15 May ~ This Saturday Hibs take on Hearts in the Scottish Cup final. If you can’t remember the last all-Edinburgh final, don’t worry – it was in 1896. Hibs last won the Cup in 1902. Anticipation is high in the capital for the "salt and sauce" final (so called because Edinburgh doesn’t do vinegar on its chips). The game will be a refreshing change for a country usually so intensely dominated by two other clubs. Edinburgh football has almost always been the poor cousin of the Glaswegian version, and the game comes well down the list of things for which the capital is famous (tourism, politics, experimental theatre, banking, insurance, cemetery-loitering dogs, frigid pandas…).
But Hearts against Hibs is a big, passionate derby and most of Scotland is savouring the prospect of a half-maroon, half-green Hampden. The Edinburgh Evening News staff are so excited that they’ve penned and performed Go East, complete with panda suits and unsubtle digs at Glasgow, and posted the embarrassing result on YouTube.
The final will also be a watershed match for two clubs in transition. The best thing that can be said about Hearts’ recent spending is that it hasn’t been as reckless as Rangers’. Belated attempts to balance the books have forced the exits of key players at the ends of their contracts. David Obua, Adrian Mrowiec and club talisman Ian Black will not play in maroon again after the final. Star player Rudi Skacel admits he may be leaving too. To reinforce the Jam Tarts’ newly limited expectations, they’ve finished fifth in the league, when their wage bill dictates that anything less than third is a failure.
A few miles to the east, the first 95 per cent of Hibs’ season was tortuous. They only guaranteed SPL survival in the penultimate game of the season, walloping Dunfermline 4-0 in front of 15,000 delirious fans. With a wage bill half that of Hearts, Hibs always sell their best young players, such as Stephen Fletcher, Scott Brown, Stephen Whittaker, Derek Riordan and Garry O’Connor (O’Connor is now back, and scoring vital goals; if Hibs win the Cup, he’s promised to run down Princes Street naked). The club’s financial responsibility is laudable but almost led to relegation. For most of this season they’ve defended atrociously and struggled for results, and they replaced manager Colin Calderwood with Pat Fenlon in November, in a gamble to avoid the drop.
Fenlon’s key singings, particularly Jorge Claros, Tom Soares and James McPake, all on loan, have turned things round just in time, perhaps enough to convince fans that, in the Cup final, they can overcome the rivals who’ve beaten them all three times they’ve met in the league this season. The result of the final will indicate if the balance of power in Edinburgh football is shifting or not. The Scottish Cup is exciting again. Mark Poole