Saturday, 20 August 2011

Heart of Midlothian 0 Tottenham Hotspur 5

Europa League Play-off Round 1st leg, Thursday 18 August 2011 - Tynecastle

Sky TV's marketing catchphrase is currently 'Believe in Better'. The billions of pounds the satellite broadcaster has thrown at English football in the past two decades illustrated this adage to devastating effect at Tynecastle on Thursday evening.

Spurs, even without several first team regulars, still had a team full of multi-million pound talent that was simply streets ahead of Hearts who seemed in awe of their illustrious opponents. It's become something of a cliche that Scottish football lacks the technical ability of the more successful countries but tries to make up for this with fight, determination and an 'up-and-at-'em' attitude. This has worked for Hearts in the past as the likes of Bayern Munich, Vfb Stuttgart, Atletico Madrid and Bologna - who have all lost at Tynecastle in European competition - would testify. Sadly, even this commendable trait was lacking from the Maroons on Thursday as Harry Redknapp's gifted side ripped Hearts apart.

Hearts seemed in awe right from kick off. It took the hugely impressive van der Vaart just four minutes to open the scoring before Defoe and Livermore added further goals in an embarrassingly one-sided first half. Hearts manager Paulo Sergio doubtless had a few words to say to his shell-shocked troops at half-time and the home side at least threatened for a ten minute period at the beginning of the second half. However, further goals from Bale and Lennon completed the rout and Hearts fans were hanging on at the end hoping there wouldn't be a sixth goal. Indeed, when the Spurs fans demanded 'we want six' the Hearts support retorted 'we want one...'

The only good thing from the night was the truly magnificent Hearts support who gave their team tumultuous backing all through the evening - even as the goals were raining in. Spurs manager Harry Redknapp was moved to say how impressed he was with the Hearts support and 'how fans like these deserve success'.

Despite protestations from Neil Lennon and Ally McCoist - whose Old Firm sides also failed to win in the Europa League against much weaker opposition than Spurs - the standard of Scottish football is as poor today as it's ever been. Money talks in football like never before and it's clear that thanks to television companies such as Sky the strong are getting even stronger while the weak are facing oblivion. The more successful the English FA Premiership becomes, the more people will subscribe to Sky TV to watch exclusive live matches; thus, the more Sky will throw millions of pounds at clubs to keep it going. English, Spanish and Italian clubs feast at the top table of European football, laden with hugely expensive fine cuts. Scottish football doesn't get near the top table to feed off the scraps - in fact, it currently doesn't even get in to the dining room.

Few Hearts fans expected their team to beat Spurs over two legs although some harboured a vain hope they might win the home leg. Those faint hopes were cruelly destroyed at Tynecastle on Thursday evening. There is a great line in that classic film The Shawshank Redemption that says 'hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and good things never die'.

I can only hope, for Scottish football's sake, this is so.

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