Ian Cathro loves what he describes as the theatre of British derbies. But, like most fans, he only enjoys them when his side wins.
In the past he has sampled the passions of Spanish head-to-heads and experienced the friction of the Newcastle v Sunderland fixture but Sunday will serve as his introduction to the capital derby and he knows that first impressions count. His predecessor at Tynecastle, Robbie Neilson, lost more than he won in his six Edinburgh head-to-heads and while he still secured promotion from the Championship, guided the club to third place in their return to the Premiership and took them back into Europe, there were some who were unable or unwilling to overlook that derby record.
Having impressed with his wheeling and dealing in the transfer window and, after a testing start, Cathro looks to have turned a corner with positive results against Rangers and Motherwell last week. A Scottish Cup fifth round triumph over Hibernian this weekend would give him even more traction and help the Gorgie fans claim a modicum of revenge for the ousting of their team by their Leith rivals at the same stage of last season’s competition.
While some managers prefer to play down the magnified importance of the neighbourly competitiveness, Cathro is the opposite and says he understands fully the extra demands and pressure that accompany derbies.
“In Spain, Valencia against Villarreal had a bit of history and edge to it. There was a point when Valencia had the opportunity to not score a goal and that would have allowed Villarreal to stay up – then they scored it anyway. That created some extra tension and there is a genuine thing going on there.”
Then there was life in the north-east of England, where divisions are as steadfastly drawn up. “Newcastle versus Sunderland was a real derby… the walk from the bus to the stadium was a bit interesting!” says the former Magpies coach. “That was alive. But it’s great and everybody likes it. I’m sure there were a few things nervously thrown at us – not aggressively, just for show – and as well as a bit of that there was some chanting that wasn’t overly pleasant. But it’s just all theatre.
“That was the first one, we lost 3-0 and [Fabricio] Coloccini was sent off for something that wouldn’t be a red today – a foul for a penalty. We were actually quite dominant in the game until that. But the fans will certainly not want to have lost like that and that is why football is such a great game – a beautiful thing. It means so much to people.
“The following three or four days after these special fixtures, it’s like nothing else happens. There could be disastrous things happening in the political sphere – but people only know about what happened in the game! I love that as much as the football. It’s real, it matters, people care.”
If the games are theatre then the capital derby has celebrated a run that eclipses the longevity of The Mousetrap and while the players will be told to focus on the here and now, Cathro knows that every match that has been played out since that first capital derby in 1875 offers context.
“I’ve looked into derbies back through the years and it is interesting,” he said. “It is all part of the history and it is important to understand that. Everything that has happened in the past feeds into this game. It sets the background and the narrative and it colours the build-up and how it is discussed.
“But as soon as the game starts, it is its own thing. It is about how we play and the decisions we make. It is about our fight, our desire and about doing the things that will allow us to play well and win.”
While Hibernian have made it clear that promotion is more important than defending the trophy they won last year, the Hearts boss recognises the value of a cup run in generating excitement. Especially as that kind of adventure has been limited in Gorgie since they beat their city rivals in the 2012 final.
They got as far as the final of the League Cup the following year but were denied when current Hearts assistant manager Austin MacPhee and striker Isma Goncalves helped ensure victory for St Mirren.
“It is something we want to do. Definitely,” said Cathro when asked if winning silverware was an aspiration. “The only thing that will allow us to do that is dealing well with Sunday’s game. We need to get through that round and then hopefully allow things to build.
“I want to win, no matter what. I said last week that the biggest game of our lives was Motherwell and that was true. Now I can say the biggest game of our lives is against Hibs on Sunday and that is also true.
“And when we sit down, to talk about the next game, I will say the same thing and it will be the truth because we are people who want to win and you can only ever win the next one. You can’t win the one that is in three weeks and you can’t win the one you have just played. You can only win the game you are currently at and, right now, we are preparing to play Hibs, in the Scottish Cup, at Tynecastle, and we want to win.”