|Goodbye Great Adventure, Hello Hard Slog
Well thats it, after just under a year
of purgatory since relegation was confirmed, our second season in the First Division ended
the same way as our first; promoted as Champions. Lets all hope we never have to
prove our resilience one more time. The festivities were to some extent muted with many
Hibs fans reluctant to go overboard in celebration of our escape from a league we should
never really have visited. Having said that, what price would Manchester City have given
just to have stayed in the English First Division last season, never mind think about
returning to the Premier League ?
We must give credit to the
team for returning in style although this appeared a rather unlikely scenario last August.
The League campaign really split into 3 sections; Firstly the disastrous start with our
first home game ending in defeat from Stranraer, at the time of writing our only home
defeat, and an away defeat from St Mirren to go with draws against Falkirk and Clydebank
in our first 6 games. Incredibly, we dropped 10 points in our first 6 games followed by 9
points in our next 26 games ! The second stage of the season saw us win unconvincingly at
home against Raith (almost as pivotal a game as the Ayr 3-3 game ), Morton and Clydebank,
draw home and away with Hamilton, draw away with Ayr as above with 2 goals in the last 5
minutes and record a convincing away win at Raith. The final stage is fairy tale stuff.
Starting with the midweek game against St Mirren we won 13 games in a row and have at
present won 16 out of 17, clinching the title en route, with the only blemish being the
defeat at Boghead.
The St Mirren game was also a
defining moment, with Hibs coming back from a goal down to score 4 times. It was also a
game not without some rueful thoughts from London Hibs members as a large number of us had
travelled north for the original postponed match which saw us present our Player of the
Year trophy for last season to Stevie Crawford. Im sure there will be considerably
more candidates for that award this season! So as we said above, congratulations to the
team, the management and board for at least minimising the damage done by relegation and
giving us some excellent moments in 1998/99.
So much for this season, what
about the outlook for next season, our first in the all new singing and dancing SPL ? The
big question everyone is asking is "Are Hibs good enough for the Premier League?
"The answer is, of course we are, ie were certainly good enough for the Premier
League of 8 teams excluding the Old Firm. In cup games against lower division opposition
this season, only St Johnstone (of those 8 teams) have won regularly and comfortably and
the Saints have of course been humiliated in front of a TV audience by the Old Firm as
indeed have Aberdeen, Dundee, Kilmarnock and Motherwell. Meanwhile the Old Firm themselves
seem to regard it as a triumph if they stagger past the first qualifying rounds of
The fact is the Premier
League or SPL or whatever they want to call it is dire and no amount of window dressing
can alter that fact. The only success achieved by the Scottish Premier League has been the
copying of the name by the English League, certainly no major league has thought it
necessary to have their teams play each other 4 times a season. Our crowds this season
have also dispelled the myth that we rely on the Old Firm to survive. Our attendance
against Raith at New Year was bigger than the great majority of our home crowds against
the Old Firm in the last 5 seasons. Maybe with a 50,000 capacity stadium, as we had in the
early 70s, we welcomed the extra income from Rangers and Celtic but not with a
16,000 or even 20,000 capacity stadium. The truth is also that many people are unwilling
to go to Easter Road when the Old Firm are in town. The Glasgow press may not yet have
realised it but the days of neutrals turning out to see such great stars as Tommy Boyd or
Craig Moore are long gone !
This is not to say that
returning to a 14, 16 or 18 team league would act as a panacea for the problems of
Scottish football. The fact is however that in the 20 seasons after the war an 18 team
league produced 7 different champions with Hearts (2), Dundee, Aberdeen & Kilmarnock
joining three times champions Hibs in a realistic challenge to the Old Firm. Other
clubs such as Dunfermline achieved great victories in Europe, (come to think of it, Hearts
have been the only consistently s**** Scottish team in Europe regardless of the league
structure!) The Premier League did give initial hope of a return to competitiveness
through Aberdeen and Dundee Uniteds 4 successes in the first 10 years but the last
12 years have been an Old Firm monopoly and at the moment it is impossible to see the
situation changing. There is no doubt drastic action must be taken if Scottish football is
to be competitive once more.
We hope therefore that not
only will Hibs be a footballing force in the top division again next season but that we
will also return to the days when we had an innovative, imaginative and forceful Board at
the forefront of Scottish football. A Board that championed European and floodlit football
and was prepared to challenge the Old Firm off and on the field. We hope that our current
Board will also display imagination and strength in challenging the status quo and
perceived image of Scottish football and take all steps necessary to ensure Hibs return to
their rightful status as a major player in Scotland and eventually Europe.