THREE days after the first of the 4-3 semi-finals – whoever said the penultimate rounds of cups had to be constipated by fear? – and I was back in Glasgow, in a taxi, and the cabbie was telling me about the unexpected upsurge in business in the vicinity of Hampden experienced by his trade around 1pm last Saturday.
“I wasn’t working but my mate was,” said John, “and he picked up three Hibs fans in a terrible hurry, all with terrible faces on them. ‘Queen Street Station,’ they said. My mate thought he’d better ask: ‘Everything all right, lads?’ He wondered if maybe something awful had happened, an accident back in Edinburgh, family involved. ‘The team’s s***e,’ they said, ‘and here’s how s***e they are. There’ll be a supporters’ bus for us at the end of the game but we can’t wait until then. We’ll pay for this taxi and then we’ll pay for a train because we’ve got to get far away from them right now’.”
The modern supporter is a strange beast for sure. At the same time as Falkirk were banging in all those goals, at the same time as taxis were swarming around Mount Florida – with John’s mate going back for another fare – there was a good-going online debate about Pat Fenlon’s future which could be summarised thus – he didnae have one. Were these fans messaging from the game? Unlikely. Probably they were sat at home with their laptops while the telly spilled out an incredible tale.
Ah, but that first-half hiding wasn’t so incredible for Hibbies – if you know our his-toh-ree. That’s what I’ve been saying to friends all week as we’ve debated whether it’s ever permissible to leave a game early. Their view is you shouldn’t, mine is that Hibbies should perhaps qualify as a special case, and that maybe this dispensation could extend to being a virtual fan, hiding in your room because you’ve suffered enough pain, but still communing with others while the match, the latest Scottish Cup torture, progresses.
I was at Hampden last Saturday and witnessed the worst 45 minutes of my fandom turn into the greatest-ever fightback (5-0 against Napoli was greater but tragically in 1967 I was still deemed too young for night games). I could, however, have been one of the bolters and it’s thanks to my six-year-old son that I wasn’t.
At three-nil going on four, Archie bore a wee pinched look and I asked if he wanted to go. No way. “Oh ye of little faith, Dad,” he said. Actually, what he said was: “That boy over there’s orange trainers – where do you think he got them?” It amounted to the same thing.
When you’re six and it’s your first visit to the national stadium and only your second-ever game, you soak up the atmosphere like a discarded Hibs scarf soaks up spilled pie grease. It didn’t matter that this was halved-in-size Hampden with the special architecture gone (the precarious press-box on the roof, the high thin stand opposite). Archie had a million questions relating to the day and I enjoyed trying to answer them. Why is that man eating a pie when he’s already had a pizza? Why does that man not like [Tim] Clancy? If no one ever runs on that track round the pitch, why’s it there? Are Hibs the worst team in the whole world? What did I think his sisters were doing right now? How many people did I think were at the game – seven million? Could I ask that boy where he got his orange trainers? And, most urgently, all the fans who’ve thrown their scarves away, will they get them back at the end?
“Hibs fans are so unforgiving.” John the cabbie said this to me, producing as the key witness Bobby Williamson, his brother-in-law, who’d failed as an Easter Road boss at Hampden ten years before.
Half-time last Saturday, Pat Fenlon’s failure looked to be even greater but, when you deal in certainties like Archie – “My scarf has my name in it so it’ll always come back to me” – winning the game with an absolute screamer is kind of inevitable, really.
The questions only stopped when he fell asleep in the car with a grin on his face – a little boy in love with Hampden and, even more bizarrely, with Hibs.