After 110 years of hurt, fans feel the pain grow stronger

Both sets of fans craved not only a win but the humiliation of their rivals
Click to follow
The Independent Football

The joy of the Hearts fans was an afterthought. There was the full range of mockery to exhaust before their attention turned to triumphalism. It became an exercise in taunting the Hibernian support. The agony was prolonged, since the game was effectively finished as a contest early in the second half. The fans wearing green and white who trudged from their seats at that moment probably considered their escape an act of mercy.

The disappointment was immediately felt, but its impact carried greater force because of past events. History was an obtrusive presence. These two teams last met in a Scottish Cup final in 1896, but that distinction seemed a quirk when measured against the fact that Hibs have not win this trophy for 110 years. Every year accumulates with a painful resignation, but the anticipation of this game was framed around the opportunity for Hibs to end their hoodoo, or for Hearts to glory in their oldest rivals maintaining it.

"You've no' won the bug cup since 1902," was the chant the Hearts fans revelled in while empty seats began to appear throughout the opposite side of Hampden. It became a rout, which was an accurate reflection of the merits of the two sides, but also of the contrast in mood between the two sets of supporters. Much of Edinburgh made its way across the country for this final, but the journey home was more urgent for the Hibs fans, who were seeking sanctuary.

The event always had the capacity to overwhelm the participants. There was desperation among both sides to prevail, because failure carried such a devastating significance. The rivalry was the quality that charged the occasion and set it apart from other finals. It could never be mundane, but there was no malice in the air. Fans of both sides mingled outside Hampden before kick-off, and some even shared transport through from the east of Scotland for the game.

The day was so significant that sacrifices were routinely made. Hearts fans who had travelled from New Zealand were interviewed by television camera crews on the steps outside the stadium before the game, while three Musselburgh Juniors players missed their team's crucial relegation game against Hill of Beath to attend the game. The promise was always that the outcome would be so memorable that it could not be missed.

Scotland felt the fixture was remarkable enough for many neutrals to consider the game one of the most important in the history of the competition. The noise, the colour and the intensity was an expression of this anticipation, but also the passionate craving of both sets of supporters not only to win, but to humiliate their rivals.

Individuals became prominent, though, and Rudi Skacel continued to haunt Hibs, scoring twice but also allowing the Hearts fans to indulge their hero worship. Ian Black, a midfielder capable of heedless acts of aggression, restrained his temperament enough to be the game's most influential player.

The Hearts players could grandstand – Black took an age to leave the field when he was substituted. He is out of contract in the summer, and has announced his departure from the club he grew up supporting. The afternoon was heavy with emotion, but he could at least savour his. Marius Zaliukas, Hearts' captain, had to wipe away tears before he lifted the trophy, and the rest of the players soon returned to the main stand to collect their children and join in the on-field celebrations.

Pat Fenlon, the Hibs manager, was overcome by darker feelings. He was sent to the stand by the referee, Craig Thomson, just before the end of the game. After the final whistle he returned to the pitch even though he was still barred. Officials followed him, and allowed him to shake the hand of his counterpart, Paulo Sergio, but Fenlon then sought out Thomson and his assistants. James McPake, Hibs' captain, joined the manager in rebuking the match officials, presumably for the dismissal of Pa Kujabi, the full-back, when he conceded a penalty soon after half-time. Hibs had recovered enough to bring the score back to 2-1 just before the interval, but Kujabi pulled Suso Santana's jersey before tripping him for a deserved second booking.

Hibs' grievances were useful only in deflecting from the ordinariness of their display. The team narrowly avoided relegation this season, and there was no sudden recovery of form, confidence or capability, despite the occasion.

The day belonged to their oldest rivals, who claimed it with an emphatic and joyful authority. The trophy was earned, and the heartache had also to be borne.