I am celebrating Hibs and Hearts getting to the Scottish Cup final with a cup of tea and a salt n vinegar crisp sandwich. No I’m not sure why either. They’re Golden Wonder crisps, if that helps.
And frankly, I’m a bit bemused by the spring in my step and smile on my face at the Edinburgh rivals’ good fortune. Why should I, a Killie fan, care who won the semi-finals and who made it through to the big showpiece at the end of the season?
It’s an odd one I grant you. It’s partly down to knowing so many Hibs and Hearts fans. But then I know a lot of Rangers and Celtic fans too. I’d like to know fewer, not because of the people involved you understand, but because many of the Old Firm fans I know have perfectly decent local teams that would welcome their support. And maybe then we wouldn’t have two giants (one nearly fallen) and ten supposed diddy teams in the SPL.
But it’s not really that. There is something refreshing about non Old Firm finals. Oh, we’ll get the patronising media nonsense about family friendly affairs and photo montages of Gorgie and Leith with all the ribbons and good luck banners. And some wee couthy interview with former players and even, crumbly fans about their last cup win (though, this of course, would involve Burke and Hare style grave-robbing in Hibs’ case). But nonetheless I smile at the thought of an Old Firm free Scottish Cup final.
Not least because we’ll be spared yet another preposterous, undignified and puerile post-defeat interview with Neil Lennon. Yes, it was a dodgy penalty. But the equaliser was just as dodgy. Get over it. The victim/blame culture that is a full part of the Lennon mindset these days shows that while he might be a good manager, he’ll never be a great one. Some of what has been directed at him over the years has been truly awful and unforgiveable. I give him great credit for refusing to bow to any of it, but that doesn’t excuse nor justify his behaviour solely as a football manager.
Instead, we’ll get two managers prepared to give it a go, who don’t see it as their divine right to boss everything in Scottish football, and whom – I hope – make the best of the big occasion and send out attacking formations, determined to win by playing better than the other side. It should be a great spectacle.
But the real reason why I’m smiling along with most of the city I call home this evening was crystallised by a friend the other night – a Jambo, who I’m assured is doing a lot of smiling right now. Take the Old Firm out of the equation and big days out at semi-finals and finals become more than just once in a lifetime or generation experience. The wee diddy teams (as a supporter of one such I have the right to reclaim the use of this epithet in order to de-stigmatise it) which currently provide little more than target practice for the inexorable march of both Old Firm sides to their supposedly inevitable and unalterable birthright of silverware, doubles and trebles would no longer be wee or diddy.
All of us could approach each season buoyed with hope and optimism at the real prospect of success. What a sea-change that would bring to the mindset, culture and environment of Scottish football.
So, in a season when my ain glorious Ayrshire Killie overcame Celtic in the League Cup Final and when neither half of the Old Firm will be lifting the Scottish Cup, we get a sense and a taste of what this might be like. And it’s rather refreshing.
To be sure there is tribalism, some of it rotten, between Hibs and Hearts. But for the main part, this will be a goodwill Scottish Cup Final. Neither set of fans will approach their day of destiny in May with arrogance nor assumed victory. Both will be excited, nervous and luxuriating in their adventure and imbued with real hope and optimism at the thought of triumph, so tantalisingly close. Though the Hibs’ fans of course, will want to temper that with their renowned pessimism at ever breaking their Scottish Cup voo-doo.
Before the inevitable campaign gathers momentum (it’s already underway) for the final to be played at Murrayfield, though, a word. Football is played at Hampden; rugby at Murrayfield. It doesn’t necessarily make it right (though I happen to think it is) but that’s the way it is. In any event, there is something about the journey to the final which would be lost if it involved a 26 or 1 bus ride five stops across the home city. I mean, is there somewhere even to tie a scarf to on a bus to let it flutter out the window?
So, Hibs, Hearts, Hampden. A perfect combination. Here’s to a great Cup Final, a match played with integrity in which both sides remember to lace up their shooting boots, and to happy, smiley people. Everywhere in Scottish football, except for the Old Firm.
In the words of Van the Man, there’ll be days like this. More of them please.