I feel like I should kick off with a confession; I am not a very good Hibs fan. I’ve only been to three games this season, and only one at Easter Road. I could blame that on living in Glasgow and not having much in the way of disposable income, but the fact of the matter is I haven’t been great at going along to support my team. I have, however, supported them all my life and never yet faltered in that respect, in spite of the constant barrage of misery and disappointment.
And constant it has been.
Outside of the Old Firm, Hibernian are undoubtedly one of the biggest clubs in Scotland. We have a fantastic stadium, excellent youth development and training facilities, a large fan base, our finances are all in check, and we have a history of producing great players and playing good, attractive football. Everything about Hibs suggests we should be right up there around the top of the table.
But we’re not, and we haven’t been for a long time. Not since the Tony Mowbray days. It’s frustrating, it’s disappointing, and it’s genuinely depressing. Hibs are in danger of being relegated from the Premier League for the first time since 1998, and I for one am not even surprised. We’ve been dreadful. It has been painful to watch, but it’s something that we as Hibs fans have grown accustomed to. I told my dad I was writing this article and he said: ‘Our family go right back to the start [of the club] so generations of loyalty and heartache run in the blood.’
And that sums it up really. We are consistent underachievers. We could be doing so much better with what we have, and yet Hibs sit staring into the abyss after inexplicably having had a worse season than our already relegated, financially stricken city rivals Hearts.
Hearts started the season on -15 points after going into administration and having had to sell a lot of their big name players. They’ve had to rely on unknowns and youth team players all year and were dangerously close to ‘doing a Rangers’ for long enough and yet they have more to smile about than Terry Butcher’s hopeless men in green. I don’t blame Butcher at all; I think he could even be the man to turn things around, because that’s the sort of blindly misplaced optimism that comes with being a Hibee these days.
The stats speak for themselves, though. Even since a manager so accomplished as Butcher took over we’ve been poor. We’ve scored 18 goals in 2014, and won two games in the process. Over the course of the season we’ve had to battle and fluke our way to beating what should be far lesser opposition in Stranraer 5-3 at home in the Scottish Cup and we’ve thrown away points in the league like they’re going out of fashion having picked up all of 17 since Christmas, and only one since the split.
Football is cruel at the best of times, no matter what team you support. But it just seems to be that bit worse for Hibs fans. We haven’t won the Scottish Cup since 1902, but since then we’ve been in no less than ten finals – including two of the past three. I was at one. It was one of the worst days of my life. However melodramatic that sounds, it was.
It was a fairytale set up; Hibs against Hearts in the final at Hampden, the first time the two Edinburgh sides had met in the final since 1896, 110 years since the last time we lifted the trophy and a chance to break the cup hoodoo against none other than them. What could have been sweeter?
It was exciting and it could have been a moment to savour for football fans everywhere. You only need to watch the Hibs fans’ amassed chorus of Sunshine on Leith after the CIS cup final win against Kilmarnock in 2007 to know just how special it would be to win a bigger trophy against a fiercer rival. And, stupidly, we believed. We thought it could happen. Hearts were 2-0 up within half an hour and it was as one-sided a game as you will ever see in a cup final. We were hammered 5-1 in the end.
After being beaten by Kilmarnock on the last day of the season, Terry Butcher said it felt ‘like a slap in the face.’ He said: ‘It’s soul-destroying, it’s disappointing, it’s heartbreaking, we’re all devastated because of where we’ve finished.’
If he feels like he’s been slapped in the face after being involved with the club for less than six months, what sort of battering have the fans had over years of exactly the same? The fact that a great number of them stayed behind after the game to protest the state the club has ended up in speaks for itself. Chairman Rod Petrie bore the brunt of the criticism on the day, and he apologised in a statement after the game, acknowledging the fact that to fall so short of expectation is unacceptable. It read:
“The league campaign is over. 11th in the table is a dismal outcome – well below what the Club expects and well below the capabilities of the management team and the players. We are sorry not to have achieved better results in 2014.”
It might not all be doom and gloom however. Leeann Dempster, who spent the last five years working with Motherwell, will take over as chief executive next season, which is a positive change, and, however poor the results have been since his arrival, Terry Butcher is a manager with a great deal of experience and has an eye for talent. His work at Inverness was fantastic, particularly given the resources he had available to him. In the past few games we seem to be playing slightly better football, albeit football that doesn’t involve scoring goals. There are the faintest signs of hope and improvement in there somewhere obscured by duds like Michael Nelson and James Collins. Given a chance to build his own team, he may turn the club around and have us performing almost as well as we ought to.
Alternatively, it may just be more of the same. Maybe we’ll be as bad as we always are and we’ll never live up to our potential. Looking at the past instances of hope and subsequent failure, that seems a lot more than a possibility. If I’m honest with myself, I don’t expect things to get better any time soon. Only the most optimistic amongst the Easter Road faithful will be anything but terrified of what next season holds. But, we will stand by the team and support them through the bad times and the worse. Maybe one day it’ll pay off and for a faint, beautiful moment we’ll be happy.
That’s what being a Hibs fan is about. It’s what being a football fan is about. Waiting desperately for that one magical moment that makes all the pain and heartache and disappointment seem worth it.