlornly across the pitch towards the Main Stand hoping their efforts hadn’t been in vain. Those hopes cruelly dashed only a few hours later as it ws revealed Mr Haswell had died in Crosshouse Hospital.
It was the third time Kilmarnock had been struck by such drama in little more than a year, midfielder Liam Kelly’s father Jack collapsing and dying at Hampden only minutes after Kenny Shiels’ side had lifted the League Cup last March while an Inverness Caley fan also collapsed and died at Rugby Park.
A clearly distressed Kilmarnock chairman Michael Johnston: “There was a serious health incident – a suspected heart attack – involving one of our supporters, a long-standing season ticket holder. We had all of the relevant medical teams on hand to issue emergency first aid.
“In view of the length of time the teams had been off the pitch and the very public nature of the treatment that was being administered, the referee, following consultation with both managers, decided it would be inappropriate to continue with the match.
“As a matter of respect for the fan and his family it was felt it would be better if the match was abandoned.
“Both managers were mindful of that, and the fact the players had been off the field of play for some time and were concerned that there might be issues with them having to warm up and injury prevention.
“There would have been a significant further delay while the players warmed up before play could be resumed.
“For those reasons, the referee in consultation with the police match commander and both clubs decided to abandon the match.”
Hibs had gone into this match having slipped another place down the SPL pecking order, finding themselves tenth by virtue of Hearts’ demolition of St Mirren the previous day, the 3-0 win lifting the Tynecastle outfit above their Capital rivals for the first time since August. Manager Pat Fenlon, however, showed he had a little more on his mind than simply the outcome of the trip to Rugby Park and the impending fifth and final Edinburgh derby of the season by again taking the opportunity to rotate his squad ahead of the Scottish Cup final against Celtic at the end of the month.
Having given Kevin Thomson and Tim Clancy a break against the Buddies, the pair were recalled as were Gary Deegan and Matt Done, who had been on the bench last weekend.
Midfielders Jorge Claros and Tom Taiwo were absent while Alan Maybury and Eoin Doyle found themselves among the substitutes, the manager’s approach not only giving key players a rest but others the opportunity to stake a claim for a place at Hampden.
The two sides had, of course, met at the same venue at the beginning of March, Hibs taking another stride towards their second successive Scottish Cup final, Leigh Griffiths’ hat-trick steering them to a 4-2 victory. On that occasion, 7272 supporters, half of them from Edinburgh, gathered within Rugby Park.
This time around, the attendance was less than half that, a mere 2867 reflecting both the relative insignificance of the fixture and the fact it was being screened live on television, a factor which no doubt contributed to the visiting support being counted in the dozens rather than the thousands.
Mark O’Hara’s first-minute mistake, gifting possession to Done should have seen Hibs ahead immediately, but the on-loan Barnsley winger pulled his shot across goal and wide, Griffiths’ attempt to steer it home deemed offside,
But inspired by the wing play of little Chris Johnston as he teased and tormented Clancy, Killie began to make an impression on the match, Ross Davidson firing a low shot inches wide before Johnston himself made room for an effort which flew straight into the arms of Hibs goalkeeper Ben Williams.
Hibs, though, got their noses in front with a superbly worked goal as Ryan McGivern, while attempting to shake off an earlier injury to which he later succumbed, slipped a delightful ball inside right back Ross Barbour for Harris to slip beyond Cammy Bell. Defensive problems have, however, afflicted Hibs all season and it took a great block from McPake to prevent Boyd from scoring before Paul Hanlon was at full stretch to take Johnston’s dangerous cross off the head of the SPL’s all-time top scorer.There was a let-off for Hibs when Sammy Clingan rattled a free-kick off Williams’ cross bar before Boyd hauled the Rugby Park outfit level, the big striker holding off McPake a touch too easily as they jousted for a dropping ball and then hammering a low shot past Williams and into the far corner of the net.
Johnston continued to cause the visitors all sorts of problems with his direct running, Harris and Deegan picking up bookings in quick succession as they resorted to illegal means to stop him, the second of which offered Clingan another opportunity for a strike on goal which he gladly accepted, this time forcing Williams to push his shot round the post.
Having enjoyed an entertaining opening 45 minutes, both sets of fans would no doubt have been looking forward to the second half but it was barely six minutes old when shouts of “stop the game” began to be heard, the first indication something was seriously wrong.
Twenty six minutes later it was announced the game had been abandoned primarily, said Kilmarnock boss Shiels, out of respect to the stricken supporter, correctly stating that football took second place by a long way to human life.
He said: “We need to show respect to the relevant families. We’ve been through this three times now in just over a year. An Inverness fan lost their life and then Liam Kelly’s father.
“Football isn’t as important as human life. We’ve shown our respect, both clubs
“I wasn’t sure what was happening but we heard the supporters shouting ‘kick the ball out, kick the ball out’.
“Our medical team went across and the doctor to find out what it was. The fourth official came and told me that the game had to be stopped. “We could see the treatment going on. We deliberated a while to see if they could bring him round and then continue the game but it was quite serious so Pat Fenlon and I agreed the game should be abandoned.
“We were asked for our opinions and views on it and the match officials and match delegate were very good. It was purely out of respect for the family because we knew it was a very serious heart attack”