Celtic v Hibs: Where else in the football world would a cup final be carved up like this? It's just mean - Aidan Smith
In football, one minute you’re up, the next you’re breaking a tooth on some pie crust. And that’s why we love it, right?
Or: one minute you beat Rangers in a cup semi-final and the next you’re a clubstore worker sat on an unopened box of triumphalist T-shirts knowing you’ve hopelessly overestimated demand – and underestimated the team’s propensity for cocking up.
When Hibs won last Sunday, Ryan Porteous quoted Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus, Strictly Come Dancing judge Motsi Mabuse or possibly Steven Gerrard. “Do we look happy?” became a slogan to flaunt on Hibee chests at the next game three days later, only for the Hampden heroes to contrive a shambolic defeat.
Go on, admit it: you smirked at that. Yes, Hibsed it again. But tell me you feel sorry for the fans who will miss the final of the League Cup on December 19. You must do. Imagine if this was your team’s big day out happening without you.
What an odd, if not perverse, little tournament this has become under its new name, the Premier Sports Cup. Unlike the Europa League where the joke has been it’s almost harder to get knocked out than to win the thing, here Hibs and Celtic will compete for the prize after playing just three ties each. Stick those “routes” on yet more T-shirts, rock ’n’ roll tour-style, and they’d look pretty feeble.
Another thing: try watching the tournament on the box. Yes, you can subscribe to the sponsors’ channel but say you pay for Sky and BT already, Netflix and maybe Amazon or Apple+ on top, then maybe you simply can’t afford to stump up for yet more telly. Highlights, then. Half an hour on Sportscene later. Sorry, but the way this broadcast deal has been cut, there aren’t any being offered to terrestrial TV. For the final, the conclusion of a national competition in the national sport taking place in the national stadium, this is more than a shame.
All the more reason, then, for a 50-50 split on tickets, but no. Hibs’ allocation is 17,500, not much more than one third of Hampden’s capacity. The SPFL have yet to explain how they came to this decision but presumably someone with a charity-shop copy of Carol Vorderman’s Maths Made Easy book has concluded that this is the total number who will be interested in seeing if the Leith team can lift the trophy for only the fourth time in their pawky wee history.
But where’s the evidence for this? For their last three Hampden finals – all Scottish Cup and in 2013 against Celtic – Hibs were able to persuade enough of their hard-bitten, frequently disappointed fanbase to get back in touch with their dreamy side and fill half the ground without having to resort to conscription, bribery or cattle-prods.
All of these finals were spectacles, as is any showpiece game where there are equal numbers of rivals supporters. Ye cannae, as they say, whack it. For colour, clamour, vibrancy, unholy racket, sense of occasion – and democracy. That minute just before kick-off in the 2016 final against Rangers still sends shivers. (Every minute of the 90 in the 2012 final against Hearts also sends shivers, but of an entirely different kind).
Celtic could fill Hampden by themselves, we know that. So could Rangers. But why should Celtic be able to lay claim to almost twice as many tickets as Hibs by dint of having more fans? This final rewards the achievements of both teams in getting there; it should not be acknowledgement of pecking order Scottish football, number of trophies previously won and the noise and bluster of entitlement a club are capable of generating.
Where else in the football world would a final be carved up like this? We are not talking about a game contested by Bayern Munich and some shock bierkeller team from Wankendorf (it’s a real place; I’ve checked). Celtic vs Hibs is one top-flight Scottish club against another top-flight Scottish club.
Really, this isn’t a good look for Scotland, allowing the team from the largest centre of population to take over Hampden to such an extent. We’ve had enough big games recently where one club – a member of the Old Firm – have kicked out rival fans, diminishing the matches as events. Next, we could have Glasgow’s Big Two calling the stands behind the Mount Florida goals the “Celtic End” and the “Rangers End”. Imagine that.
Surely it would not have been beyond the wit of football’s beaks to start with a 50-50 split and if Hibs were unable to shift all of their allocation, offer the unsold tickets to Celtic. Hibs couldn’t have complained about that, but not to be given the opportunity to muster a bigger support is just mean.
And so we come to the 64,000 dollar question: how do I get to see the final? I am not currently a season-ticket holder and therefore won’t be among the first to grab them. Those who attended the semi-final – I was there – reckon that should count for something but Hibs say they can’t factor us into the mix. The modest size of the contingent last Sunday appears to have influenced the SPFL’s thinking, but finals are finals, special days in the calendar which are no less notable for the smaller of the two clubs involved, and possibly even more so.
Do I look happy? Not really …
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