Thursday, May 17, 2012

Scottish Cup: Hearts and soul

The end of a 116 year wait draws ever closer. Hearts, Hibs and the Scottish Cup final. Excitement is growing, nerves are jangling.

I'm delighted to welcome Laurie Dunsire back to the blog to give a Hearts fan's view of why the stakes are so high and why this is a game that will mean so much to families across Edinburgh and beyond.

Nothing is preordained. So who will have the last laugh?


If the climactic closing weekend of the English Premier League taught us anything, it's that football can offer more twists and turns, more dramatic endings and more far fetched tales of glory than any Hollywood script could ever dream of.

As the respective league campaigns north and south of the border came to an end, the attention shifted to the Scottish Cup Final - as a Hearts supporter the biggest game of my life, and probably the biggest game in each club's history.

116 years since the two rivals met in the final of Scotland's premier cup competition, and, as we all know, 110 years since the green half of Edinburgh emerged victorious in this tournament.

As Saturday draws ever closer, both sides appear to be drawing on superstition and history to convince themselves that their team's name is already on the cup. For Hearts fans confidence is taken from our fantastic recent form against Hibs, and the fact they NEVER win the cup. Do they...?

For Hibs it would seem that all the pieces are falling into place. When they last won it, in 1902, they had an Irishman in charge. Step forward, Pat Fenlon. The clock outside the Balmoral Hotel apparently stopped in 1902, and did so again this year. Indeed, if this WAS a Hollywood script then Hibs would be the winners. Surely life would not be so cruel as to allow them to get so close to changing history, only to be denied by HEARTS. Would it...?

Life, and football, can be cruel though. But equally records are there to be broken, and no matter what has gone before, this is just 90 minutes (or 120 minutes plus penalties), and anything can happen.

I have never felt so nervous prior to a football game. I'm close to being downright terrified. This is bigger than an Old Firm final, MUCH bigger. If Rangers or Celtic lose a cup final to their greatest rivals, how long will they have to wait to avenge it? Maybe a year, possibly two at most? For Hearts and Hibs this might be the last time they'll meet in such a game. This could mean eternal bragging rights.

One thing IS clear to me. Nothing is preordained in football.

Past form goes out the window, superstition means nothing. Two teams go head to head on Saturday and until the final whistle is blown, both sides are in with a chance of glory. The stakes are high, and I'm far from confident!

There is NO name on the cup. Yet.

As a Hearts fan I often get a bit of stick for not disliking Hibs as much as I'm 'supposed to'. But, for me, the Edinburgh derby is a healthy but controlled rivalry, and although I love nothing more than spanking the other lot from down Leith way, I couldn't imagine life without them!

Maybe this respect for our greatest rivals comes from my family background, as my late grandfather, Andrew Dunsire, was a Hibs fan. In fact he regularly took my dad to see Hibs back in the 50s, during the famous five era when, many would argue, Hibs had their greatest ever team.

But, for whatever reason, my dad didn't take to Easter Road, and began sneaking off to watch Hearts instead. Eventually he came clean, and he has remained a Jambo ever since.

My dad didn't take me to see Hearts for quite a while when I was young, not until I actually became interested and asked if he would. Was it fear that I'd reject them and become a Hibs fan if he forced my interest, like he had done to his father? Probably not, but either way I followed a maroon path.

Sadly my grandfather passed away in 2003, but I do recall the last Edinburgh Derby I watched with him – on TV of course. Hibs won 2-1 at Easter Road, and my lasting memory is just his laugh as my dad and I became increasingly frustrated as Hearts pushed forward, in vain, for an equaliser.

By this point he didn't get too flustered over football, and he'd drunk a few glasses of whisky - I think he probably preferred whisky to Hibs by this stage to be honest. But maybe the cheerful chortling was just his way of enjoying a victory. Needless to say he had the last laugh on that occasion.

But he was my Grandad first and foremost, and a Hibs fan second. He would always have me round to watch the Hearts match if it was on TV, and sit and 'enjoy' it with me. Football means an awful lot to me, sometimes too much, but there are things that are more important.

That said, like any other Jambo I'll be celebrating deliriously if we win on Saturday, and I'll be contemplating ending it all there and then if we lose. This game is simply MASSIVE.

I've tried not to think about the match itself too much, as it makes me far too nervous. I can't call it at the moment. I still believe we have a stronger team than Hibs, and if we turn up on the day and perform to the best of our ability then we will prevail. But the gap isn't huge, and Hibs have shown a bit of fight recently, with McPake in particular appearing like an impressive presence at the back.

The Griffiths and O'Connor strikeforce are always going to pose a threat as well, and I certainly wouldn't bet against either of them getting on the scoresheet at some point.

But the game could be won and lost in the middle of the park, and I feel that's where we are strongest. If Ian Black can keep his head right and perform as he has done in previous derbies then he can dictate the play, and with Rudi Skacel ahead of him we can always pose a threat going forward.

There are too many ifs and buts at this stage though. It's a game that either side COULD win, but only one side WILL win.

Nothing is decided yet, the two sets of players will determine their own fate come Saturday afternoon. There will be tears, there will be laughter. Of course I hope on this occasion it is my father and I who have the last laugh, but regardless of the end result, I'll take a moment after the game to sip on a glass of whisky and remember my Grandad.

Andrew Dunsire, 1914-2003.

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