The agony & the ecstasy

Prospecthill Road has proved a veritable Via Dolorosa for Hibs fans through the ages.

This “road of sorrows” that winds its way through the wastelands around Hampden has witnessed many legion from the east drift away like a defeated army.

I have been a dejected pilgrim on this route at least eight times and that’s counting only finals.

But after the semi-final against Dundee United in 2005 the black humour was beginning to bubble again as I climbed back onto the bus parked in Prospecthill Road only to see a distraught Lawrie Reilly.

“Lawrie,” I asked “are you all right?’”

“I’ll never see it happen,” he muttered, glazy-eyed into the distance. He looked up at me.

“I’ll never see them win the cup”.

What touched me was this truly great Hibs player obviously thought this had been his last chance. Lets face it Hibs rarely got to finals and time was running out. Little did either of us know there would be at least another two coming along shortly but the less said about the one of them the better.

But Lawrie’s words took me back to the interview I did with him for Sunshine on Leith. His major regret had been the Famous Five never won the Cup and that was when it was more important than the league title.

The more one looks at Hibs bizarre record and not even our finest side could do it you begin to understand fanciful notions of the curse. It dates back to when they took down the Harp in the Fifties and an Irish gypsy swore we’d never win the cup till the Harp returned. It didn’t take into account the Harp had done not much good in half century since 1902.

But that day at Hampden with Lawrie in 2005 I’d bumped into a distant cousin up from down south before the game. We quickly embraced before running our separate ways to catch the whistle and he shouted back to me.

“Remember what my mum always told me. Vince, son, the Hibs will always let you down”.  One of many nuggets of Edinburgh Italian wisdom I’ve treasured over the years.

At my first final in 1972 the 6-2 defeat by Celtic in the League cup in 1968 was already a distant memory. This was a new era of the Turnbull’s Tornados, one of Scotland’s top ten teams ever.

There were over 100,000 in the giant bowl that day as clouds of dust swirled over rivers of beer and piss along  with the usual  flying bottles and cans.

An evenly balanced game exploded with a celtic outburst in the second half and Dixie Deans’ hat trick.

It was second tattoo of the mark of the beast that scarred Hibs fans of that generation. The 6-1 follwoed on from the 6-2 and 6-3 League Cup final awaited three years down the road.

The living nightmare of these Celtic finals left a lot of psychic damage but Eddie’s team could regularly turned over Rangers.

But the marathon final at the end of the decade was notable, apart from getting pulled over by the police for giving a two finger salute to the new Prime Minister on she passed her way to the Scottish tory conference,  for Arthur Duncan’s flying header in injury time in the third game.

Jim McArthur hadn’t a chance but that was the problem as it should have been Peter McCoy that Arthur stunned not his own keeper.

Fast-forward to 2001 final and it was Celtic again and climbing the Hampden steps I ran into Jimmy O’Rourke.

“Jimmy,” I said “can we do it?’

He clasped his breast.

“In my heart, Simon, in my heart.”

But that’s all it was – in our hearts.

Ten years later there was not even any wishful thinking as I bumped into Pat Satnton, Jimmy’s compadre from their days at Holy Cross Academy. The glory they shared with their Holy Cross double  in League Cup final of 1972 remains a unique feat in the annals of Scottish football.

But at half-time last year the Quiet Man was under no illusion despite pulling the score back to 2-1. “We’re in big trouble”. Pat’s too savvy football brain to delude himself that last year’s team was up to the task as we chatted under the stand.

Like most of my Hibs generation Stanton is the all-time favourite and I have always felt no one since has been fit to lift the Scottish Cup if Pat had not got to do it. There has been no one more worthy.

After the 72 final as a daft schoolboy I went with pals to clap the Hibs team off the bus back at the North British. They filed past white-faced bar for Pat who stayed on the bus. He gave us a tearful wave as the empty bus with him and the driver pulled away.

To paraphrase Sir Alex Ferguson: “Hibs, bloody hell’. What sort of a club are we that reduces men like Pat Stanton and Lawrie Reilly to tears.

But as the media has been full of The Great Gatsby movie this last week,  F Scott Fitzgerald’s lament to the loss and unattainability of the American Dream and his final words are the fitting epitaph for Hibernian dream.

“So we beat on boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’

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