With each passing day delivering generous servings of bleak news and varied lockdown restrictions that only make sense to Haribo’d-to the-eyeballs politicians, you’d be forgiven for not putting last season’s Scottish Cup semi-final in the driving seat of your hundred mile-an-hour brain.
A few lunchtime blinks of social media this week will tell you that hysteria’s not exactly hit fever pitch from either side of the capital in the build-up to this weekend’s belated semi-final derby. “Is it just me that’s not really feeling it?” and “It won’t be the same without fans” are just two of a number of somewhat deflated social media posts.
Of course, it’s understandable. Everyone’s well within their rights to be a little flat in the run-up to this weekend. I mean, at the time of writing, it’s been exactly eight months since Hearts last kicked a ball in the competition, defeating a Rangers side 1-0 whose subs bench contained Andy Halliday. The same Andy Halliday who as if by magic appears to be eligible to play for Hearts in Saturday’s game.
All four teams remaining have had drastic squad makeovers and there’s little resemblance to those that secured their passage to the semi-final. There’s much to be sniffed at that this competition is still going ahead, considering the haste Neil Doncaster and his henchmen took to get the bunting out for Celtic’s latest “title” triumph. The overwhelming assumption is that this will be the green and white icing on the cake that is Celtic’s quadruple treble. Further proof if it was needed that the SPFL and SFA will do anything to keep Lawwell’s darlings on side.
I could go on and on lamenting this fixture seeing the light of day and the politics behind it, but I won’t. In the bubble of my social media feed, I may be in the minority, but I’m absolutely buzzing for this game.
Not wishing to wheel out the C-word too early, but this game is a glimmer of light in an otherwise terrible year that’s had the stuffing knocked out of it by Covid-19 (FYI any Hibs fans looking in, this isn’t to be confused with Skacel-19 who knocked the stuffing out of your club on 19/05/12).
When the now departed Ollie Bozanic bagged the only goal of the game at Tynecastle on February 29th to seal our place in the semi, Covid was yet to fully show the world the extent of the damage it would cause and is still causing today. Things have been incredibly difficult for so many of us since then and it doesn’t take much to put a downer on things. Local shops out of toilet paper? Day’s a write-off. Can’t go to the pub? Day’s a write-off. Boris Johnson’s still in charge? Day’s a write-off. Can’t leave the house? Day’s a write-off.
It’s hard to feel positive during such a brutal time, so it’s vital for our own mental health that we can find a bit of joy in the little things. Or in this case, the not so little Scottish Cup semi-final against our bitter rivals.
The media will likely paint a picture that Hibs are going into this game as red-hot favourites given their ideas above their station, league position and comfort blanket of two extra months game time in the lead up to the fixture. Whilst on paper it’s hard to argue otherwise, the day I go into a game against Hibs fearing defeat is the day I stop supporting this magnificent football club. If things don’t go our way on the day, I’ll be disappointed, but I won’t lose any sleep over it given the tough hand we’ve been dealt over the summer.
As Robbie Neilson and the players are quick to remind us, Hearts’ main goal this season is undoubtedly to secure promotion back to the league we were wrongly kicked out of, not to humour a competition that should have wrapped up almost six months ago (whether I agree with this sentiment or not, I’ll have no hesitation using this line on Twitter should the worst happen).
Thinking rationally about this though, Hearts are just two games away from lifting the Scottish Cup for the fourth time in my lifetime. So there might not be any fans there to witness it. So it might not stand up to the magic of 1998 and 2012 in the eyes of some. Still, given everything we’ve had to endure over the last eight months – from courtroom battles to a conveyor belt of part-time clubs and their smug, short-sighted chairmen queueing up to get the boot in – there’s not a single Hearts fan that could honestly say they wouldn’t celebrate it for months on end.
It will feel strange and somewhat subdued not being able to make the pilgrimage to Hampden on Halloween, but by 5pm that will all be forgotten about and I’ll be deeply engrossed in the spectacle and the shot at redemption for the year we’ve all had to suffer both on and off the park.