Cross country | City of Edinburgh, following hearts, pushes west

    

Frontispiece of an 1893 edition of Heart of Mid-Lothian, from which the Edinburgh club, in legend, draws its name: “Then the Tolbooth of Edinburgh is called the Heart of Mid-Lothian?” said I. “So termed and reputed, I assure you.”

Hibs, a club with Irish Catholic roots in east Edinburgh, and Hearts can mine their long histories—both clubs date origins to circa 1875—for successful spells. Heart of Midlothian assumed a default alliance with Protestant interests in the capital, although sectarian ties have nowhere near the influence that they do in Glasgow. Hearts trace their unique name to a legend of children who played football near the Old Tollbooth, an assembly hall and prison that Sir Walter Scott gave the name “Heart of Midlothian,” his novel of 1818.

The teams played the Scottish Cup final on 14 Mar 1896 in Edinburgh, a 3–1 Hearts victory, with details of matchday still fresh:

The weather in the forenoon was dull. Hearts started the game against a slight breeze, which was neutralised by the fact that the Hibernians had what sun there was in their eyes.

Following the third goal for Hearts, “Hats, sticks, and handkerchiefs were thrown wildly into the air.”

In truth, occasions for celebration have come infrequently for both teams. Most notably, Hibernian has not won the Scottish Cup since 1902, a dry spell that should make Chicago Cubs fans feel blessed by comparison. Current Hibs manager Tony Mowbray has tried to motivate the team by asking them to lift their accomplishments to those of Hibernian of the 1950s, the first British side to compete in the European Cup (see 27 Jul 05), and manager Eddie Turnbull‘s “Tornadoes” of the 1970s.

Hearts (alternately called “Jambos”) has been labeled the “Nearly Men of Scotland” for nearly winning trophies that slipped away. A touchstone moment occurred in 1986 when, incredibly, despite having gone unbeaten for 27 games, Hearts lost to Dundee on the last day when needing just a point for the league title. An anthropological study of Hearts supporters conducted in the mid-’90s wrote about this parallel between supporters’ lives and the team’s misfortunes. A real element of backing the club, expressed by a 32-year-old supporter, Lindsay, concerning the 1986 debacle, is “raw pain.”

I went to work on the Monday morning and nobody said anything to me. Even the Hibs supporters were sort of … not so much sorry, but maybe genuinely felt that because we had gone so long without losing and actually coming away with the whole season winning nothing, which is basically the story of our lives …

Winning the 1998 Scottish Cup was a tonic for Jambos, but nothing has signaled change like the arrival 18 months ago of majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov. The naturalized Lithuanian and multimillionaire has fired three managers and chief executive, forced the resignation of the board chairman and installed his 30-year-old son, Roman, in the latter two posts. His actions invite comparison to Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, although Romanov has moved with perhaps even more swagger. He attributes his unswerving approach to Cold War service in the Soviet navy:

My conscription gave me a lot as a person. I may even say it gave me understanding of the meaning of life. It taught me what the duties of a human being are. In the navy, you forget all futile things.

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