Aidan Smith: My favourite Hibs strip has been trumped and I didn’t think it could be

Easter Road club deserve praise for putting ‘Thank You NHS’ message on shirt

Hibs' strip for next season will pay tribute to the National Health Service. Picture: Hibernian FC

A long, long time ago – I think it was just Tuesday there – footage popped up on social media of the 1972 Drybrough Cup final. This was a freewheeling, exuberant, summery contest of eight goals played with limited offsides before 50,000 fans in short sleeves.

Many of the shirts on the terraces bore the bovver-fashion legend “Simon” and the tournament was obviously backed by a brewery, the first instance of sponsors’ branding in our game, but the strips worn by the cup winners displayed no logo, not even that of the kit manufacturers. Forgive me if I get slightly carried away here – put it down to missing football – but the official livery of Hibernian that afternoon was a lovely, luscious emerald green only matched for verdancy by a Hampden pitch which must have been fertilised by Glasgow’s entire task-force of milk-horses for the duration of the close season.

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Two days later, though, my favourite Hibs strip was trumped. I did not expect this to happen in my lifetime. I thought the shirt of Pat Stanton, Alan Gordon, Jimmy O’Rourke et al could not be beat. And what’s more the strip for 2020-21 has lettering, the biggest there has ever been at the club: “Thank you NHS.”

Next season Hibs will perpetuate a message we’re all reciting daily, with every news bulletin and every image of a survivor of Covid-19 being clapped out of a hospital. Hopefully by next May, 13 months from now, the pandemic will be over. Not forgotten, never forgotten, but life will be back to normal and football with it. And whether Hibs are involved in a relegation struggle or another cup final, they will still be showing their gratitude. Now, isn’t that a good thing?

Ach, you lot. You carp and bitch and quibble. Well, some of you, anyway. You say: “Hibs are jumping on the bandwagon.” Or: “They’re just trying to make themselves look good.” Or: “They wanted to put World Health Organisation on their shirts but folk would have said: ‘Hibs WHO?’ The biggest derby losers there’s ever been, that’s WHO!” OK, I admit it: that was funny.

Thursday seemed to be Misunderstand Hibees Day. During the historic first-ever virtual Zoomtastic Prime Minister’s Questions, the domestic gubbins behind the SNP’s Westminster leader intrigued many. Or rather, it intrigued the Old Firm-obsessed. “Izzat an actual baw signed by the great, the one-and-only, Glesca Cellic?” No, my good man, the football to which you refer has been autographed by the first club to wear the green, the team Ian Blackford supports. If you look closely you should be able to see an image, behind the Hon. Member’s left lug, of Sir David Gray.

For those who had no difficulty identifying the memorabilia, this was the most stunning example of Hibee product placement since Trainspotting’s Renton went cold turkey in his old bedroom. The prominent poster behind Ewan McGregor? Of course it was of the Stanton-Gordon-O’Rourke team, immortalised by Edinburgh Evening News cartoonist Harry Gilzean.

Leith’s drugs scourge, which formed the backdrop to Irvine Welsh’s toerag odyssey, was referenced in some of the social media sniping about the new Hibs shirt. Some critics – Hearts supporters – even claimed they’d now have to stop taking part in the Clap for our Carers. Honestly, you guys! I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt here and assume this was a – very bad – joke.

I guess these extreme positions are a consequence of this football deprivation, the hibernation of the Hibee Nation and everyone else while we battle the pandemic. Or you could argue it’s no different from the excoriating banter which flies around during the season, but when there’s no games or goals or refereeing howlers to argue about, it reads worse. Some Hearts fans, to be fair, were quick to commend Hibs’ gesture, Rangers supporters, too, as well as the man from the Times who’s retained a soft spot for Hibs from uni days in Edinburgh in the 1980s. They see it for what it is: not the rival club trying to pretend they’re holier than thou, more attuned to the NHS’s heroism, more qualified to celebrate it. We all are or we should be. “But what about the binmen?” wondered another quibbler. What indeed. Suggest to your club they stick a message of support on their shirts. I’ll applaud that.

We can be nostalgic for shirts free of advertising. The sloganed footballer is not so far removed from the God-botherer proclaiming “The end of the world is nigh” on a sandwich-board or the half-asleep student leaning on his “Golf sale” placard – he’s simply moving about a bit more and selling something else. We can wish that strips were strips and nothing more but those days are unlikely to return.

Some clubs can’t be too fussy about what appears on the front of their strips. Others display messages which can get lost in translation. Spain’s Getafe have been sponsored by Burger King, AC Milan by Pooh Jeans, while over in Mexico, the players of Club America once charged around the Aztec Stadium in a doubtless manly way while tagged “Bimbo”.

Bimbo is a popular soft drink in that part of the world. Similarly Mister Lady is a German fashion chain. Nothing wrong with the name but, football fans being what they are, it seems unlikely that FC Nurnberg wouldn’t have been teased about having it emblazoned across their chests. In England’s lower echelons Scunthorpe United have advertised Pleasure Beach, an amusement park, while in Scotland’s six-foot-under division Clydebank promoted Wet Wet Wet, a skiffle combo. The Denmark national team used to be backed by Danish Oil and Natural Gas – Dong. And last but by no means least in this roll-call of the bold and the strange among messages from our sponsors, Greek club Voukefalas were forced to get into bed with Villa Erotica otherwise they’d have gone bust. The business these beggars-who-couldn’t-be-choosers advertised? A brothel.

So you see, it could be worse. Your club could be sponsored by a firm manufacturing bleach, an unglamorous product at the best of times, which thanks to Donald Trump, now has the whole world laughing. For Hibs, cheering for the NHS, it couldn’t be any better.

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