Mar 13 2012

Hearts v St Mirren

Published by at 3:46 pm under European and tagged: ,

Hearts 2 St Mirren 2 
Plenty of action at Tynecastle – but still no Marián Kello
 
Coming from England and now living abroad, my relationship with Scottish football has always been a fairly distant one. Yet it’s also been tinged with a little romance. This has a bit to do with Celtic and Rangers but less than you might expect. Of course, these clubs are grand institutions with rich histories, passionate supporters and a fantastic stadium apiece. But they also inspire a certain ambivalence in me, partly because, in the late 80s and early 90s, there was an assumption that all supporters of English clubs should have an affinity with one or other of them. I never quite saw the point of pretending a great love for a club from far away on the dubious grounds that a section of its fans liked to play at being paramilitaries. I thus left Glasgow’s ‘big two’ alone and indulged myself in feelings of silent contempt when, say, Manchester United fans displayed their Irish banners or City fans (or West Brom fans for that matter) started their ‘no surrender to the IRA’ chants.
 
For me, the appeal of Scottish football came more from quirky things like team and ground names (Queen of the South, Heart of Midlothian, Cappielow, Ochilview), from growing up in an era when some of the finest players ever to have graced England’s top leagues (such as Alan Hansen and Kenny Dalglish) were moving south, and because there was a proportionate exposure to it on TV. You used to be able to watch the Scottish Cup Final after its English counterpart had finished, for example. Best of all, there was Archie Macpherson, who used to present a Scottish preview for BBC’s Football Focus. Archie was an excellent broadcaster but one who often seemed to be battling against adverse circumstances. I recall him once attempting to report from the centre-circle at Pittodrie as a blizzard blew his umbrella inside out. Sometime later, he started a piece from Ibrox just as someone on the Rangers staff decided it was high time the volume levels of the stadium PA system were checked.
 
All these things have made me want to experience more of the Scottish game first hand, but realism dictates that a serious north of the border ground-hop is something I’ll probably only ever do in my head. Dreams of Glebe Park in Brechin or Arbroath’s Gayfield may never be fulfilled. Still, at least I can now claim an ‘Edinburgh double’. Nearly 18 years after I saw my first ever ‘live’ Scottish game – a truly dire 0-0 draw between Hibernian and Kilmarnock at Easter Road – I pitched up at Tynecastle last weekend to see which of Hearts or St Mirren would progress to the Scottish Cup semi-finals.
 
Scotland is clearly a nation that’s crazy about football but I’d say Edinburgh is far from its most football-mad city. The biggest stadium in town – much, much bigger than Easter Road and Tynecastle put together – is the Murrayfield rugby ground. The city-centre sports shops also seem to stock a lot of rugby stuff, while Hearts and Hibs shirts get less window-space than those of England’s big football clubs. That seems a shame, because Hearts and Hibs have made their different contributions to the city’s history, indeed to their country’s history. I was especially fascinated by the fact, commemorated in a memorial near Haymarket station, that Hearts were the first British club whose players signed up en masse to fight in World War I.
 
Walking to Tynecastle from the centre of Edinburgh reminded me just a little of walking to QPR’s Loftus Road. You know you’re going the right way because there are plenty of people in football colours ahead of you, the shops and businesses – cab firms, take-aways, launderettes – are very much those of the inner-city, and you don’t see the ground until the last minute, when it suddenly appears at the end of short, terraced streets. It could only be in Scotland, though, because these streets are lined with the sort of solid, stone-built tenement blocks that you hardly see in England.
 
The ground itself is a beauty, Archibald Leitch’s old main stand contrasting nicely with the steep-sided modern stands on the other three sides. Sit high enough in the Wheatfield stand and you have a view east across the city to the castle and even to Arthur’s Seat, the dramatic rocky crag that overlooks the Hibs ground. Another feature I’ve always associated with Scotland became apparent to me as I entered ; the smallness of the pitch. I read years ago that the smallest pitch in England would be about the average size for Scotland – and the Tynecastle pitch looked small by any standards.
 
There were other throwbacks too. I was delighted to find that both teams were to play in their traditional colours. Hearts have got rid of the broad white stripe that spoiled their maroon for a while, and St Mirren didn’t have the ugly patch on the back of their striped shirts that English sides with similar strips are forced to wear in order to make identifying players’ numbers easier. Best of all, there was no idiot PA announcer prancing around on the side of the side of the pitch and drowning out the very atmosphere he claims to be attempting to whip up. In fact, there were no announcements at all until the 27th minute, the time of St Mirren’s first goal, when we learned that there had been ‘technical problems’.
 
For the first 30 minutes of the match, the Hearts team appeared to have more than just ‘technical’ problems. In fact, the neat, compact visitors from Paisley made the home players look as though they’d come onto the pitch straight from a hangover-busting fry-up in a nearby café. As well as looking brighter and more keyed-up, St Mirren had got their tactics right, their three-man central midfield enabling them to dominate possession. Their problem was that they only scored one goal during this period, a well-placed left-foot free-kick by Graham Carey, as opposed to the three or four they should have scored. Hearts’ equaliser after 37 minutes was an example of how the simple things done well can compensate for all-round inferiority. Danny Grainger took an inswinging corner and Craig Beattie headed down and in.
 
Manager Paulo Sergio didn’t let that deflect him from a necessary substitution, though. He took off hapless midfielder Adrian Mrowiec, sent on Rudi Skácel and reorganised his men into a diamond formation. Now it was St Mirren looking ropey. After 48 minutes, Beattie crossed from the left and Skácel’s glancing header made it 2-1. In a way, the visitors’ response at this point, though more prosaic than their attractive football of the opening period, was the most admirable aspect of their performance. Led by Steven Thomson, their battling number 8, they dug in hard, stemmed the flow of Hearts attacks and gradually got back into the game again. And the move that led to their 83rd minute equaliser, started and finished by Nigel Hasselbaink via a deflection off Marius Zaliukas, was an excellent passage of play. There was time for St Mirren to miss a chance to win the game and for their goalkeeper Craig Samson to get away with handling the ball outside his box, but it finished honours even at 2-2.
 
In truth, the Samson incident was one of a string of controversial refereeing decisions. St Mirren had two penalty appeals turned down in the first-half, Beattie had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside, and there might have been a foul in the build-up to St Mirren’s second goal. But Sergio and St Mirren boss Danny Lennon, to their credit, preferred not to talk about any of these afterwards, concentrating instead on the fact that it had been a fine cup-tie which neither side had deserved to lose.
 
I’m more than happy to concur with that – controversy is all part of the fun – but the day did have two mildly disappointing aspects for me. Firstly, Marián Kello didn’t play. With his contract up at the end of the season, he is out of the Hearts side for ‘political reasons’. With Ján Mucha’s chances limited at Everton, Slovakia can be thankful that another Scotland-based goalkeeper, Dušan Pernís, continues to get regular games at Dundee United. Secondly, the crowd at Tynecastle was under 9,000. The Scottish Cup deserves better than that, I feel, especially when neither Hearts nor St Mirren have much else to play for this season and must surely see the competition as a fine opportunity to secure an honour and get into next season’s Europa League. An early kick-off for TV probably didn’t help, nor did Hearts’ decision to charge full-price for tickets. The day wasn’t all about throwbacks after all.
 
Still, after witnessing this game, I can guarantee that there would be worse places to be next Wednesday night than St Mirren Park for the replay. A Hearts win would increase the possibility of an all-Edinburgh final – they won the cup as recently as 2006 but Hibs haven’t won it for a remarkable 110 years. Historical curiosities like that, and the way they are  embraced so readily, are yet another essential part of Scottish football’s appeal.
James Baxter

7 responses so far




7 Responses to “Hearts v St Mirren”

  1.   Shire Toryon 19 Mar 2012 at 12:33 am

    I saw Brezovan play against Liverpool, he was f*cking hopeless. Kello or Pernis to knock Mucha’s crown off?

  2.   Fat Eckon 19 Apr 2012 at 8:15 pm

    Absolutely brilliant piece, James. And – can you believe it – you made it happen: Scotland has that first Edinburgh derby final since 1897 and Hibs their best ever chance to end that 110-year hoodoo. It’s absolutely massive news over here and, okay, Celtic fans are gutted because Hearts did them in the semi-final and Ranges fas are worried they’ll ever see any kind of final (other than a final demand letter) ever again, but if you’ve even the smallest notion of Scottish football history or even a passing involvement in the game, the all-Edinburgh final is an utterly thrilling prospect.

    Both semis were live on the telly over here of course and wiel I didn’t watch a lot of Sunday’s Hearts win I did enjoy most of Hibs defeating Aberdeen. With rangers thoroughly dispatched in the early stages by Dundee United (our last game before administration actually – and the signs were there!), I’d had time to get over my selfish interests. Anyoen asked me who I’d want to see win this season’s Cup after Rangers – easy: Hibs. That hoodoo is legendary and I think Hibs are a great club – Britain’s first representatives in the European Cup and a great ground with a quality support. If smeone asked me what line-up I’d most like to see inteh final – easy again – an Edinburgh derby in the cup final is a thing of mythic proportions: The entire 20th century came and went without one. So when Hibs slottd home the winner with 5 minutes to go last Saturday lunch-time, this old Rangers fan was almost out his seat celebrating for them. But it was still a tall order for Hearts to do Celtic the next day … but Neil lennon’s Celtic don’t like Hampden, can’t handle big occassions. E Voila – the “salt ‘n sauce final” is here.

    Your opening comments are music to my ears. As a Rangers fan I can’t STAND the plastic paramilitary types who blight my match day and my internet chat and thre’s nothing embarrasses me more than the sickening assumption that the whole world must see football through Old Firm eye when, frankly, the whole world has barely heard of us and even less of it gives a sh*t. When I go to see a non-Rangers or non-Scotland game I don’t want anyone pretending they know or care about my teams because (a) I’m there for a CHANGE – I WANT the exotic, not to be reminded about my “bread and butter” fandom and (b) unless they live it every week, no-one can understand what it is to support your team.

    The reffing controversy did not end with the first Buddies-Jambos game: St Mirren park was indeed more packed for the replay and with Hearts leading 1-0 St Mirren were awarded a penalty JUST AS THEY SCORED. The ref ignored the advnatage – St Mirren missed the pen. Hearts made it 2-0.

    But I’m glad you enjoyed it, James and don’t ever give up on Gayfield. it’s a magical place. put it this way – Rangers won their only knock-out game of this season there.

  3.   Fat Eckon 19 Apr 2012 at 8:19 pm

    DAMN! It’s the first Edinburgh final since 1896 – SIX, Eck! – not 1897 as I said above.

    Apologies. I should remember it as I watched it on Sky that day too … :-)

    And Archie. Oh, Archie MackP. You nailed that one, James – it hadn’t happened in Scottish football unless Archie commentated on it. He’s the voice of our game as far as I’m concerned.

    His completely 100% biased commentary at Anfield in 1977 as Kenny Dalglish makes it 2-0 against Wales still chokes me up. The passion in his voice speaks for a nation :-)

  4.   Jameson 20 Apr 2012 at 2:22 pm

    Alex, re this all-Edinburgh final, I can’t remember a particular fixture involving two teams I don’t support making me want to just abandon everything else and get over there the way this one has. I can well believe all you say about what a big thing it is in Scotland. I’d be delighted for whoever won, probably incline slightly towards Hibs because of that 110-year thing and because Easter Road was the first Scottish ground I went to.

    What kind of atmosphere do you reckon there’ll be? Is it real antipathy or do the fans generally get on pretty well? I’ve heard everything from ‘it’s friendly’ to ‘they can’t stand each other’. But recalling what you said before, it seems Hearts hate Celtic a hell of a lot more!

    I suspect there won’t be joint trains and coaches running to the game but I’d hope it’ll be just a great day out for both sets of fans.

    Worst thing is (given that, realistically, there’s zero chance of being there) it’s not on any TV I can get here. Irony of ironies, we have the FA Cup and Championship but not the Premiership, get the SPL but not the Scottish Cup.

  5.   Rustyon 22 Apr 2012 at 10:28 pm

    “Celtic and Rangers …also inspire a certain ambivalence in…I never quite saw the point of pretending a great love for a club from far away on the dubious grounds that a section of its fans liked to play at being paramilitaries.

    “As a Rangers fan I can’t STAND the plastic paramilitary types…who blight …my internet chat… when, frankly, the whole world has barely heard of us and even less of it gives a sh*t”

    That sounds suspiciously like a Rangers/Celtic (delete as appropriate) supporter, James – who do you REALLY support? Which one?? Seriously, it’s so nice to get some charming commentary about Scottish football, without forced politeness or barely concealed disdain. I’m cynical enough myself with regards to the latter.

    And if it’s not completely rude to issue a clarion call on your page for someone else to write a blog…how is life treating you, Eck? Just that sentence about how irrelevant we have become outside a tiny part of a small island, way before current crises, is giving me pangs. For reason, perspective, civility and proper sentences (my typos aside).

    Rusty

  6.   Fat Eckon 24 Apr 2012 at 10:06 pm

    Aye, James, I know a few folk from both sides fairly well and that oxymoronic “healthy antipathy” exists for sure. They don’t like each other but I think relative lack of achievement down the years means sometimes they’re almost sick of the sight of each other rather than loving the chance to vent and mainstage which other derbies provide. Probably more to do with the Edinburgh nature – which everyone is going to town on stereotyping ahead of the “you’ll have had your tea” final – that they keep it a bit darker than down to the fact they’re “smaller” clubs than Rangers and Celtic.

    Put it this way, the Jambo I know best almost – he says ALMOST – wanted to lose the semi to Celtic when he saw Hibs had beaten Aberdeen the previous day. Yes, the fact he’s enjoyed “recent” Scottish Cup glory with Hearts winning it in 98 and 2006 probably subconsciously curbed his levels of desire but what gets him is what must be TERRIFYING all Jambos right now – that dark fatalism which says those who spent the longest, shouting loudest about the biggest hoodoo in Scottish football could well now be present when that hoodoo is ended. That Hearts are top end of the table and Hibs only now just looking like they’ll avoid relgation combines with Hearts’ unbelievably superior record in Edinburgh derbies of the last three decades to make Jambos think this day, OF ALL DAYS, will be when Hibs turn us over.

    I don’t know how they’ll be able to stay seperated on the trains – it’ll be one of the few day when the segregation is so intense at Waverley, Haymarket AND Queen Steet and Central stations :-) but I can’t blame you for wanting to come over to savour it: I will be parking myself in front of the TV on Saturday the 19th and not moving my fat bahookie from noon til midnight. BBC Scotland’s Scottish Cup Final coverage is one of my earliest football memories – it’s been starting hours before kick-off for as long as I can remember and when I started attending the finals in person to watch Rangers, it was actually a bit of a dissapointment I couldn’t enjoy the big match build up on telly which was so integral to my romanticising of the game. It’s Champions League final day too – my other psychotically obssessive showpiece game anorak hit (I still have a VCR so I can maintain my collection of taping the last 22 of them!) so I’m hoping Hibs-Hearts goes to extra time and then I can maybe mnage a quick trip to the loo before getting into Chelsea v Real/Bayern.

    Much as I can’t stand a lot of the hypocrisy surrounding Barcelona, it would have been something else to sit and watch the first Edinburgh derby final since the 1800s and then the first Clasico European final ever :-)

    My personal fav Scottish Cup final was when Rangers beat Celtic 3-2 in 2002 (Last-minute winner – I was in the press area and was meant to be controlling myself … but, I mean – COME ON!!) but my fav as a neutral was 1991 when Motherwell beat Dundee United 4-3 after extra time in front of over 50,000 – Hearts did Hibs 4-0 at Hampden in the 2006 semi but while i want the Hibs to win it just to provide something no living football fan has ever seen before, I just hope it’s a right exciting game. Not that it’s really my place to hope anything – it’s over to the Edinburghers …

    RUSTY!!! How the hell are you, Sir!!!

    Aw man – right back at ye, mate. I don’t want to hijack the Britski Belasi boys’ excellent site (cracker, isn’t it!) to start going over what you and I are goin through right now but – fu**ing hell – there’s not a lot of civility or perspective around this last few months, mate, is there. Wait a minute – let’s re-phrase – there’s even less objectivity than the usual sliver we rustled up in the days when our only worry was how many tickets we’d get for Manchester :-) . Brutal. I’ve been pinging the odd piece up on the When Saturday Comes site about it all and, as James will tell you, the feedback threads have brought back a lot of bad memories. Troll central. But, nowt compared to some of the stuff we used to deal with back in the trenches (Ah but we were younger then … more innocent … )

    But don’t you ever accuse me of doing proper sentences … god knows I tried my damndest not to let any slip through … no surrender to the Spell-Check!!

  7.   Rustyon 25 Apr 2012 at 11:00 pm

    I spotted that hidden message to the Brotherhood in the last sentence there, Eck – you’re a pure bigot!

    The site really is fantastic…James has already taken me from Slovak football to Dutch politics in a single post! Reminds me of those young, optimistic days at Open Football too. Just had a look at your recent WSC piece…there goes my theory that a healthy lead in the league is all it takes for a largely Celtic-free forum when Rangers are the topic.

    I can’t force myself to get too depressed about it all right now either. Unlike your friendly trolls (posties posing as accountants?), I can’t pretend to be able, or have the will, to follow tax law, cva’s and the like, but look forward to it all being over. My only hope being that the club don’t just sit back and accept a crippling by a thousand kicks – 51000 at Ibrox in a top-two tussle with East Stirling would be a new kind of spectacle if nothing else!

    Ahhh, Manchester. Just watched Bayern win against the odds, Sergio Ramos missing his penalty, Pepe greetin’, and Christian Nerlinger leaping (ok, being helped up) from the bench with the biggest celebration since he hit that hat-trick against Forf…*sigh*

    Glad to see you still writing and hope it’s not too long ’til it’s less of a coronary risk when Rangers-related!

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