Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Hibernian 1 Motherwell 1

It may well have been Easter, but the occasion had completely passed me by. I didn’t scoff a single chocolate egg, I didn’t go to Church, I didn’t watch any James Bond films on ITV4. I worked Good Friday and then spent Easter Saturday crawling in ankle-deep mud somewhere in the back o’ beyond near Perth trying to reach someone’s house for a story.
My one concession to this year’s Christianical resurrection ceremony was a trip to Easter Road for this Scottish Premier League encounter. It was through no religious devotion, it happened to be the only match in the country on my day off. The name was pure coincidence. 
This was the ultimate fixture before the SPL’s bewildering and pointless split. Like the Red Sea, the table divides in opposite directions as the church bells ring out for Easter and we found our two protagonists at opposite ends. 
Motherwell were still busy harassing Rangers for second place, despite the inevitable psychological damage caused by their Cup exit the last time I watched them. With Rangers‘ future still blowing in the wind, Motherwell are set fair for a maiden appearance in the Champions League, barring a late collapse which could allow St Johnstone or Dundee United to profit. 
Their fortunes contrasted with those of Hibernian, who sit second bottom grateful for the fact that there is a worse team than them in Dunfermline, who have - dismally - not won a home game all season. Having said that, Hibs - or the Handies as I never knew they were nicknamed - had won just the one! They do however have a Cup semi-final to look forward to with Aberdeen - conquerors of Motherwell as readers will know. 
I was en route to knock on a door for a story in Edinburgh when I caught sight of the cantilevered stands of Easter Road and, realising it was within a 20-minute walk from Waverley, promised myself that I’d pop back soon. 
In journalism, you often depend on the kindness of complete strangers and, to my pleasant surprise, the same thing happened here. Twice. 
Anxiously glancing at my watch in the chaotic ticket office queue 15 minutes before kick-off, I was approached by a season ticket holder who wasn’t attending the game and was only too happy to lend me his seat for free. He waved away my numerous offers to pay him. Twenty-two quid saved in a stroke, thank you very much kind sir. Memories of the same thing happening to Andy A and I at Walsall
Weirdly, I’d already been offered a ticket in the queue by another fan who looked a bit shady, but it transpired to be a concessions one so I turned it down. I mean he wanted some money for it, for goodness sake. Pift. Besides, I’m 23, six foot five and look about seven years older, so it wasn’t going to happen. There’s an obvious joke here about Hibs being so poor they can’t give their tickets away, but I don’t want to make it...
Inside the stadium, I found myself next to another kind soul who, quickly noticing my predicament in knowing zilch about Scottish football, took it upon himself to describe the pros and cons of every Hibs player, where they were brought in from and what (if anything) they had done for the cause recently. It was a crash course in green and white, a genuine education and, again, if this other anonymous person is reading, thank you!
My tutor bounded to his seat in fluorescent running jacket and white trainers, thought nothing of climbing over the barrier to reach his spot and, while not talking to me, spent most of the game on his feet, imploring another few moments of effort from his side or yelling unrepeatables at the referee. Excellent entertainment, a one man show.
On the pitch, Motherwell were immensely disappointing. They were languid in possession, reluctant in committing forward and roused themselves for one effort on goal in an hour-and-a-half. Unfortunately for deserving Hibs, this was a late equaliser from Nicky Law and it wasn’t half bad either - a dipping, steered volley from 25 yards. 
Hitherto, Hibs, who were vocally backed by a noisy posse over on the far side to me, had been superior, taking the lead through Gary O’Connor’s superlative free-kick on the half-hour. As my tour guide correctly told me, he was best known for his days at Birmingham City before returning to his original club via lovely Barnsley. 
Despite enjoying basket-loads of possession, Hibs lacked a bit of confidence in getting a shot away and too many attacks came to naught. They weren’t aided by the performance of official O’Reilly, who immediately attracted the ire of the home support with some off-key decisions. They believed he was playing up to the ESPN cameras. 
But, on this evidence, they’ll stay up. I certainly hope so, after a very enjoyable afternoon out in Leith. 
Next Match: The Bank Holiday Monday trip to FC Halifax Town to watch Boston. 

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