Aidan Smith: A title and third place isn’t enough for Hibs and Hearts fans, grumpy in their underpants
Funny old season. Hearts romp the Championship and supporters want Robbie Neilson out, along with owner Ann Budge. Jambos go Extinction Rebellion and flash-bomb a concerted, city-wide protest involving the stickering of electricity sub-stations and municipal toilets. Several weeks later, a bedsheet banner still flutters on a cyclepath bridge near my home.
Hibs are firm favourites to finish third-best in Scotland for the first time since 2005 and only the fourth since the heyday of Turnbull’s Tornadoes. Yet that won’t be enough for some.
What’s going on? Last Thursday night Manchester United fell behind to Roma in their Europa League semi-final and #oleout started trending. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has revived the flair traditions of Man U after the stutterings of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal and the stultifying Jose Mourinho, but at a club with such entitlement traditions he needs a trophy. Presumably the five goals netted in the second half satisfied the naysayers, at least until the next game.
What the heck’s going on? Are football fans, having been denied the game in the raw for a grim year, turning stir crazy? Unable to engage in post-match chat over a few pints in a friendly, reasonable manner, is everyone shouting in the dark in their underpants from the bottom of a virtual well, not much caring how extreme their views have become or who’s hearing them? This weekend’s boycott of social media by clubs and players, backed by other sports, tells you that’s exactly what’s been happening.
But as long as you’re not being abusive, far less racist, are you permitted such declamatory opinions as expecting or demanding regime change when, as for the Edinburgh clubs, 2020-21 can be termed a success whatever?
The very minimum Hearts fans expected was the Championship title. Unfortunately the very minimum was all they got. The club were dumped out of the League Cup by Alloa Athletic and humiliated in Scottish Cup by Brora Rangers. The worst result in Hearts’ history, wailed many of the faithful after that defeat. Second-worst, pointed out those with longer memories.
There were also complaints about style, the lack of it. Certainly the Jambos contrived a few Friday fright-nights on the Beeb Scotland channel and no ten-nil romps like last time in the Championship. There is, though, a certain kind of playmaker in the middle of the park that Heart of Midlothian FC simply refuse to employ. It must be against the rules of their constitution or something. But I’m not sure we’d be hearing these mumps and moans if Hearts were poised for next weekend’s semi-finals of the Scottish Cup and winding up their dear, quaking friends from across Edinburgh about the fate that was going to befall Hibs.
Which brings me to Hibs. Their fans are quaking anyway without a looming maroon presence. Hence that tweet about Jack Ross. Hence another just before the draw for the semis which kind of sums up this season like no other: “Please, not St Johnstone!”
That’s some quaking, even from a Hibby, and I mean no offence to the men of Perth. In the past year I’ve deliberately sought out and interviewed all three members of their great 1970s triumvirate: Henry Hall, John Connolly and Jim Pearson. I have the utmost respect for the club, their manager Callum Davidson and Saintees chums like Stuart Cosgrove.
Saints might be in danger of becoming fashionable - hope it doesn’t happen, guys, not worth it - but Hibs fans are worrying their team have become too fashionable. Darlings of Sportscene, the players are raved about as if they’ve produced unblemished, campaign-long brilliance. Thankfully Michael Stewart has been on hand to remind everyone of the mid-season slump when they managed to cock up two semis.
This has been an historic campaign with the last four of both cup competitions not featuring either of the Old Firm and remarkably being allowed to continue. But the Hibees and their manager won’t want it becoming notable for another first: a club, because of 2019-20’s delayed Scottish Cup, losing three national semis in a little over six months.
If another defeat was to come against Dundee United then it would be difficult for the club to challenge “Hibsing it” being reinstated in the Scottish football phrasebook, just six years after the club smashed their curse in the oldest club competition in the world. So it’s up to Jack Ross to finally win a big one - and then in quick succession another - and it’s up to the club’s biggest players currently to finally turn up at Hampden.
Third place and the Scottish Cup for Hibs would top 1972 - third and the League Cup - but third and no Scottish with no Celtic or Rangers standing in the way would be deemed a disappointment by some. Harsh? Not entirely, though Entitled of Leith has no divine right here, and Rightfully Ours of Gorgie can’t suddenly demand that the team play like 1970-vintage Brazil.
The truth is that fans of Hearts and Hibs - indeed all fans - need to get back to real, proper, live, close-enough-to-smell football, and as soon as possible. For final evidence of how deranged they’ve become during Covid I know of Hibbies who wouldn’t be too disappointed if there’s no Scottish Cup this year as it would allow the hoodoo-busters of 2016 to stay glistening and special for a while longer. Time to clamber out of that well, guys, and put on some trousers.
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