My Team & I: Hibs


By Tom Hall

Twitter: @scotfootblog

My Hibs History

My great grandmother used to say that she wanted to be buried in the cemetery behind Easter Road. In eternity, she’d be able to hear the cheers when Hibs scored.

Perhaps, as the years wearied her, she lost her optimism and decided on a cremation. But supporting Hibs is in my genes. I didn’t choose them. It could only ever be Hibs.

You learn early that a life in green and white will not be a trophy laden journey.

My own education in Hibernian reality came when I was five. April, 1985. My brother and I are the mascots at Easter Road. Hibs are playing St Mirren. We go through all the normal pre match rituals. We are bursting with pride and excitement. St Mirren win 4-0. Did someone say lucky mascots?

October the same year. My first trip to Hampden. The Scottish League Cup final. Hibs play Aberdeen. It’s over before it has properly begun. An Eric Black double and a third from Billy Stark give Alex Ferguson another trophy.

Again I have the strange feeling of excitment and expectation being followed by crushing disappointment. I’m left with an unidentified bite on my back, left by some kind of beastie in that rickety old stadium. Supporting Hibs was already leaving scars.

Much has changed since then. A couple of trophies have arrived at an Easter Road that is now unrecognisable. Managers have come and gone. We’ve endured relegation, survived near bankruptcy and a hostile takeover bid. We’ve said farewell to the famous old slope.

On the pitch the disappointments have outnumbered the triumphs. But every year has been worth it.

Like all fans the bond I feel with my club can’t really be explained. It is just there, essentially unquestioned.

The bad times:

Some people with strong faith claim that moments of doubt will eventually make you even more devout. Maybe they’re right.

For my part is the little moments that cause more pain, that lead to the “why the f*** do we bother” wobbles.

Relegation in 1998 almost reaffirmed my belief in Hibs. The club were in a hole, the First Division writing was on the wall. They needed me. When the inevitable was eventually confirmed there was pain but defiance. We would be back.

The one off games seem to hurt more. Hampden defeats to Livingston, Ayr United and Hearts. Days when you feel the club has let you down, when the players you invest so much hope in don’t deliver. That’s painful. Nothing more miserable than the journey back east after a defeat like that. Even the scarves seem to wilt in the despondency of a silent bus trip.

A defeat to Dunfermline during Bobby Williamson’s reign as manager that was so bad we were in a pub on the Royal Mile about twenty minutes before full time. But somehow, a couple of pints and a good moan later, you’re making plans for the next game. Because it can’t be that bad again. Can it?

The good times:

Maybe the bad times, certainly the mediocre times, outnumber the good times. But the good times are worth it.

The League Cup win in 1991, so soon after the club had seemed to face extinction. The rout of Kilmarnock in the same tournament in 2005. Memories to sustain you in the darkest of hours.

The First Division year that turned into an extended party, a record breaking season. By the end we could even laugh about that home defeat to Stranraer.

The blistering start to the 2000/01 season when anything seemed possible and Alex McLeish could do no wrong. The run that led to the 6-2 win over Hearts, the look on Lawrie Reilly’s face as we passed him leaving the ground that Sunday night. It all seemed to good to be true.

It probably was. But as long as it lasted it was a hell of a lot of fun.

The AEK Athens game in 2001. An ultimately futile win on the night. But a spine tingling night all the same.

The passion on show against Anderlecht in 1992. Why do Scotland’s “small” clubs care about European qualification? Because the risk of embarrassment in Eastern Europe is balanced by the chance of a night like that when the stadium shook to a less than politically correct chant of “Go home ya hun, go home.” Scotland welcomes foreign referees.

The Hibs experience:

I’m 30. Hibs have won two league cups and the First Division in my lifetime. But being a Hibs fan, celebrating Hibs, is not just about the highs I have enjoyed at first hand.

The legends are woven into the club and form part of every fan’s experience. The Famous Five, Turnbull’s Tornadoes. They are celebrated still. The three greatest living legends – Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Pat Stanton – are revered by all fans.

All three are, in their own ways, approachable ambassadors for the club. Speaking to them makes every fan, young and old, feel part of a history that many of us are too young to remember. The league wins, the European matches. To marvel at them, to celebrate them still, is not living in the past. It’s about enjoying a heritage that every Hibs fan should feel proud of.

I was too young to be an active part of the Hands Off Hibs campaign that, against the odds, saw off Wallace Mercer’s takeover bid. But that too forms part of the bond we all feel with the club. This summer an anniversary rally marking the campaign filled Edinburgh’s Usher Hall. Fans of all ages celebrating Hibs’ most defining moment. Every one of us still feels pride in our very survival as a football club.

The players:

Franck Sauzee and Russell Latapy. Even now I’m incredulous that we ever signed them. But they were the best players I have seen play for Hibs. Sublime. Neither enjoyed a satisfactory departure from the club but, as Hector Nicol’s old song tells us, “their memory marches on.”

Derek Riordan remains a frustrating genius. As a selling club we are forever robbed of the prime years of too many good prospects. We can only enjoy them for as long as possible and then say a financially beneficial goodbye. It’s not romantic, but it is modern football. Derek’s return from Celtic has given him another chance. His is a rare talent, although I’m not convinced he always knows how best to use it. Time remains on his side. I hope he uses it wisely.

Brian Rice, recently departed as assistant manager, was a rare gem in the 1980s, a decade defined more by functionality than flair. Gordon Hunter was an outstanding, undervalued servant from the same period at centre half.

John Collins was an exceptional talent. Unlike many of our young prodigies he was also prepared to work hard to make the most of his gifts. He is the best Scottish player I’ve seen in a Hibs team.

My all time hero remains Alan Rough. The most relaxed goalkeeper we ever had. Rough, Andy Goram and Jim Leighton. Over twenty years of Scotland goalkeeping talent at Easter Road in quick succession. Roughie wasn’t even the best of them but few people realise how good he could be. I even forgive him that 4-0 walloping against St Mirren.

The managers:

Hibs don’t have a great record with former players as managers in the last thirty years. Pat Stanton, John Blackley, Franck Sauzee, John Collins, Mixu Paatelainen and John Hughes have left in less than happy circumstances. It’s never nice to see club legends fail or walk away and it’s happened too often to Hibs recently.

Alex Miller, whose lack of connections with Hibs were well documented, lasted longer than most. He steadied the ship when bankruptcy and Wallace Mercer threatened. He won the 1991 League Cup. But he was a man who didn’t inspire affection with an attachment to a brand of football that didn’t excite.

He did, however, give us the delights of Michael O’Neill, Kevin McCallister, Keith Wright and Darren Jackson. He even, despite himself, had to make room for Mickey Weir. But Miller remains a manager who commands respect for a lengthy – probably overlong – tenure rather than drunken veneration.

Maybe his greatest coup was signing Steve Archibald. From Barcelona. As you do when you’re a Hibs manager. Archibald was brilliant and galvanised the team. Eventually he and Miller fell out and Archibald was gone. An episode that sums up Miller’s strengths and flaws perfectly.

Jim Duffy was a disaster who built a team that amounted to little more than a freak show, memories of Chic Charnley’s idiosyncratic brilliance aside.

Bobby Williamson was the wrong man for the job. He took us on an Old Firm beating ride to the League Cup final. Where we lost to Livingston. The week before the game I was at a dinner. Pat Stanton told the players to go and enjoy the Hampden experience.

Williamson’s retort was something along the lines of “the last thing you’ll be doing is enjoying it.” Well, he was right about that. Fans are allowed irrational prejudices. One of mine is that Bobby Williamson lost the 2004 League Cup final when he opened his mouth that night.

Alex McLeish was well funded and delivered with some stunning players and brilliant results. In truth though he was running out of steam by the time he left for Ibrox.

Tony Mowbray was a young manager with a young team. They learnt together and at times it was a joy to watch. For now, I’ll give Mowbray the nod as the best of the bunch. But I’ll continue to hope for another Eddie Turnbull to appear.

John Collins I will always consider the one that got away. He won the League Cup but he didn’t last long enough. His abrupt departure and often abrasive nature upset a lot of people. But he was proved right on a number of issues, including problems within the squad and the development of certain players. Even the purse strings have been slightly loosened since he left.

Not everyone agrees. But Collins as managers always makes me think “what might have been?”What might have been. Another most Hibernian of phenomenons.

The future:

The stadium is complete, the training ground resplendent. Unfortunately the players aren’t fit for purpose. Colin Calderwood needs time to shape his own squad. The recruitment of Derek Adams as assistant manager impressed me. A period of stability is required and hopefully they are the men to deliver it.

You’ll note I’ve not yet mentioned Scotland’s oldest cup competition and the much ridiculed Hibernian jinx. In a country where winning a league title is beyond all but two clubs, the cup remains the holy grail. We’ll never give up on the dream. But, a jinx is a jinx. I prefer not to discuss it for fear of extending an already ridiculously long curse.

In the meantime I’ll continue to meet with the odd triumph, the odd disaster and the spells of mediocrity in much the same way. By enjoying them, enduring them, getting frustrated by them. And then retiring to the pub to discuss them. And we’ll find some way of laughing about them before dusting ourselves down and going through it all again.

Maybe that sums up one of the most important things about me and Hibs. The mates I’ve made along the way. Even when the team is at its worst, when you think the manager is a buffoon and you’re calling on the board to quit, you are never alone. And that always means a lot.

And, hopefully, in forty years I’ll be back at Easter Road with my brother. He’ll be treating me to hospitality for my seventieth birthday and we’ll have a laugh about that day in 1985 when St Mirren kicked sand in the faces of two innocent mascots.

“Andrew,” I’ll say. “When I die, stick me in the cemetery behind the North Stand. I’d like to be able to hear the cheers when the Hibs score. For eternity”.

3 Responses to “My Team & I: Hibs”

  1. Absolutely brilliant piece, makes me wish I was back home going to the games again.

    Great work Tom, there are times as a Celtic fan I sort of wish for the medioricty that has never been in my life time, It’s sad to go to a game and expect to win every game.

    It’s much different not knowing where your going to finish, I hate the mentality of 2nd is last between the Old Firm, we should be grateful for the strong position we’re in.

    Part of me yearns for that feeling of uncertainty, perhaps why I enjoy going to see Sheffield United so much.

    Thanks for wonderful piece Tom.

  2. A fantastic piece. I like this series & really enjoyed this one.

    Thanks Tom.

  3. […] My Team & I: Hibs. A ramble through my life and times as a Hibs supporter: […]

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