Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Scottish Cup: Edinburgh's big day

As Craig Beattie set off on his mad celebratory dash around the Hampden track on Sunday the realisation dawned: not without controversy, perhaps, but Hearts were on their way to an unlikely all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final.

Unlikely because Hearts went into the semi-final against SPL champions Celtic as underdogs. Unlikely because Hibs have suffered such misery and woe over the course of this long, hard season.

Unlikely but now very, very real.

Hibs v Hearts in the Scottish Cup final. The first Edinburgh derby Scottish Cup final since 1896.

I was asked a lot in the hours between Hibs’ 2-1 win over Aberdeen and the second semi final if I’d prefer Hearts or Celtic in the final.

“I’d rather just enjoy the moment and worry about the final later” was my standard response.

How do I feel now?

Nervous. Already. The minute Hearts’ win over Celtic was confirmed I felt as nervous as I would have if the final had been half an hour away rather than five weeks away.

I can’t remember feeling like that so far in advance of any game. Maybe before the Scotland v England clashes of 1996 and 1999 or when the draw for the 1998 World Cup pitted Jim Leighton against Ronaldo.

But even those games were different. Because this is Hibs and Hearts in a Scottish Cup final.

It’s been playing on mind since. On the train today I found that “Garry O’Connor, he’s one of our own” ditty trapped in my head. Those of you have charted my relationship with O’Connor over the course of the season might realise that sort of behaviour is out of character.

Predictably we’ve already had a full airing of the “Murrayfield or Hampden” debate. Murrayfield’s size and location offer benefits.

But have many Hibs fans dreamt, over the course of this tortuous 110 year Scottish Cup jinx, of seeing a green and white clad captain raise the old trophy at the home of Scottish rugby?

Probably not.

So Hampden it is. The chance of a first ever Scottish Cup win for Hibs at the “third Hampden.” Their 1887 win came at the second incarnation of the national stadium while the 1902 victory over Celtic came at Celtic Park with a new Hampden being built on its current site and Ibrox out of use following the disaster of April that year.

The 1896 “Edinburgh” cup final was played in the capital. But Hearts won that day at Logie Green so I’m unimpressed by the precedent.

Oddly enough the club’s had fought against that decision and lobbied for a switch to either Hampden or Ibrox because:
"It was accepted that the 22,001st man who entered the ground would stand an even-money chance of being crushed to death. The man in the street was in no hurry to die at one shilling admission."
Changed days.

With the venue debate dismissed by a cursory SFA statement - actually a rehash of a statement made on the very same issue at the end of last week - we can concentrate on the build-up.

Sort of.

Along the way Hibs need to confirm their SPL status and Hearts will still fancy a run at the vacant Champions League spot.

Yet even such important matters of league housekeeping are unlikely to dampen enthusiasm for the cup final. Nor will they distract the queue of Hearts fans itching to tell me the game is already won or their equally bombastic brethren among the Hibs support prematurely claiming bragging rights.

I’d prefer it all to be a bit calmer. In fact, I’d love to disappear for a few weeks then magically reappear in Glasgow at about 2.55pm on Saturday 19th May. Not least because five weeks of nervousness is likely to leave me with a ticker too dicky to cope with the strains of the game.

But that’s not an option.

So I’ll need to embrace the Edinburgh Evening News - current cup final state: feverish - and the TV and radio chats, the stories of derring-do as sons and daughters of Leith and Gorgie abseil down Kilimanjaro and cross the Andes on a yak to get back for the greatest game these two clubs haven’t yet seen.

I might as well enjoy it.

A lifetime of supporting Hibs is a vicissitudinous enough love affair to allow one to build the resilience to cope with whatever is flung at us on this day of destiny.

No point, then, worrying about a defeat that might never come.

Not when there are dreams of glory unsurpassed to be dreamt, not when there are hats, wigs and commemorative t-shirts to be bought, tickets to be queued for, travel plans to be finalised and a few more dreams of glory to be dreamt.

Edinburgh might never have seen anything like it. Who knows, maybe at 4.45pm on that Saturday in May even the Jenners tannoy will burst into life and tell any straggling shoppers that the “champions of Edinburgh are...”

Ninety minutes from immortality and joy unconfined. Or an hour and a half from infamy.

And five weeks before all that to revel in it, to soak it all up, get picked up and carried along on a wave of enthusiasm.

It’s going to be quite something. And, if all else fails, drink will probably take care of those lingering nerves.

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