Comment: Hearts fall short - but team has clearly galvanised the fans
Around Gorgie on the morning of the match, there was a real buzz of anticipation in the air as fans spilled out of pubs and eateries before making the short walk to the nearby rugby stadium to be part of a “sea of maroon” made up by more than 28,000 Jambos within a crowd in excess of 61,000 people.
Even allowing for the fact the match was being played just a stone’s throw from Tynecastle, this was a remarkable turnout for a team whose average home gate is a little over half of that figure.
For context, Hearts’ last League Cup semi-final, against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Easter Road in February 2014, kicked off at a similar time on a Sunday afternoon and attracted a total attendance of just 12,762, including those who had journeyed to the Capital to support the Highlanders.
That was at a time when Hearts, in the throes of administration, were heading towards relegation from the Premiership and enthusiasm levels appeared to be waning.
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Almost five years on, and the contrast in the club’s predicament could hardly be more stark.
Although they ended up with another League Cup semi-final defeat and another tale of “what might have been” as Celtic turned the screw after a couple of softly-conceded goals, this time Hearts can return to league action safe in the knowledge that they are clear at the very top of the table rather than cut adrift at the bottom, as was the case in 2013/14.
Unlike for finals, when every supporter generally emerges from the woodwork for a day out regardless of the team’s circumstances, attendances for semi-finals are often dictated by how likely they deem their chances of winning the match. The very fact almost 30,000 Hearts fans felt compelled to turn out for a match against Brendan Rodgers’ double-treble winners underlined the growing level of expectancy among Hearts’ fanbase ahead of this Murrayfield showdown.
Although they ultimately fell flat yesterday, Craig Levein’s team have galvanised their supporters. For the first time in a few years, they are both united and excited.
If they can keep the masses onside and capitalise on this vibrancy among the support in the coming weeks, months and years, Hearts look destined to continue on an upward trajectory.