Aidan Smith: ‘Nessun Dorma’ means ‘none shall sleep’. Or, if you’re Hibs, none shall score

The previous two Hibernian managers, Jack Ross and before him Paul Heckingbottom, came and went without ever hearing “Sunshine on Leith” sung in celebration of a famous victory.

Look, the white sticks - over there. Shaun Maloney searches for a solution to Hibs' shot-shyness
Look, the white sticks - over there. Shaun Maloney searches for a solution to Hibs' shot-shyness

I wouldn’t be surprised if the best football anthem in the world was part of what attracted the current regime to the club. Clips of stirring renditions at Hampden and in Leith have gone right round Planet Football on social media, with even Kop-ites from Liverpool – holders of the title for top tune for what they thought was perpetuity – among those acknowledging its great emotional pull.

But at Easter Road, from Ron Gordon down, they must be getting impatient. The in-house DJ must be getting impatient every time – 7ins single half out of its sleeve in anticipation – the famous victory has failed to arrive. (I know the match-day music will all be digital now but that’s a better image, wouldn’t you say?).

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At the moment in the league any old victory will do. Any old goal in fact. Three scoreless draws in a row is hud-me-back form as Hibs – and every other club – nervously wonder how the cost-of-living crisis will hit season-ticket renewals.

The Hibees are racking their brains for how to cure the shot-shyness. Last Saturday they slashed prices to a fiver a ticket – an admirable move in itself, but unsustainable in the long term – to provide a full house. There was “Sunshine on Leith”, too, sung opera-style, along with “Nessun Dorma”. Maybe the idea for that came from the YouTube clip where the goals from the 2016 Scottish Cup triumph have been set to Puccini’s aria. “Nessun dorma” means “None shall sleep”. Strikes were easy to come by in the Alan Stubbs era. For this team right now unfortunately, none shall score.

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Back in the cup today, just about the only thing we can say for certain about the quarter-final at Motherwell is that it cannot finish 0-0. Well, it could, then be decided by penalties, but playing for that scenario would be a high-risk strategy. At the same stage of the competition last season Motherwell were unlucky to lose on spot-kicks and Hibs probably wouldn’t be so fortunate again. No, this may be hard to accept, but the only thing for it is to score more goals than the opposition.

As soon as the draw was made both sets of supporters were reminiscing about previous cup clashes between the clubs. But if this tie takes some settling it won’t be as tortuous as the last-eight-stage epic of 1976; it just can’t be. Three games were needed, the outcome being settled at neutral Ibrox.

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Eddie Turnbull and Willie McLean were the managers. Five Turnbull's Tornadoes remained but the Steelmen had a clever and deadly strike double-act in Willie Pettigrew and Bobby Graham. First it was Fir Park, 2-2, Arthur Duncan equalising in the final seconds, and among Hibs fans there were wildly contrasting memories. “We all went away singing ‘Sailing’,” said one (well, Rod Stewart’s dad was an Easter Road aficionado who thrilled to the Famous Five and displayed a photograph of Gordon Smith in the house, even if his laddie would go on to choose another team). Meanwhile, another recalled: “That was the game where a Hibby was hit with a dart. Sportscene showed it embedded in his head.” Ouch.

Hibs had no problem finding the net back then. The song with the refrain “Hibernian, give us a goal!” was rhetorical. A Turnbullism that I never tire of quoting is Ned’s insistence on the ball being passed forward at all times and if at training it went sideways he’d bring the session to a juddering halt. Changed days! Now all that faffy and – call me an old prog-rocker – pointless recycling of the ball is logged for posterity and players’ cvs.

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But while Hibs were in control for large parts of both replays the wild-haired Pettigrew would be the decisive character. And, as he told me a few tears ago in a rollicking interview, he could have been a Hibee: "I was playing for a wee team in Bonkle which had just sent Billy McEwan to Hibs when Dave Ewing was the manager. At that time, aged 15, it was said of me by Falkirk and a few other clubs: 'Ach, all he can do is score goals.' My view was: 'Is that no' the point of the game?' Anyway, I signed my S-form with Hibs but they played me at centre-half and even right-back. It took me a whole year to get out of Easter Road."

Ach, goal-machines, how monomaniacally one-dimensional they are! And how Hibs could do with one of them today. Beyond today, they will head to Pittodrie next Saturday hoping to avoid four scoreless league games in a row. The last time it was four – in 1988 – Alex Miller was the manager, George McCluksey the main striker and the glum sequence was completed with a clodhopping performance against … Aberdeen.

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That wasn’t a story 34 years ago but it will be on Saturday for the Hibs manager, Shaun Maloney, and especially if by then they’re out of the cup. Scrutiny is greater now, crises arrive quicker. The stats boys who log those sideways passes help set the agenda. Not every pundit acknowledges the big injury list when pronouncing. Lots of pundits like mince-and-tatties football and are suspicious of deviations.

Maloney suspects there are vultures on the Fir Park roof just waiting for him to fail. Find a way to goal, though, and his players can change that narrative. But the club should keep “Sunshine on Leith” back. Special occasions only.



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