Hibernian 2 v 3 St Mirren (18.01.2014)
By Iain Pearce
Not pretending to be an expert on anything north of the border, a weekend trip to Edinburgh and a closer look at a map felt like meeting a host of long-lost relatives. Familiar old friends like St. Johnstone and Arbroath read themselves off the page in the voice of James Alexander Gordon, in the process moving themselves from the part of my brain marked ‘fantasy,’ where Melchester and Tracy Island reside, to the side where the spots I’ve not been but am pretty sure do exist sit- places like Mongolia and Hull.
Despite the name spelling and a Scottish mother I had only been to Scotland once before. I’m sure Forfar’s fine, but I’m at the toe-dipping stage and Edinburgh and Hibernian were about as adventurous as my first plunge into Scottish football was to be.
The journey from the centre of the capital to Easter Road is not a long one and can be done on foot in twenty minutes. However, my own path to be able to attend the game had needed to be more meticulously planned.
A trip up to Scotland was the perfect girlfriend Christmas present and was booked in good faith- a faith that was soon uncontrollably wandering towards fixture lists and wondering if it might be okay to squeeze some fitba into a weekend of sightseeing. The right moment to ask needed to be anticipated and ruthlessly seized upon, and arrived a couple of weeks into January after a particularly large favour had been delivered and the importance of its help emphasized. This strategic manoeuvre gave way to the desired response and thanks to the joys of online ticket sales there was to be no going back- I was off to see Hibernian host St. Mirren.
The short cross-city walk may not take you far geographically, but you certainly know you’ve made it. At one o’ clock I had been in a world of Royal Mile tourists, kilts for American waist sizes and Loch Ness Monster key rings. But by half past the strategically overpriced whisky shops had rapidly transformed into tatty underpriced off licenses and it didn’t take much imagination to picture Renton and Begbie cannoning down the Leith streets Irvine Welsh set them in.
A pre match pint showed the Hibbies and visiting Buddies to be like lower level English fans and interested in the Barclays Premier League stuff. Unlikely to be involved in it, the delights of Yaya, Wayne and Eden seem unable not to sweep by most us away.
Closer to 3pm and the wander over to Easter Road revealed the sort of stadium seen regularly from Barnsley to Belo Horizonte. The renovated stands are functional and impressive, yet essentially underwhelming- belying the black and white pictures of the formidable ground it gradually replaced. Inside you have legroom and sight lines, but not the sense of home you’d hope for in a place to call your own. That said, the peeking view of Arthur’s Seat, the volcanic mound that helps to give Edinburgh its almighty character, between the B&Q stands sets the place some way apart from the Britannia or the DW.
I was sat in the Famous Five Lower, a name to prick the interest. My sister had suggested that Enid Blyton’s Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog may have had more say in Hibernian’s history than is generally reported on, but the reality is even more interesting. The stand and its impressive insignia instead refer to the formidable front line that lead The Hibbees to three championships over five years in the late 1940s and early 50s. Have a read about them if you have the time. Football throws up such stories that you may never have heard of previously but transport you away from the modern day nonsense that threaten to question your love of it all.
Hibs’ Famous Five…
Under the incoming management of Terry Butcher (who has managed considerably less Scottish also-rans than you may have supposed) Hibs have picked up and, most importantly of all, beaten Hearts. And for three minutes the improvement seemed on track. Then St. Mirren broke, a half-volley hit the post and rebounded back over the line off the luckless keeper. Hibs’ attacking full back Ryan McGivern then got injured, and things had fallen apart. Two glaring home headers went desperately over instead of under and the ruthless Buddies were three up by half time. Despite their lowly SPL position, St. Mirren were for forty-five minutes the big brother: allowing their hosting rivals the space to think they had a chance but not too much of one, then breaking forwards and adding another, as if to show that they could.
In this sort of write up you’re looking to show how animated the fans were and how electric the atmosphere was, but in this one I never really got the chance to find out. The singers seemed to be away from us in the Famous Five and up in the East Stand where a group of a few dozen didn’t sit down or stop singing but similarly never got close to fooling you into thinking you were in Belgrade.
Why are British fans so rubbish? Sure, there are draconian rules and minimum wage stewards to enforce them, but is the best we can do simmering club-adjusted versions of ‘Cum On Feel the Noize’ (replacing last year’s smash hit of ‘Sloop John B’)? If we’re so proud of inventing all this why are we so lacking in innovation and primal excitement? Is it the ticket prices and booze, or do we need somehow to re-invigorate ourselves?
Well, three goals to the bad at half time will reinvigorate no-one, and the Hibernian fans were little exception. They pulled one goal back midway through the second, and with three minutes to go they grabbed a second, but despite five minutes of added on time it never really felt like the comeback of the ages and a leveler didn’t emerge.
Hibs are far too good to go down, but are a Lowland mile from challenging the impenetrable two-cum-one, and it’s that feeling of hopelessness that rankles. Rangers may have hit the fan, but now they have something to fight for and against. Celtic have visions of Barcelona victories and Champions League second round supposed glory. But what of a Hibee or a Heart? Crikey, I’m a Pompey fan, but at least we have something to battle back towards.