The unique achievement of one club simultaneously holding the women’s and men’s Scottish Cups will be a major driving force for Hibernian Ladies when they play their main rivals, Glasgow City, in this afternoon’s SSE-sponsored final at Hamilton’s Superseal Stadium.
Several of the Hibs backroom staff and players, including head coach Chris Roberts and captain Joelle Murray, erupted in delight when, along with the rest of the support at Hampden in May, David Gray scored the winner in stoppage time. It was, famously, Hibs’ first win in the competition for 114 years.
Although the women’s team have been far more successful, winning the Scottish Cup five times this century and being runners-up on three other occasions, there has only been one previous year when both teams reached their respective finals. That was in 2013, when the men’s team lost to Celtic and the women’s side to Glasgow City.
Today’s teams have dominated the competition since 2003, when Hibs won the first of their five trophies in eight seasons. From 2011 onwards the Cup has belonged to City, who last month won the league title for a Scottish record ten seasons in a row to emphasise their domination.
They also beat Hibs comfortably in all three league games this year, something they didn’t do in 2015 when two of the games resulted in 3-3 draws. The improved City results can partly be attributed to the arrival of Scott Booth as head coach of the Glasgow club, with his tactics of allowing Hibs plenty of the ball but catching them on the break having worked well.
The exception – and what will give Hibs hope this afternoon – was the League Cup final. Played just a month after the Hampden game, the Edinburgh side came from a goal down to emulate the men’s team by scoring the winner, this time through Lizzie Arnot, almost at the death.
Arnot and the scorer of the first goal, Lucy Graham, epitomise a Hibs side bursting with youthful promise but lacking the experience and deep-rooted winning mentality of their opponents. After Euro 2017 some of these players could become the backbone of the Scotland side.
Midfielder Graham, who has just turned 20, hasn’t yet been capped but is a player who has risen through the age group sides, first at Forfar Farmington and later when she moved to Hibs in 2013. Last summer she left the club to become a full-time professional at the Swedish club Mallbackens, but the move didn’t work out and she returned to Scotland at the start of this year.
“I got the opportunity to go to Sweden and it wasn’t one I could turn down,” she explained. “It wasn’t just for the football, but to broaden my horizons in every way. I learned a lot about myself. I would love to have played more but I still got a lot out of it.
“Because I joined them half way through the season the coach didn’t want to upset anybody. I did get game time, but not as much as I’d hoped for and I’m happy to be back at Hibs.”
Graham, like most of the Hibs players, has to juggle a heavy commitment to football with a day job and almost inevitably will want another crack at professional career in the future.
Until such time as Scottish clubs find a way to pay their players, the exodus of the best young players will continue.
Kim Little was playing for Hibs the last time the club beat Glasgow City in a Scottish Cup final. That was in 2007 before the best player in Britain set off for Arsenal – who she recently rejoined after three years in America at Seattle Reign.
Unlike her captain and other players, Graham was not at Hampden for the men’s final in May. “I couldn’t get a ticket but I watched it on TV at home,” she said.
There’s no chance of all the 2,500 Hibs fans who turned up for the Champions League game against Bayern Munich making the journey to the Superseal Stadium, but head coach Chris Roberts nevertheless hopes a sizeable contingent will make the journey in the hope of witnessing history being made again.