I normally have a great plan on how I’m going to start these blogs, but I have just sat here for 10 minutes not even sure what I can write. NOTHING can be said to even come close to what me and every other Hibs fan experienced at the Weekend, but I’ll give it a good go!
Lets go back a few days. Last week, I wrote that I could not get excited about the game on Saturday. The dissapointments of the season had given me an emotional “doing”, and Saturday was now about a good day out. Well, it ended up that way, but by god, did we get put through the wringer again.
Even as the match started, I was feeling alright. I’d had a great day so far – the bus journey and pre-match venue was absolutely bouncing and there was almost a feeling from people around me of “we’re just here for the party”. But just a couple of minutes in, all that pre match bravado of mine about almost not caring, came crashing down. As Anthony Stokes waltzed down the left wing and passed the ball into the corner of the Rangers net completely unchallenged, the Hibs fans took the roof off Hampden for the first of several times that afternoon, and in that moment I turned into a nervous wreck.
See, the previous three Scottish Cup finals, we were simply never at the races – never close to looking like we could win it, and yet here we were, actually in the lead. Now I had to deal with the fact that we could ACTUALLY win this bloody thing.
I have to say, in a couple of my recent blogs I’ve been quite critical of Alan Stubbs for his persistance in certain formations and players, but I had virtually no issue with how he set up on Saturday. Ok, there was an argument for Gunnarson, Bartley, Henderson and Keatings to start, but the team still looked strong, and 3-5-2 was exactly how we needed to line up. And tactically…. well there was a team that had an exact, detailed plan about how to cause Rangers problems, and it was executed to perfection. Rangers can be an exciting, dangerous team, but they have some very clear flaws, and its all defensively. While Wallace and Tavernier are excellent going forward, they’re not the best defensively – particularly Tavernier, who looked lost for most of the match. Stubbs had clearly focused on exploiting the space between the fullback and the centre halves, and it worked to a tee. Even after the early goal, which should have clearly been a warning, Stokes continued to completely dominate that area of the pitch all afternoon.
As the game wore on, and we spurned a few big chances, you just knew a Rangers goal would come from nowhere, and thats exactly what happened. But after that, we continued exactly as before, letting them see a lot of the ball, but winning it back in important areas and breaking fairly quickly (something else that we haven’t done enough of this season, so great to see).
I have to say, there are large parts of that game that are a blur now, but I remember most of the last half hour pretty vividly.
I thought when Rangers went 2-1 up, they were actually having their best spell of the game. We had faded a bit – not using the ball as well as we had been – but even still, they were not doing much damage. And then up steps Andy Halliday. I will admit that he is my least favourite Rangers player. I think he is pretty average and wouldn’t be as lauded by the Rangers fans if he wasn’t such a dyed in the wool bluenose, but I can’t take that strike away from him. He hit it absolutely perfectly, and clearly by his celebration, he thought he’d won the game (that celebration looks even sweeter now we have the benefit of hindsight). To be perfectly honest, I thought the same. And so did my son. That was a pretty hard 15 minutes. My son sat dejected, and I sat next to him and cuddled him in and said “look pal, we spoke about what could happen today, and how it was mainly about coming out with our friends and family and having fun”. And he looked up at me and said “this isn’t fun Dad”. Heart broken.
Anyway, it turns out that maybe that goal is exactly what we needed, as we perked up after that. There was no moping from the players. They rolled their sleeves up carried on. They knew we didn’t deserve to be behind and they went about putting it right. It was great that we were able to make such good subs to give us a bit more impetus, and it was interesting that when Henderson came on, we actually moved back to Stubbs’ preferred 4-4-2 diamond formation. I can’t say I particularly noticed that while at the match – I was far too involved in the action to notice a formation change – it was on maybe my 4th or 5th watching of the full 90 minutes that I noticed it!!
It been interesting that people have been trying to say that the number of games have taken its toll, and how Rangers would be so fresh with their 3 week break – in the last 20 minutes, if you’d asked someone which team had played twice a week for months, and which team had just had a 3 week layoff, I bet they would have given you the wrong answer. Obviously if we had beaten Falkirk then it would have been interesting to see how we’d have coped with the game sandwiched between a double header with Kilmarnock. If I’m honest, I doubt we’d be Scottish Cup Champions (OMG!!!) right now.
I remember a couple of months back, reading on Hibs.net, there was a discussion around how little we score from corners. Well, we certainly seem to have put that to bed, as we have done it fairly regularly in recent weeks. We seem to have found a bit of a formula and that is mainly down to the outswinging delivery of Liam Henderson. I have to say that if I was a Rangers fan, I would be pretty disgusted with my team for the way they lost those 2 goals, mainly because they were basically the same goal. Outswinging corner into exactly the same area yet no Rangers players reacted. But I tell you, after the last few years of gut-wrenching last minute goals, there really couldn’t have been a better way to do it. At least I only had around 90 seconds of absolute trauma to handle, rather than if we’d spent the whole game hanging on to that 3rd minute Stokes goal.
And thats when things got interesting. And no, I’m not even going to give any focus to what happened on the pitch in the few minutes after the full time whistle – that has and will continue to get done to death. No, I’ll stick to what happened in the stands. We have all spent years dreaming of how we will react when we finally break that flippin’ curse. We’ve joked about how there will be floods due to the amount of tears shed, but I genuinely don’t think there will be a fan of another team in World Football that will understand that feeling that we had at Full time. Yes there’s your Leicesters, and then St Johnstone and Inverness who both recently won the trophy for the first time in their history, but there has been this ongoing story with Hibs. Every year we get the same stories in the papers about what has happened since Hibs last won it, then taking such having to deal with taking a doing in the final from your greatest rivals. I stood in that stand on Saturday and just felt pure relief, euphoria and pride all wrapped up in one. I don’t mind admitting I shed a tear. Actually thats a lie, I bawled like a baby, uncontrollably. In fact, I got in trouble when I got home on Saturday night. My son grassed me up to my wife, who then told me off for not crying at my daughters birth just last year. Sorry! I have seen people say that it would probably end up an anti climax when it happened. Well I can assure you it absolutely wasn’t. There definitely was a bit of, has this really happened, in fact, I think I heard every person I walked past from 5pm on Saturday, utter those words.
It was amazing coming back throught to Edinburgh, and seeing all the buses and cars having their own wee party. I have to say, our bus driver was a Rangers fan, but he was an absolute gentleman. He even got lost upon entering Edinburgh and somehow ended up taking us past The Diggers, The Tynecastle Arms, and Tynecastle Stadium. Must have been a dodgy SatNav. Once back in Leith, the streets were packed, as were the pubs. I managed to get a drink in a couple of pubs, then headed home to Fife. It was time to watch the match all over again.
When I woke up on Sunday morning, I didn’t realise that the weekend was just going to get better and better. I was priveliged enough to have a ticket for the Sponsors event at the Stadium. I have to say, it was one of the funniest couple of hours I’ve ever spent. Poor David Gray got a microphone stuck in his hand, and he made a speech that wouldn’t have been out of place during the Edinburgh Festival. I was on a table with Liam Henderson, who was cunningly diguised as John McGinn, thanks to a lovely mask that seemed glued to his head. Fraser Fyvie seemed to walk around in a complete daze for the whole event, while Martin Boyle spent the time dodging calls from Jason Cummings who hadn’t shown up yet. He got there eventually, and certainly looked like a man that had been partying since 5pm the day before.
I did think to myself for a second, what a disaster that event could have been if things hadn’t gone our way the day before. As it turns out, it was the best party ever.
And then finally we had the parade. What a feeling it was marching down Easter Road,, knowing that, at the bottom of that street, the mother of all parties was already in full flow. I managed to find myself a space on top of the hill (which we shall now call Hanlon Hill, or maybe McGeouch Mound), and it was just great to take all the atmosphere in. We had finally done it. And those players deserve every bit of praise, every high five, every hug, every drink that comes their way. It would have been easy for them to live up to this bottler tag that people have tried to pin to them. It would’ve been easy to drop their heads after the dissapointments of the play off and the League Cup, but every player puffed their chests out and done just as they did against Inverness after losing to Ross County, just as they did at half time against Hearts – they proved people wrong. And every one now deserves their Legend status.
So where do we go from here? Surely now we’ve won THAT Cup, a bit of the whole “Holy Grail” feeling will go away, as no future Cup win will feel like that one did? Maybe not, but I’m excited. Fickle maybe considering how I felt a week ago, but I am. I did always say I’d take the Scottish Cup over promotion – and I stand by that. Nothing will feel that way the 21st May 2016 felt to be a Hibs fan. Nothing. But now we can use it to attract players, to attrract fans back – I already know people that have bought their first ever/first for years season Ticket since Saturday. We already have a good base of a squad to build on for next season, so now we need to tackle this league head on. We could even do “a Hearts” and almost drop out of the cup competitions to focus on the League. And as for Alan Stubbs…..well a week ago I was absolutely CONVINCED that no matter WHAT happened on Saturday, he’d be gone. Now I’m not so sure. He seems pretty convinced that he’s preparing for next season and has several players identified to strengthen the squad, including ones that we are actually BUYING! (that’ll be just from the Cup Final Winners merchandise that we sell) So it’s going to be an interest couple of months. Especially as you’d like to think that we would want the majority of new signings in for the start of pre season training so that we are ready for our European game, and the boys are back in just 4 weeks.
So lets lap it up Hibees. Savour every single second of what we’ve just experienced. Do not let certain groups try and take away the magic feeling we have last night. The players, the staff and the FANS have earned every drop of joy that Saturday brought.
As the song says – I only want to say the Scottish Cup is in the bag!!!!!!!