Very superstitious

I like to think I’m a fairly rational person, my world rooted in logic, metaphysics and what can be readily explained, for the most part. I suspect, though, that I’m not the only football fan – however unmoved by the mystic – who has superstitions that must be followed. At Easter Road I go to a programme seller at the mini market on Albion Road, use the same turnstile, even the same exit, tapping the sign for good luck each time. For a while I even used to wear the same boxer shorts (washed in between, I hasten to add) but stopped when I:

a) realised Hibs won as often as they lost when I wore them

b) hipsters are staggeringly uncomfortable and wedgie-inducing

Apart from that, my mode of dress for football (a Hibs shirt, jeans and trainers) is for comfort rather than necessity lest the ravens leave the Tower or Hibs get gubbed by Livingston or something.

At away games I don’t have rituals since I don’t tend to be at those grounds so often. I have noticed I tap the exit sign on the way out, and I’m not the only one.

There’s an extent to which football fans are creatures of habit though, our routines gradually get eroded because of life and Sky or BT changing the game to a Sunday lunchtime. When in a place thirty or forty times a year, you end up with little, unshiftable, even inscrutable quirks. After a few years of solid footballing support, I’ve got a few. I like to think they’re just quirks rather than loaded with a supernatural cause and effect, the only logic internal and flawed at best. One day I might have to do everything different, just that one time, just to make sure, but then again I might not. There’s a place for being rational and that’s not always watching Hibs.

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The Livingston aftermath

By the time I got back to Glasgow on Saturday, I was over the game I had just been at. Hibs had been beat 2-1 by Livingston and the game was dreadful. The Tony Macaroni Arena is not the nicest place to watch football and the team, my team, were outplayed by Livingston, a bunch of hammerthrowers. I had a bit of an adventure to get to Livingston which hadn’t improved my mood, as with the journey back with trying to find the right bus stop and the shite signage around the bus terminal. Still, as my bus came back along the motorway, Johnny Cash in my ears, the game washed off and when the bus pulled into the bus station back in Glasgow, all was fine. My day was lousy but I was over it.

Saturday had some good points, though: a sprinkler going off in the middle of the game, the pies, the fact I was home a bit earlier than I would from Edinburgh. Plus Johnny Cash.

Hibs have had a good couple of years. We have been spoiled by some of our performances, a bit of success and some very fine players now no longer at the club. Being beaten by Livingston was painful. A defeat is always a bad thing. But it doesn’t happen often. The last time Hibs were beaten was in Molde in the Europa League, before that at Tynecastle at the tail end of last season. It doesn’t happen often any more. The worst I’ve felt watching Hibs in the last few years was one very cold Wednesday night at St. Mirren. Hibs were awful and lost 2-0 though it could have been more. John McGinn was in the squad, as well as Ofir Marciano, Darren McGregor and Marvin Bartley, all key squad players now currently injured, plus Martin Boyle and Efe Ambrose. As bad as Livingston was, it didn’t feel as bad as being beaten by St. Mirren that night in the freezing cold, decisively beaten by the team at the bottom of the league at the time.

Hibs are a team in transition. New players are bedding in, Neil Lennon is trying to get them to work into his style. We are used to success, to victories rather than miserable defeats. The defeat against St. Mirren came after 13 games unbeaten in the season we won the Championship. Saturday came after a run in the Europa League and three games unbeaten in the league, including holding Aberdeen to a draw the week before. In short, I am not worried about Saturday. Neil Lennon will have this team raring to go for Killie on the 15th. A few days training and it’ll be fine. I have faith.

Happy Saturday

Happy Saturday. It is game day, the Hibees away to Livingston. I have my travel plans set, my matchday programme already downloaded to my phone (Livingston not having a paper version any more), plus my Hibs top of choice looked out. I don’t drive so Livingston is an absolute pain in the ring to get to. Thankfully there is a direct bus service between Glasgow and Livingston which stops near the stadium, though the last one is at 5pm, so a quick dash back to the bus stop will be in order. The last time I was there, at least three years ago when both Hibs and Livi were in the Championship, I got the train to Livingston North and walked around 500 roundabouts on a never-ending winding road to get to whatever the stadium was called at the time. The bus will be better, he says optimistically.

Anyway, no more new signings for the Hibees in the transfer window. Danny Swanson has gone by mutual consent and Scott Martin is now a Hamilton Accies player. Sad about both of those. It never worked out for Danny at Hibs for a lot of reasons, many of which weren’t his fault, and there were a few times in the last few weeks when I felt he could have come on and changed the game, rather than getting on for a run out in the 85th minute. Scott Martin played well recently in a few games, including the one when he got taken off at half time with a broken beak, and he had considerable potential. It now leaves Hibs a bit short in midfield, though hopefully Mark Milligan’s work permit will come through soon to ease that a bit.

Efe Ambrose is still a Hibs player despite speculation he might be offski too. I like Efe. He can have some very bad moments, most notably the 4-1 drubbing at Pittodrie last season, but he is a very good player on his day and you never know what he’ll do. He has been playing out right recently with Sir Dave or Martin Boyle on the wing and that’s been going okay, for the most part. With all the talk about John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch over the summer, it’s easy to forget the other players key to Neil Lennon’s Hibs, Efe very much one. I’m glad he’s staying.

To Livingston and since the last post here, I’ve watched the highlights of their last match, a 2-0 victory over St. Mirren at the Simple Digital Arena (Love Street to the rest of us). On their home patch, it could be tricky. Gary Holt will want a victory in his first home match as Livingston head coach and he’ll set up to frustrate. I’m confident that Hibs will come out of this afternoon’s match with a victory but possibly not a clean sheet. Hopefully we’ll see Horgan and Porteous starting, plus Efe of course. It should be fun, after navigating all those roundabouts to get there.

Thanks for reading. My other blog, Walking Talking, will have a post shortly featuring a mural on George Street in Glasgow. I still need to write it.

Hampden, Murrayfield and Almondvale

In an entirely predictable fudge, the Scottish Football Association today postponed its decision on which venue will host future Scottish internationals and Scottish Cup finals. Whether Hampden or Murrayfield, we know not what the SFA thinks as it needs more information. Site visits and a long meeting couldn’t break the deadlock. The press and social media have given their opinions, Glasgow City Council has weighed in for Hampden, the SRU have done a lavishly produced video, still the SFA couldn’t make its mind up.

I’ve thought about it and to be honest I don’t have a strong view either way. Where Scotland plays doesn’t bother me much unless there’s a Hibs player in the squad. The only way I would bother was if Hibs were involved in the Scottish Cup, either in the semis or the final. Hampden is closest to where I live. I have walked home from there before, beating supporters’ coaches to the motorway. For my own convenience, it would have to be Hampden. It is where Hibs won the Scottish Cup after 114 years. For sentimental reasons, if it was my call, it would have to be Hampden.

Having said that, Edinburgh is our nation’s capital. Murrayfield is the biggest sports stadium in Scotland and most certainly in Edinburgh. It is impressive, well connected with transport, plus it looks good on the telly. Hibs play in Edinburgh so a big Hibee following would go to a Scottish Cup game there. It doesn’t have the faraway ends that Hampden does, or at least not as bad.

In short, I would be happy either way. Hampden should be modernised. The ends should be brought in. They could charge less for pies. If it remains our National Stadium, it should change. But it won’t. If Murrayfield gets the gig, they should do away with the foie gras pieces. Police Scotland and the relevant clubs will have to work very hard to avoid carnage if the Gruesome Twosome are in town. Personally, it would be interesting to see Murrayfield get it. I don’t think it will happen, though, because of The Rangers and Celtic and the Glasgow-centric media. It will be Hampden. Either way hardly anyone will be happy.

On Saturday I will be off to Livingston and the delights of the Tony Macaroni Arena, Almondvale to the rest of us. The TMac, if you prefer. Livingston beat St. Mirren 2-0 at the weekend and while St. Mirren were by all accounts mince, Livi weren’t wonderful either. The showing against Aberdeen was promising, frustrating at times but the team came through and held their own against a very defensive and aggressive Sheep side. Set up the right way and Hibs can go to the TMac and absolutely destroy Livingston. Ryan Porteous, Sir Dave, Hanlon, Horgan, Mallan, Lewis and possibly even the much-maligned Steven Whittaker should be in the team on Saturday. Porteous particularly deserves his place in his side while Horgan has been excellent since his arrival.

Of course the Match of the Weekend will be at the TMac, not at Celtic Park. Who cares about Stevie G versus Brendan Rodgers? Livingston versus Hibernian is where it’s at. While I’m on the subject of the Gruesome Twosome, I absolutely loved the spectacle of the Green Brigade having a banner describing Dedryck Boyata as a waste of a jersey then said Boyata scoring. Celtic fans need to get a life. Their team is still in Europe. They’ve just won a double treble. They could be watching Livingston or Falkirk every week. Slagging off Boyata in such a public way is disgraceful. I can’t comment on how good a footballer Boyata is, since I genuinely couldn’t pick the guy out of a lineup, but that won’t give the guy any confidence or probably his teammates.

Finally, it has been nice to see the goodwill for Craig Levein from many, many people online, not least Hibs and many Hibees. Mr Levein is hardly my favourite person on the planet but I hope he gets well soon, for himself, his friends and family but also because he makes derbies entertaining. He is Hearts in human form, a pantomime villain, a rival but not an enemy. Hopefully he will be back in the dugout for the first derby of the season, down at Tynecastle Park on Halloween, where the real natural order will be restored.

In the meantime, the Hibs are at Livingston on Saturday. What the squad will look like, who can say? It looks like Danny Swanson and Scott Martin will be out the door by the transfer window’s close on Friday night, maybe Scott Allan or someone else in. Scott Allan would make Hibs a force to be reckoned with, bringing pace and quality, probably working well with Horgan and Stevie Mallan. Beyond that, I trust in Neil Lennon and the scouting team at Easter Road to bring in the right players. It will be interesting, these next few days, far more than the Hampden vs. Murrayfield debate, the backdoor politics a lot less interesting than the men holding a scarf aloft and donning that green and white jersey making memories and hopefully lifting cups, wherever those big games might be played.

 

Loose Ends: Cathkin Park

Welcome. My other blog, Walking Talking, particularly focuses on travel. I am currently working on a series called Loose Ends which involves me taking trips to various historical places around the country then finding a connection there to take me some place else. Today’s connection is Cathkin Park. Last week I was at the Meadows, the week before Coldstream, all linked – sort-of – through Hibs. Hence I thought I would share this here too. Enjoy!

The last Loose Ends adventure involved the Meadows in Edinburgh, a park in the heart of the city. Cathkin is a park in a city though it has similarities to the Meadows in that it’s been a football ground too. Hibs played their first game in the Meadows and won their first Scottish Cup in 1886 at Cathkin when it was known as Hampden Park, now of course just over the hill. Cathkin is a place I like plus I hadn’t been for ages so it was an easy choice for Loose Ends.

It was cloudy and overcast as I walked the short distance from Crosshill station. Small football goals were set up on the grass just inside the gate, a sign of games past or even still to come. I wasn’t alone – another guy was walking about the park taking photos and crouching down at regular intervals. Cathkin Park was the home of Third Lanark Football Club until it went out of business in dubious football circumstances in 1967. The terracing remains, much of it reclaimed by nature, much of the rest cleaned up recently as part of an ongoing restoration effort. It is now a public park owned by Glasgow City Council and still used occasionally for football. Pilgrimages from football fans happen, such as before the 2016 Scottish Cup Final when I was one of a few Hibees at Cathkin before heading over to Hampden.

In his article The Passion of Harry Bingo, Peter Ross quotes a Queen’s Park fan by the name of Higgy who considers Cathkin ‘kind of a church for me’. This came to mind as I stood on the terracing at the western end, my hands resting on a green and white post as I looked across the pitch. The corner leading to Hampden was now the most overgrown. When I first came, a few years ago, the place was far leafier and decorated with debris, broken glass and bottles, food and other wrappers. It was much cleaner and I liked that. As I stood there I thought about possible Loose Ends connections, to Lanark itself or other defunct football stadia like Shawfield. The thought occurred to me that Third Lanark and East of Scotland League outfit Haddington Athletic share a nickname – the Hi-His – and I might think of a trip to Haddington, though maybe not for football.

As I walked across the pitch and stood on the south terracing, I thought what I often think at Cathkin: what it would feel like for my club to die, to be there for the last time. It would be interesting to know just where the fans went, whether, for example, they crossed the hill to go watch Queen’s Park, Clyde or either of the Old Firm. Football’s an important part of my life and I think Higgy was right. Cathkin is like a church for me too.

The Loose Ends series appears on my other blog, Walking Talking, every week at the moment. The next part appears there next week.

Stand Free

The Hibees face the Sheep in the capital this afternoon. I’ve pretty much reached the point where I don’t think that much about the game before I get to the ground. Today is definitely an exception. Even during the hard won 3-2 victory against Ross County in the League Cup last Sunday, I couldn’t help thinking on to today and feeling cold, hard dread. If that was the performance against Ross County, a team recovering itself after relegation to the Championship, then heaven only knows how it would be against Aberdeen, the second best team in the country and a formidable opponent who had horsed Hibs 4-1 last Christmas and who couldn’t be broken down at Pittodrie in May.

I know this will only be the third game of the season but this could be an indicator of how Hibs’ season will pan out. Yes, Kamberi is doubtful, I know we’ll definitely be missing Marvin Bartley, Darren McGregor and Ofir Marciano. It is our first big league game of the season and the Sheep are on form. Don’t get me wrong, top six and I’m happy. Above Hearts, I’m happy. Hibs never fail to surprise. I think the game will be close, very possibly a draw. There were flashes on Sunday of what this new McGinn and McGeouch-less Hibs can do and we could see something good tomorrow. If they stuff the Sheep, brilliant. If it’s a 92nd minute winner, fine. If I don’t hear 600 renditions of ‘Stand Free’ from the away support, all the better.

Here we go again…

The Europa League rollercoaster is now over, Hibs succumbing to Molde in a 3-0 defeat on Thursday night. I was working when it was on – just as well since it was in Norway – so relied on web updates to keep me up to speed, feeling ever more dispirited as the scoreline went up. I watched the highlights yesterday and from those Molde looked the better side as Hibs failed to make their chances count. The social media waves of anguish have dissipated a bit now and thoughts are now turning to this afternoon’s Betfred Cup match against Ross County. Certainly mine are and as this is posted I am on my way to Edinburgh for the game. The Hibs journey continues with the League Cup and then Aberdeen at home next Saturday. As of yesterday, ticket sales weren’t looking great for today’s game, the end of the school holidays plus the uninspiring opposition and finances probably putting paid to the attendance. I can testify to how much I’ve spent on football tickets in the last couple of weeks between the Europa League games, last week’s trip to McDiarmid Park and of course today. But it’s Hibs and of course I’m rousing my sorry arse out of bed on another Sunday to head to Easter Road.

Today’s opposition, Ross County, have been doing fine back down in the Championship, winning 2 matches out of 2 so far against Alloa and Dunfermline. They also beat Hearts Colts in the Irn Bru Cup the other night at Tynecastle. Sadly Liam Fontaine is injured or else he would probably have had a good reception on his first return to Easter Road since leaving in January. As it is, I’m not sure how this one will go. Ross County are on a high. Hibs are a strange breed at the moment, not quite on all cylinders after the departure of Super John McGinn plus with Darren McGregor, Ofir Marciano and now Marvin Bartley injured.

Since I’ve started writing this post, however, Hibs have announced a new signing – midfielder and Australian internationalist Mark Milligan – and that Thomas Agyepong has got a work permit, meaning he can play tomorrow. This is the second Saturday on the bounce that a new signing has been announced, with Daryl Horgan being signed last week too. I feel a little more confident about tomorrow now and about the coming season. I have the strangest feeling Easter Road will be a little fuller. Good. Let’s see how it goes.

GGTTH

Thanks for reading. My other blog Walking Talking has a post today too – it is a Loose Ends post featuring the Meadows. Hibs content there too.