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

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The Edinburgh derby between Heart of Midlothian and Hibernian has been contested 269 times in all competitions, with the first meeting on Christmas Day 1875. This program cover is dated 1 Jan 1958.

Edinburgh, Scotland | Pity the Hearts or Hibs supporters who must plan a dawn awakening Sunday, shuffle through sleep-addled fog onto a westbound train or auto and negotiate riot-ready police cordons to enter the national football stadium at Hampden Park in Glasgow. All this is to see two fiercely supported Edinburgh clubs who, in defiance of probabilities and history, meet in a Tennent’s Scottish Cup semifinal at 1215 GMT. A Scottish Police Service spokesperson predicted “one of the biggest exoduses ever from Edinburgh.”

Pre-match lobbying to alter the Cup venue failed to persuade the Scottish Football Association to relocate the tie to the rubgy ground at Murrayfield in the capital. Environmentalists marshaled evidence that some 400 tons of emissions would be delivered aloft as the result of a westward drive, given that rail service will be limited. In the end, though, Hibernian objected to a potential Murrayfield move. Hearts, it seems, have used Murrayfield previously for UEFA Cup fixtures and might have a home advantage.

Sunday Herald (Glasgow) columnist Ian Bell was not persuaded by this line of reasoning:

The game is scheduled for 12.15pm. How suitable does that sound for 50,000 spectators casting their fates to the M8 (never mind the Edinburgh ring road) or taking their chances with jam-packed ScotRail trains (only two of which are due to run that morning owing to engineering works)? Believe it or not, some people actually like to have breakfast before a football match.

Although Hearts and Hibernian supporters have met in relative peace in recent years, Strathclyde police, of the administrative region encompassing Glasgow, promise aggressive crowd control. Chief superintendent Robin Howe warns that “you may find your supporters’ bus being stopped and searched by the police” to enforce a ban on alcohol. Naturally, as with any potentially troublesome derby, trains, buses and autos carrying the two sides’ backers will be kept separate. The image still lives in some minds of disaffected youth supporters of the Edinburgh pair embracing the so-called casual culture of the 1980s. Hibs supporter Irvine Welsh based the novel Trainspotting, later a film directed by Danny Boyle, on the self-destructive tendencies among the hardcore Hibee crowd.

The refreshing nature of Sunday’s Cup encounter is partly the absence of Old Firm clubs Glasgow Celtic and Rangers, who have had a stranglehold on cup and league competition for most of the past 25 years. The Glasgow giants bowed out and left the first semifinal today to be contested between Dundee and second-division surprise Gretna. The team from the border village of 2,075 sailed through 3–0.


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.

Romanov began his entrepreneurial career selling bootleg Elvis Presley records from the back of a taxi in Kaunas, Lithuania. He later served on a Soviet submarine, trolling seas off Great Britain. The navy motto was “die, but do it.” (Julie Bull | The Scotsman)

At least in the short term, he has been a man of his word. He has made Hearts competitive with Celtic and Rangers—they currently sit second in the Scottish Premier League, 17 points behind Celtic—and championed the redevelopment of Tynecastle, the cozy home ground first laid out in 1886. Before Romanov’s arrival, officials from both clubs were broaching the unpopular notion of ground-sharing at a new venue.

In reference to an earlier scheme to merge the clubs entirely and present a unified eastern front to the Old Firm, Hibs historian Stuart Crowther said, “You can’t force two communities to join together, no matter how much business and financial sense it makes—you are dealing with real people, not bricks and mortar” (see Ronnie Esplin, “Love at First Bite,” FourFourTwo, November 2003, 104–8).

Hatred is not so easily purged, as expressed in the title of Will Blythe‘s recent memoir about the college basketball rivalry between the University of North Carolina and Duke: To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever. According to the perspective of one Hearts historian, each club needed the other to construct its own identity:

Hearts needed a local teaser, a stable-mate which would stir the club to great deeds. Was it by chance that the two names happened to alliterate—Hearts and Hibs?

Update: Woes continued Sunday for Hibernian. Their Scottish Cup drought extends for a 104th year with a 4–0 loss to Hearts. Says the Sunday Herald‘s Bell:

In 1902, the Boer war ended, Portugal went bankrupt, and Australian women got the vote. Arthur Conan Doyle published the Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Balfour became Prime Minister, and Monet painted “Waterloo Bridge”. Hibs won the Scottish Cup. And that was it.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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