Football’s not the same. We’re missing it and the players are missing us. Just the other day, Jack Ross was telling me how the absence of fans had removed the “emotion” from the game.
“The physical intensity has dropped,” the Hibernian manager said. “With the stadiums empty the ball is slower to come back into play. We’ve seen lower-scoring matches because players are able to stay disciplined. If a team is in a shape and the opportunity to press isn’t there, players will stay in that shape. Fans can persuade them to make a break which isn’t on, or rush in for a challenge which they should probably leave alone. That’s human nature for footballers when a crowd is roaring. It goes without saying that we need the supporters back.”
Now, Ross was speaking before Rangers’ visit to Easter Road and you might wonder if he’d want to amend his opinion given he had a prime view of this contest and it wasn’t a gentleman’s excuse-me.
Or he might conclude: “I’d heard this fixture could be lively and it’s good to see that a global pandemic doesn’t change absolutely everything.”
The intensity of a knitting circle. The discipline of monks. Players like children on a kerb after a firm lecture from the Tufty Club, all afraid to move. No one told Paul Hanlon this was what last Sunday had to be like, and no one told Ryan Porteous either.
Robust challenges from these two prompted TV summariser Andy Walker to describe Hibs’ performance as “nasty”. Walker approved, nevertheless that’s a word which I bet has never been used before about the Leith team.
Have Hibs changed? When once they were boyband are they now death metal? I’m not so sure. Hanlon’s arm was high when he tackled Ianis Hagi and Walker’s fellow pundit Kris Boyd claimed there was “secondary movement” and that he “knew what he was doing”. I didn’t see intent; Hanlon isn’t like that, although many wish he was. Maybe in the current situation when, as Ross said, intensity has dropped, we the bloody-thirsty rabble are desperate for some aggro and are getting too carried away when something only vaguely approaching it comes along.
This is true also of Porto vs Fredo which continues to be debated in fevered terms like it was some kind of ultimate cage-fight for an undisputed world title. Alfredo Morelos was blocked. Wasn’t that the sum total?
I can understand the desire to see footballers socially undistance and get right in about each other. This desire was around pre-Covid among those who’d lamented the game becoming too sterile with players barely allowed to tackle anymore.
But I have to laugh at the suggestion Hibees vs Gers might now need to be X-rated. From the 1950s when the Famous Five strove to demolish the Iron Curtain right through to bad blood between the teams in the Championship, culminating in that Hampden blow-up in 2016, the ferocity of the fixture has surprised only those not intimately involved on the pitch or in the stands.
Its long and storied history includes Peter Marinello winning a game all by himself, Davie Cooper trumping that one-man show many times over and Colin Stein stealing the points one Christmas Day - but also the two Alexes, Edwards and MacDonald battering each other from first whistle to last and little Alex Cropley block-tackling John Greig, breaking the Ibrox hard man’s toe.
In the wake of all that, Porteous doesn't look like the baddest, maddest critter there ever was. A bit raw, a bit of a radge on occasions, a bit too keen to play to the gallery with his tough tackling (when there's a gallery present) but an undoubted talent and one many Rangers fans covet. Who knows, maybe Steven Gerrard, while not wanting to shake his hand last Sunday, covets him too.
But really let's have some perspective. And though it's a forlorn hope right now, let's have the fans back. The quicker that happens the quicker we can all calm down. Before we get whipped right back up again.
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