THE concept of the Festival Cup was an imaginative one, an ambitious attempt to integrate the Capital’s top two football clubs into the annual jamboree of the arts.
And in time, so the big idea went, it would develop far beyond being just another derby, albeit one with a bit of silverware on offer, to encompass clubs from Edinburgh’s twin cities.
Bayern Munich and Dynamo Kiev were just two of the names mooted but, sadly, it appears the Festival Cup, rather than catching the imagination, has been gripped by apathy if the run-up to Saturday’s match at Tynecastle is anything to go by.
Lauded as an opportunity for Hibs and Hearts fans alike to pay their respects to the legendary Gordon Smith who graced both Easter Road and Tynecastle before going on to do so at Dundee, this weekend’s clash looks likely to attract a crowd far lower than the 10,442 which attended the inaugural match in Leith last summer.
The fact that the game has been reduced, to all intents and purposes, to little more than an encounter between the clubs’ under-19 sides has done nothing to stimulate interest, particularly given admission prices will be 15 for adults and 5 for concessions while Save Our Hearts are calling for Jambo fans to boycott the match as part of their ongoing protests at how the Gorgie club is being run.
The timing of the match has, of course, deprived both clubs of the services of many players. Hearts will be without Craig Gordon, Steven Pressley, Andy Webster and Alan Maybury, away on international duty as are Hibs stars Gary Caldwell, Garry O’Connor, Derek Riordan, Scott Brown, Steven Whittaker and Colin Murdock.
Add in an injury here or there and both sides willl be unrecognisable from the teams Craig Levein and Tony Mowbray would normally deploy.
Having the Festival Cup clash with an international weekend could, and should, have been avoided.
When the Cup was launched last year it was clearly stated it was to be an annual event and yet it was only belatedly that it was decided the game should take place this weekend.
Organising this year’s match was the responsibility of Hearts as the host club but, for some reason, the Tynecastle outfit appeared lukewarm to the prospect of staging the game.
July 31, which appeared the obvious date falling just a week before the new SPL season got underway, was ruled out as Hearts organised a pre-season friendly with Fulham.
That resulted in Hibs then arranging to play Leeds United that day at the behest of Whyte and Mackay, sponsors of both clubs, who were keen to see the Scotland v England rivalry compete for a specially commissioned trophy which is also planned to be an annual event with Mowbray’s players heading for Elland Road next summer.
If that proves to be the case what then for the Festival Cup? If it is to become part of the Edinburgh football scene and, indeed, is to flourish with the participation of some of the Capital’s twin cities as was first mooted then both Hearts and Hibs need to commit themselves to it totally.
Unfortunately the opening day of the SPL season tends to vary year-by-year making it virtually impossible to invite big clubs such as Bayern Munich who tend to have their pre-season arrangements in place 12 months or even longer in advance.
It simply isn’t possible to lift the phone one weekend and ask them if they fancy a game or two in Edinburgh in a week’s time.
But surely, if the Festival Cup is to survive, even if it is competed for solely by Hearts and Hibs, it should be treated seriously and the date pencilled in well in advance and clear of counter attractions other than the event it is meant to mark.
Hearts fans in the dark over the white knight
EVERYONE thought Hearts chairman George Foulkes was joking a few weeks ago when he talked of the possibility of "our own Abramovich" riding to the debt-ridden Gorgie club’s aid.
Explaining why a get-out clause had been inserted into the contract selling Tynecastle to Cala Homes to allow the possibility of alternative proposals being put forward, Foulkes described such a scenario as "a long shot."
Now, it seems, Foulkes perhaps knew more than he was letting on in his seemingly jocular remark concerning Chelsea’s millionaire Russian owner Ramon Abramovich. Maybe it is purely coincidental but here we are a little bit further down the line in the saga and, indeed, Hearts "own Abramovich" is in sight in the shape of Lithuanian businessman Vladimir Romanov who, it is said, is close to clinching a deal to take over the club.
Too good to be true? As Kenny Dalglish might say, "maybes aye, maybes naw."
Romanov’s intervention, while raising hopes that Hearts may, after all, stay at Tynecastle, poses many questions which would have to be answered to the satisfaction of all concerned and not just the big players in the equation, Chris Robinson, Leslie Deans and SMG.
Fans will have had their spirits lifted by the prospect of staying at Tynecastle but surely they will have to question Romanov’s motives for he is not, as they are, lifelong Hearts supporters as he has shown recently in his attempts to buy into the two Dundee clubs and Dunfermline.
Some say Romanov wants to use Hearts to showcase young players from Eastern Europe before, hopefully, selling them on, raising questions as to how the club’s playing staff would be affected And then there is the position of Levein himself. Noises have been made to assure Hearts supporters that his position of head coach would be secure despite, according to reports, experienced Russian coach Anatoly Byshovets being lined up as general manager.
Hearts may be trying to assure fans that Levein isn’t under threat - but if Romanov takes over then those currently in a position to offer such safeguards will no longer be in place to ensure those promises are kept. Only Romanov himself can give the answers to the many pertinent questions which Hearts fans need to ask but, as yet, he remains very much in the background, his spokesman, like Robinson, Deans and SMG, declining to comment.
It would be unwise of the Hearts support to welcome Romanov with open arms simply to get rid of Robinson without knowing exactly what his intentions for the future are.