It’s surely fair comment to say that, just a few months ago, not many Hearts supporters expected Sunday's opponents to be lining up for the Maroon’s first home league game of the season in the SPFL Championship. Last season’s 15 point deduction and signing embargo imposed on Hearts following the club’s administration last summer meant the Gorgie Boys were always hot favourites for relegation. That they went down fighting spoke volumes for the players and the truly magnificent support whose backing for the team never wavered and who will be supporting the team in a similarly impressive manner this season. The Maroon Army had to contend with countless taunts from supporters of our city rivals towards the end of last season. I was asked by more than one Hibby if I was going to the final Hibs-Hearts game of the season at Easter Road – ‘as it would be the last Edinburgh derby for several years’
I took this on both my chins, of course. After all, Hearts supporters will never let their Hibernian counterparts forget what happened in the William Hill Scottish Cup Final of 2012. There were many Hibbies who saw Hearts relegation as justified comeuppance for the club living beyond its means, although it’s fair to say this could be applied to many clubs in Scotland, including Hibs themselves.
However, as last season drew to its astonishing conclusion, it was evident the Easter Road club were hell-bent on self-destruction. They required just one win from their final few games to avoid the relegation play-offs. Even a point in their final game at home to Kilmarnock would have been enough. Of course, history will relate they didn’t get it. History will also relate that Hibs took a 2-0 first leg aggregate lead from their play-off against Hamilton Academical – but still succumbed to the Accies in their return leg at Easter Road and lost their top-flight status after a dramatic penalty shoot-out.
There was, naturally, much ribbing from Hearts supporters to their city counterparts. However, some of my closest friends, including the fella who will be best man at my wedding next February, are Hibs fans and I genuinely felt for some of them and the devastation they undeniably experienced.
Hibs demise against Hamilton Academical brought to mind Hearts notorious end of the season game against Kilmarnock at Tynecastle in April 1965. The Maroons were top of the league with the Ayrshire team in second place. The final game of the season between the two had been described as a ‘winner-takes-all’ but it wasn’t even that. Hearts just had to avoid a two goal loss at home to ensure the league title would be heading to Gorgie after a five year absence. Even a 1-0 defeat would see Hearts win the league on goal average as was the way of deciding such matters at that time.
Again, history relates that Hearts lost 2-0, thereby handing the league title to Kilmarnock. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Hearts supporters had to endure similar agonies 21 years later when the silver-shirted Maroons needed just a draw in their final league game at Dundee to win the league title. Hearts had been unbeaten since the end of September and, with just eight minutes remaining at Dens Park and the game still goalless, the title party was about to begin. Until Dundee substitute Albert Kidd proceeded to wreck the party by scoring his first two goals of the season…
This afternoon we are about to witness history. The first ever Edinburgh derby to be played in the second flight of Scottish league football. In a division which also includes Rangers – if anyone had suggested this scenario five years ago they would have been carted off for some medical attention. With just one team assured of automatic promotion, it does mean that at least one of Scotland’s major clubs will spend a minimum of two seasons in the second tier of Scottish football. As former Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen might say ‘that’s simply unbelievable’
Both clubs now have new managers, a sprinkling of new players and there is now a powerful and successful woman at the helm of both Edinburgh clubs. When Hearts lost the league title in 1965, singer Bob Dylan released a single that still resonates in Edinburgh five decades later. For Hearts and Hibernian, ‘The Times They are a-Changin’.
Hopefully, for the better!