Show me a Hearts fan who thinks their team can win the Scottish Cup and I’ll unmask him as a mad delusional fool who reckons Ernie Winchester was a surer shot in front of goal than the rifle he invented in his spare time… that Laryea Kingston was brave and committed and worth every penny… that 1 January, 1973 would have been different if only Eric Carruthers had scored in the first few minutes.
Don’t get me wrong, there should be Jambos who think their team can beat Celtic on Saturday. Holding this view is perfectly valid. These supporters – if they are out there, and for the sake of football, we’ve got to hope they are – should be allowed to state their opinion free from what they seem to assume will be the utmost ridicule. The view can easily be separated from the other stuff which is truly the wild imaginings of mad delusional fools. So come on you west Edinburgh scarf-twirlers: believe!
It is one match, 90 minutes, and that can pass quite quickly if the team manages the game, doesn’t start playing for time midway through the first half and doesn’t panic, at least not until right at the end.
Here’s a stat: only twice this season have Hearts lost from a winning position. Admittedly there’s not been a huge bundle of handsome victories but that’s hardly a fatal trend. When Hearts get ahead then, forgetting about their shortcomings for a moment, they can be quite stubborn about holding on to the lead.
I’ve reminded Jambo mates of this. I’ve told them that their team can win the cup, suggesting possible scenarios. The crucial goal could be the ugliest to settle a final since Craig Brewster’s in 1994 – doesn’t matter. Steven MacLean could be grabbing two sets of Celtic goolies at the same time to clear a path for a highly improbable scorer, for instance the barn door-avoiding Arnaud Djoum – doesn’t matter. Or Steven Naismith scores it – yes, the same Steven Naismith who’s injured and supposedly has no chance of being fit for Hampden.
Thus manager Craig Levein, forever damned as the grim conjurer who made strikers vanish, magics one up when it is least expected and rehabilitates the reputation most spectacularly.
You’re having a laugh, the Jambo chums say. No, I say, Eric Carruthers and Ernie Winchester was having a laugh – Gorgie’s Eric and Ernie played like they had short, fat hairy legs, like they needed to waggle their spectacles in the vague direction of the goalposts. Hearts couldn’t score and couldn’t win anything back in the early 1970s but you’ve lifted the cup since, three times in 14 years indeed, and you can do it again provided Christophe Berra and John Soutar at the back both have the game of their lives.
Simple, eh? Well, Hearts may be stumbling towards this final. Their form may be poor, the purple patch of the first half of the season a distant memory and the fans may be grumbling – but this is Celtic’s situation too and they’re also stumbling towards it.
Celtic fans want quick football – quicker than has been seen under Neil Lennon these past few months. They want sexy football, Rangers-squashing football, ten-in-a-row football. Lennon, joining Selena Gomez in despairing about social media, articulated the manager’s exasperation well when he said: “It’s the modern-day fan, it’s fast-food stuff. They want the next thing very, very quickly and it’s not the real world.”
The younger Hoops devotee, dressed entirely in black, has surveyed the options in Subway, passed on the signature meatballs, and mused: “I might like Rafa Benitez. Or Slaven Bilic. Or Jose Mourinho.” Over in the real world Lennon, pictured, might ask if Celtic under Brendan Rodgers were still playing fast and slick this late in these long, long seasons.
Will Lenny get the job full-time? Taking soundings from the chatter of these fans – not quite at the level of the Algonquin Round Table but they have a well-developed sense of entitlement and they like to dream – it would seem unlikely. Good luck to Celtic with that A-list glamorama appointment, though.
Will Craig Levein still be in charge at Hearts after Saturday? If they lose, and lose badly, then the grumbles from Gorgie will intensify. We’re not playing good football. We can only play one way. It’s bludgeoning and boring. Yes, but what if it wins the cup? Maybe the style won’t be as scintillating as the last time Celtic were beaten to claim the pot – 1956 – but get real: for clubs like Hearts a line-up of Dave Mackay, Alex Young and the Terrible Trio only comes along once in a maroon moon.
What an underwhelming, utterly fascinating final this promises to be. One of these guys on the Hampden touchline – rivals for the title of the most droll wit in our game – will win and yet will probably not have his name shouted from tenement windows. But every other manager would want to be where we’ll see Levein and Lennon, come Saturday. Steve Clarke for sure. Derek McInnes definitely. Steven Gerrard desperately. These are guys who will think this is the moment to bring a halt to Celtic’s obsessive hoarding of all the prizes, only it’s not them who can do this.
So what do the rest of us want from this final? If we don’t support either side and don’t have a vested interest how do we want it to go? A treble treble would be some achievement. It would ring round the world but not entirely in a good way. The English-based newspaper which recently dispatched a reporter to Scotland on a fact-finding mission, who arrived at the conclusion “It’s the most uncompetitive league in the world!”, would maybe have a point. Not that any of this would bother Celtic triumphalists and supremacists. There would be books and DVDs and maybe a song with a rebel beat celebrating the triple-decked triumph, and why not a sandwich as well?
But, my faint-Hearted friends, it could be your day. Your “road to glory” has been one of the plainest of recent times but I refuse to believe those stories about T-shirt manufacturers refusing to print it on the backs of their garments. So print it.
If Hearts beat Celtic – and they can – then fair play to them.