HIBS fan Aidan Smith endures an emotional roller-coaster as the oldest curse in football is finally obliterated
It was nine o’clock on the delirious night of nights and just when you thought the lads had ran out of balls for the Leith Walk version of the Eton Wall Game, a tenement window opened and another plastic sphere was donated to the celebrations.
“I was waved off by my wife with a cheerful scowl freely translated as: ‘If you’re not going to win the thing don’t bother coming back.’”
The object of the game was to kick the ball as high as you could – that was it. There were cheers when it landed on a bus shelter, loud roars when it bounced off the roof of a double-decker – and cries of “You must be a Jambo!” when it cleared the tall spire of Bellevue Baptist Church and disappeared.
“This is surreal,” said Angus MacKay, one-time MSP and full-time Hibby, sipping beer outside Robbie’s, bursting at the seams and spilling on to the Champs d’Leithie like every other pub. “From the start of the game – did we really score that early? – to right now it’s been like a big, strange, sexy dream. Directed by some French dude – Luis Buñuel perhaps. I really hope this is it for the rest of my life, that the feeling will never end.”
In Iona Street, at a fantastically chaotic hostelry called Tourmalet, it was hard to disagree with MacKay’s assessment. Irvine Welsh held court as grown men, old men and tired and emotional men sang the John McGinn song. Then they sang the David Gray song followed by the Alan Stubbs song. My phone buzzed with congratulatory text messages – two ex-girlfriends and one Hearts fan, the latter being Jim, retired policeman and old school chum, who summoned more names from our Hibee-Jambo playground rivalry by asking: “Was that you on the pitch with ‘Snatch’ Trotter and Kenny McPike?”
I wasn’t on the pitch but Kieran, the humanist minister’s son, was. “I got a bit for you,” he said, handing me a clump of turf. I showed it to Andy, a dad from the local playgroup, and he produced a bigger wodge which he’d stored inside his tobacco pouch. “I smoked it earlier,” he beamed. “I got a bit of the goal-net, too, and I’ll be smoking that later.”
Meanwhile, back at home, my nine-year-old son had gone to bed with his match programme, tooter, giant foam hand and green-and-white scarf bearing the legend “21 May, 2016”. The boy was intent on dreaming about precision-engineered Liam Henderson corner-kicks and flashing headers, but he had this urgent inquiry: “Dad, are they going to take the trophy away from us now?”
Obviously the invasion was bad, the vandalism badder, the aggro worse still. But it’s covered elsewhere in our paper today and will be for the foreseeable. Can a Hibs fan not just be allowed to attempt to describe what it feels like to have won the Scottish Cup?
Being Hibs fans without the cup made us feel odd for sure but also different and special. At least in darker moments – all moments, basically – this was what we told ourselves. Now, football supporters can strain for some pretty perverse logic and here was a prime example. What were we saying: that winning the cup was somehow tacky and common? We were beginning to revel in our own tragedy. We needed to win it. So now we have? If this is conformity, and simply doing what most other clubs have managed to do, then it’s sensational.
The day began like all other cup final days, only more so. There are now more people living in my house, more small girls who can burst into tears because their father cannot be handed a simple task like dressing them for ballet class without his 1902-centred nervous tension trashing the morning. I was waved off by my wife with a cheerful scowl freely translated as: “If you’re not going to win the thing don’t bother coming back.”
With me were my son, my brother and my best friend. We travelled the route of previous failures, including two with my father before he died when Hibs were beaten by a tubby man’s hat-trick (fat-trick?) and a wonder own-goal. And we parked where Dad always stopped – Brownlie Street off the Cathcart Road, because Hibs used to have a great full-back called John Brownlie. There was no big Asda in those days, though, and the superstore has become crucial to the Hampden experience. We bought sushi for lunch – this may tell you why our team hadn’t won the cup for a while – and ate it on a grassy knoll while a busker with a guitar played some of our favourite songs, though in his versions the Hibees weren’t “mental” but “famous”.
In the stadium – chopped up and ruined but still thrilling on days like these – the Rangers support hoisted a banner: “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when.” Their team had won promotion, Hibs hadn’t, but here was the chance for what many of us reckoned was the greater prize. “Time for heroes” proclaimed the banner at the Hibs end. I looked around me just before kick-off: Hibbies were holding hands, gazing to the heavens and mouthing silent prayers. I hugged my son. “Are you OK, Archie?” A little sigh. “Dad! You’ve asked me that five times in the last two minutes!”
The game? Don’t ask me. And don’t ask my friend Keith, an old five-a-sides pal, spotted in a bit of dwam near the oldest house in Glasgow, Provand’s Lordship, as we headed joyfully home. “I can’t remember the winning goal,” he said, “and I can’t remember where I parked my car. Right now I’m more bothered about the goal.”
He wasn’t drunk, just high on the oldest curse in football having just been obliterated. When that ball hit the net I cried. For my father who took me to the football – to those lost finals and all the other lost cup-ties. He ferried me to Arbroath and Clydebank and East Fife and brought me back, greetin’-faced and devastated. Thanks Dad, and you were right: they would win it eventually.