Fan's Eye View: Hibees happy to be alive: No. 41: Hibernian

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The Independent Online
YOU feel part of something big when you travel to an away match in Scotland. There tends to be only one, arterial way to anywhere; so, on an away-day to Dundee, for example, you might pass St Johnstone going to Ibrox or, later, Aberdeen going to Motherwell. It's not so much a journey as a frantic criss-cross of car-window scarf-flying.

On the way back, the criss-crossers of the nation have plenty of football voices to listen to on the radio. No one in their right mind listens to James Alexander Gordon or Roddy Forsyth's all-Rangers round-up on Radio 5. No, it's the madder music of the local football phone-ins that make these days to remember.

The Radio Clyde one is the jewel in the crown. It's basically a war of attrition between Celtic and Rangers fans. An unhappy Hibee did get through recently to complain about Hibs' performance in losing to Hearts in a game that was a 0-0 draw in all but the scoreline. His main point was that the manager, Alex Miller, should go in the name of God.

How does a team get to the point where it affects its supporters that way? Hibs' fans are depressed. The silence at the away end at Tynecastle was not a case of not singing when not winning; it was a resigned silence.

Even more than your average Nick Hornby, then, we need our heads examined. There are no easy answers. Miller's going would ease some anxieties, but he did win us the League Cup in 1991. We have to face the truth - we've had worse. Whisper 'Bertie Auld' and a fan will instantly have visions of Hibs players in a 2-8-0 formation. No - in what we (reluctantly) call our heart of hearts, we know that the source of our gloom is deeper than this.

Though we are obviously skint, we're clearly better run than when, not so long ago, we were threatened with a take-over by Wallace Mercer, portly chairman of Hearts and No 1 devil in the Hibs' demonology. Our salvation by Tom Farmer, the Kwik-Fit messiah, is too recent for us to wallow in. If money talks then we're on the quiet side, but for now we seem to be decently and openly managed.

Players? Mustn't grumble. We have some bright young players, and Miller sometimes, though not often, picks them. It's true that over several seasons we've been unable to hold on to the stars that might have brought them on. Goram, Collins and McGinlay have been lured away by the bright lights of - well, Glasgow. But we should have got used to this by now; Peter Marinello, Alex Cropley and Des Bremner went south in the Seventies.

The stadium brings us closer to the heart (that word again) of the matter. Easter Road, cut down and dilapidated, is miserable, rickety and chilly. Except for hammering in a few nails, no progress towards the Taylor-made ideal has been made. Yet here again are reasons to be cheerful. A site has been found for a new one and people are more or less agreed that a move is, if not desirable, then probably inevitable.

What's under discussion is the sort of stadium we'll have. The fans want a stadium worthy of a Big Club, and the club is saying that it isn't big enough to be able to afford it. The club is suggesting that they build a stadium that will start small but might be added to later; the fans, brought up on broken promises, are restless.

You see, we feel like a big team. We're in a big city. We have, as the song says, a history that's enough to make your heart grow old. Out of us were Celtic born. The Famous Five front line led us to several championships and to the semi-finals of the European Cup - the first British team to enter - in the Fifties.

In the Seventies we had a flirtation with success; if it was brief, it was with an attractive team which crowds, at away grounds, would turn out to see. Now we're hard-pressed to get 10,000 at home, and what this stadium palaver shows is that we are now small beer. Such reductions in self-esteem are hard to take. We prefer the term 'sleeping giant'.

What? Throwing away my scarf? Vowing never to go to another Hibs' match? It may be depressing watching them, but try life without them. We Hibs people have faced the fact of our club going out of business. We're glad, really, just to be alive. Just give us the Samaritans as our next shirt sponsor and we'll be alright.

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