Last Sunday, I was looking forward to my second cup final in ten months, having spent decades as a Hearts supporter enjoying only sporadic visits to the National Stadium. So it was that thousands of maroon clad supporters headed to Hampden Park with more expectation than hope given our Scottish Communities League Cup Final opponents were St. Mirren.
My partner, Marion, having felt she missed something by not attending the William Hill Scottish Cup Final demolition of Hibernian last year, accompanied me this time round and we set off from Leith on a cold, dank Sunday morning. However, much in the same way an attempt to rekindle the spark of an old flame can fizzle out like a damp squib, there was something about that day in the middle of March that invoked a feeling of ‘it’s not the same’ right from the off.
For a start the weather was, as we say in Scotland, driech. Dark grey clouds, a stiff breeze and intermittent rain did nothing to enhance the occasion as we set off on the 10.15 train to Glasgow. The fact there were engineering works on the main railway line between Scotland’s capital city and Scotland’s largest city meant the hundreds of Hearts fans aboard, along with the usual Sunday travellers, had to endure the ‘slow train to Glasgow’ which wasn’t going the usual route via Linlithgow and Falkirk, but another route which called at every village and town on the way. We knew we were in for a long day when we started yawning at the train’s second stop on the journey - Edinburgh Park. A trip that usually takes under an hour would take an hour and twenty minutes - although it seemed much longer.
Heavy rain greeted our arrival in Glasgow and, being a Sunday, most of the pubs weren’t open until 12.30 meaning we had time to kill. Of course, I was delighted to accompany Marion to the Buchanan Shopping Centre - I mean who wants to be supping pints of pre cup final ale when one could be looking at clothes in Next and Debenhams…?
We did manage a wee drink or two before heading to Hampden but the continual rain was literally a bit of a dampener as we headed to the East Stand and joined the thronging masses of the Hearts support behind the goal. The atmosphere as kick off approached was good but perhaps unsurprisingly, it lacked the intensity of the previous cup final against Hibernian. There was almost a feeling of ‘it’s only St. Mirren and it’s only the Scottish Communities League Cup’, the winning of which would be great to see but there would be no place in next season’s Europa League for doing so. I felt like making this point as the huge Hearts support bellowed out the European song and ‘We’re Going to Europe’ just before kick off.
When Ryan Stevenson put Hearts in front after just ten minutes I was leaping about like a ten year old rather than showing the dignity a 51 year old should be displaying, something the look on my partner’s face appeared to indicate. Most of the other 25,000 Hearts supporters did likewise and it rather shot to pieces the argument that this was a ‘wee cup’ and it didn’t really matter. Hearts in a cup final always matters.
Despite dominating the first half an hour and missing a couple of gilt edged chances, Hearts lost a goal eight minutes before half time and rather capitulated in the second half. Stevenson’s second goal eight minutes before the end of the game gave us hope, albeit of the false variety. We shuffled out of the National Stadium shortly afterwards and filed along patiently in the rain for the train at Mount Florida en route to Glasgow Queen Street via Central Station. The engineering works meant it was Queen Street Low Level, which was rather apt given the mood we were all in.
The train journey back to Auld Reekie was horrendous. Given it was full of Hearts supporters who didn’t feel like hanging around Glasgow longer than was necessary on a wet Sunday evening, the seats were all taken and so Marion and I had to stand all the way back to the capital. Well, not quite all the way - we did get a seat when the train left Edinburgh Park…
The day brought back bitter memories of the last time Hearts played St. Mirren at Hampden Park. The Maroons lost the Scottish Cup semi-final of 1987 to the Paisley Buddies and I had to endure a long, painful trek home to Aberdeen, where I was living at the time. That day, like 17 March 2013, was a depressing one.
Yet, at the end of it all, there was a feeling of a shared experience. The train on the way home was full of Hearts supporters but it was a quiet, if long journey. No one was in the mood to strike up a chorus of Glorious Hearts and the feeling was one of just wanting to get home.
Such is the life of a Hearts supporter. We have more highs and lows than a liftman’s nightmare. From the ecstatic scenes following the 5-1 thrashing of Hibernian last May to the crushing disappointment of losing to St. Mirren last week. I knew that, despite everything that has happened to our club this season, those same fans would go through the same experience all over again in the name of Heart of Midlothian FC.
Follow the Hearts and you can’t go wrong. Well, it does go wrong on occasion. But no matter what, we’ll support you ever more!