Saturday, November 19, 2011

Blogathon: A Wee Sip of Bovril from the Devil's Cup

Welcoming Laurie Dunsire this hour. A Hearts fan. This blogathon is inclusive to its bones.

Laurie writes for the excellent Scottish Football Forums

And follow him @lauriedunsire

I'll let Laurie explain what this hour has been about:

Aidan Smith, Hibs fan and sports journalist, carried out an unthinkable challenge when he became a Hearts fan for a whole season, something which he documented in his book, Heartfelt: Supping Bovril from the Devil's Cup. For someone with a reasonably high profile in Edinburgh who doesn't hide their football allegiances this was a bold move, and one that probably wouldn't have been possible along the M8 in Glasgow, if it had been a similar scenario between Rangers and Celtic.

However, one thing that always makes me proud of the Edinburgh Derby is that, on the whole, it is far more focused on the football rather than a religious background, and all-out hatred. Granted, there are of course those on both sides who still exist with whom genuine hatred, violence and bigotry is rife – but they are less prevalent on the East coast.

That's not to say that the rivalry between Hearts and Hibs is not fierce, because it is – steeped in history since the first clash at the Meadows on Christmas Day 1875, and full of passion, commitment and, ultimately, a battle for city bragging rights. As someone of a maroon persuasion, I know all too well just what these bragging rights mean – and although myself, and many other Jambos, like to cite certain statistics or historical references, the bottom like is for every Terrible Trio there is a Famous Five, for every 5-1 there is a 6-2, and for every 22-in-a-row there is a 7-0. Usually I'd throw in a 1902 trump card, but maybe that's just too easy these days!

My grandfather supported Hibs, and if my father hadn't betrayed this allegiance and secretly started attending matches at Tynecastle, things may have been a whole lot different for me! Indeed, it is bizarre that my dad would make such a decision since he grew up during a golden age at Easter Road, with the Famous Five at their best and Hibs regularly winning silverware – in addition to becoming the first British side to compete in Europe. Such is life though, and it shows just how fine the line can be between becoming a Hibs supporter and becoming a Hearts supporter.

As most of you will know, Tom Hall is a Hibs fan, and for today's charity Blogathon I thought it would be nice for us to both take just a small sip of bovril from the devil's cup, put our differences aside for a moment and focus on the team across the city. Hearts are currently up for sale, and with Romanov looking for a buyer, I have laid down a challenge that Tom has accepted, to write a piece 'selling' my wonderful club, and what it means, to a potential new owner. In return I shall take a moment to do the same for Hibs, but in regard to a potential new manager – since the search for Colin Calderwood's successor still continues. Remember, it's all in aid of charity, so don't expect me to be sitting at Easter Road any time soon – well, not in the home end at least!

As I've already mentioned, there is a rich history in Edinburgh football, dating back to well before there was ever an Old Firm clash, and this is something that should in itself entice a new man into the Easter Road hotseat. Over 130 years of success, failure and many highs and lows are engrained in the club, who manage to still pay homage to their Irish roots without any of the political or religious issues suffered by a certain other Scottish side with similar heritage. One of Scotland's oldest clubs, playing in Scotland's capital city – very few opportunities like that exist.

Whilst the fans may have turned on certain club officials in recent times, they are a support who have proved in the past just how loyal and passionate they can be about their side. Even in the last few years, where they have come up short more often than not in derby matches, the away end at Tynecastle is still packed to the rafters come derby day, and few travelling supports can match the volume and enthusiasm shown by the green and white swarm that hits the capital on such an occasion.

Crowds are down but it doesn't take huge success to win them back, as recent history shows even just a challenge for European places can, with the right team, bring average gates of almost 14,000 to home matches at Easter Road. Emphasis has never been too much on results at all costs, but more playing football the 'right way' and providing good entertainment for the supporters. For an ambitious coach with a footballing philosophy based around keeping the ball on the deck and playing attractive football, this could be a potential 'match made in heaven'.

Granted, the current squad may not be the ones to provide such a spectacle, but what you do have in Scotland right now is an SPL without a great deal of clubs who can pay much in the way of wages. Even my beloved Hearts are about to cut costs drastically, so there is no reason why Hibs cannot challenge the top 3 or 4 places in the division, based on resources. And what the club does have is a financially sound foundation, a magnificent new stadium and state-of-the art training facilities.

It's quite amazing that becoming recognised as a Hibernian great is, potentially, a mere five cup games away. For more than a century the Easter Road trophy cabinet has been bereft of Scotland's premier cup trophy, so success in the tournament would immortalise the manager who could achieve it.

So, whilst the current crop of Hibs players may not be the ones to take the club to such heights, because of just how bad recent times have been the short term aspirations for any new manager would simply be to make steady improvement – and surely that is VERY achievable. As D:Ream sang back in the 90s, Things Can Only Get Better. In fact, to avoid politics I'll go with Yazz instead – The Only Way Is Up! As a Jambo I'd usually like to refer back to a certain 1998 season at this point, but since it's all about charity today, I won't. Well, not any more than I just did anyway!

Ultimately Hibernian Football Club offers one of the biggest jobs in Scottish football, a rich history and a passionate support – not to mention a fantastic city derby to rival any in the UK. I may be a Jambo to the core, but I'm one who isn't afraid to appreciate just what Hibernian means to Scottish football, Edinburgh and even Hearts. Without them, my club would not be the same entity that it is today.

The bovril from the devil's cup may taste a bit funny, but it's not quite as bitter as some may think – so now it's Tom's turn to 'take a drink'!

My effort to sell Hearts:

I could have been a Hearts fan.

If my dad's uncle had his way I would have been. A maroon shirt was purchased. It wasn't worn.

It was a Hibs life for me. For better for worse. Family thing, great-uncles aside, the blood is green.

But crivvens, what an opportunity buying Hearts would be.

This is club with a heritage, tradition, passion and potential.

I can't pretend the debt issue and the stadium issue aren't problematic. But maybe Vladimir Romanov would be prepared to cut a deal.

And the City of Edinburgh Council is about as consistent as a Hibs goalkeeper so they might still be persuaded to lavish a new community arena on the club.

Taking over from Romanov wouldn't be hard. His statements are outlandish but sometimes contain a grain of truth. Fact is though he's squandered millions not because of a mafia but because he had the right dreams but a cack-handed policy for making them come true.

Wanted: one owner who displays a modicum of common sense. Simple.

And this is a club that has everything you'd need to make it thrive.

The support is healthy and could be healthier still if you offered them stability and a sensible chance at achieving some success. They can, in the right way, still make Tynecastle a fearsome arena.

And despite some of the recent upheaval Hearts have pretty much remained the most consistent of our "third forces."

As Laurie mentioned there is a strong rivalry in Edinburgh that helps give both clubs and their support an identity. And it's a rivalry that Hearts currently have the upper hand in. Move quick and you could be savouring a New Year derby win at Easter Road. They'll be asking "who's Vlad" before you can ask "who's the new sheriff in town?"

Scottish football needs a strong Hearts? That's a blatant nonsense, Scottish football needs strong clubs whoever they are, if they deserve to be strong. Nobody has a divine right.

But Scottish football is healthier if Hearts are healthy. And nursing them back to health wouldn't be that difficult.

Clean slate, you see, out with the old, the overpaid, the obscenely bloated squad.

Good youngsters are already in place. The SPL is not the sort of footballing paradise where you need to spend big to have (relative) success. A wages to ratio turnover of over 100 percent is not required.

And there's a rich history to build on. From the heritage of McCrae's Battalion, such a strong part of the club's DNA, to the moments of triumph and even the moments of heartbreak.

A tradition of players like Willie Bauld, Dave Mackay, John Robertson.

These links with the past have built the modern club and maybe Hearts need a more sympathetic owner to properly realise the potential that offers.

The real tragedy of the Romanov experiment has been that he's blown it big style at a time when the Old Firm appear to be weakened forces.

Maybe that chance, that Old Firm-splitting, Old Firm-beating chance, has gone. One man, an outsider, could see it was a possibility but lacked the gumption to make it happen.

So now we need a new Hearts.

A Hearts that embraces their community roots, emphasises their belief in youth, that spends wisely and celebrates their history to build on their strengths.

A Hearts pitching themselves not as the hysterical, renegade outsiders but as an integral part of Scottish football's future.

It would need money, yes, but not the millions Romanov seems to have spent.

It would take strength of character, it would take bravery.

But it's all there, it's all in place. It just needs someone to realise it.

They can even win the odd Scottish Cup.

It could be you...

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This hour of the blogathon was brought to you by the Hibs Club.

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