It’s 2004 and the return of European nights under lights for Hearts. Middle-aged fans who witnessed the thrilling win over Lokomotiv Leipzig join with old-timers able to recall earlier tussles with Inter Milan and Benfica and junior Jambos for whom this will be their first experience of continental competition. But something is not quite right.
What seemed to be excitement is, on closer inspection, panic. Everyone is running around outside the stadium trying to find the right entrance. Those inside the ground are sprinting along the concourses trying to locate their seats. The food-stalls aren’t selling pies but venison and gourmet sausages. This was a home tie for Hearts and yet the faithful were moved to echo David Byrne of Talking Heads in his exclamation of jitteriness and disorientation: “This is not my beautiful house!”
A home tie, but owing to Tynecastle not meeting Uefa rules on pitch length, it was played at Murrayfield. All of Hearts’ games in that season’s Uefa Cup took place at Scotland’s rugby HQ. There was Braga in the qualifying round, then at the group stage Schalke 04 and Ferencvaros. At the end of the game against the Hungarians, Hearts’ manager John Robertson booted their coach up the backside. Jambos were glad to kick the Murrayfield habit after that.
So why, then, are Hearts prepared to go back there, should they qualify for Europe again? Why don’t they ask Hibernian if they can borrow their ground? Surely the home of their capital rivals would provide the atmosphere Murrayfield lacked 12 seasons ago.
Ann Budge, the Tynecastle chairwoman, says she’s not brave enough to propose they play their games at Easter Road, believing the road to Leith would be a step too far for the fans while their own stadium is being redeveloped.
But would it? Okay, Hearts have a song about continental adventures, sung to the tune of My Way, which includes the line: “We hate the Hibs, they make us spew up/So make a noise, you Gorgie boys, we’re going to Europe.” Presumably, though, they’d like a decent run in the Europa League. Isn’t that going to be more achievable with packed stands, an intimidating din and a pitch with which the players are far more familiar than the rugger turf of Murrayfield?
I was at all three Murrayfield games in 2004 and the only one where there was a decent atmosphere was the Schalke tie and then only because of the large German contingent waving their big flags and singing madly throughout. I was also there two seasons ago when Celtic played Euro qualifiers at the ground and it was weird indeed to see the souvenir-sellers normally found on Glasgow’s London Road relocated to the perjink crescents of EH12 as the hordes in hooped shirts, who’d presumably drunk as much as they did to try and get over the discombobulation, staggered towards the oval-ball venue.
Edinburgh is a different kind of football city to Glasgow and maybe Glaswegians don’t think it’s much of one at all. But while neither Celtic nor Rangers can enjoy victory parades for fear of one upsetting the other, and pantomimes tend to be light on Old Firm banter for fear of causing a rumpus in the stalls, in Edinburgh Hibs/Hearts jokes fly around and there’s an old tradition of fans frequenting both Tynecastle and Easter Road. Admittedly they don’t do it any more but a generation of supporters watched Hearts one week and Hibs the next. In the spirit of that fine old custom, couldn’t the Jambos thole playing in enemy territory should they win a European place?
After all, Hibs and Hearts regularly contest domestic cup semi-finals at each other’s grounds with the Hibees due at Tynecastle in the Scottish Cup next month when it becomes, for an afternoon, the home ground of Bonnyrigg Rose.
Jambos should enjoy taking over Easter Road for a night, or nights, should they progress. Hibbies certainly enjoyed last season’s League Cup semi at Tynecastle, invading parts of the ground normally closed off to them. In the Wheatfield Stand for the tie against St Johnstone a bunch of jolly japesters sported home-made nuclear fallout onesies with “Gorgie Survival Suit” scrawled on the back along with dust-masks and bearing signs warning “Fragile roof”.
I’m not so sure that Hearts fans would run a mile from Easter Road, especially if the letting arrangement were to bring them more famous European victories. Hibbies could content themselves with the fact their stadium was the first in Britain to host continental competition, a run to the semi-finals no less, and that the soil must hold magical properties.