No Sunderland to endure and Pete Sixsmith was spoilt for choice. SAFC Ladies’ third game in the Women’s Super League – a spirited comeback from a goal down to beat Bristol City 2-1 – and Shildon’s Northern League title bid (a win ) beckoned. But Sixer looked north of the border for his Saturday football fix …
The day went well. Trains ran on time, the weather was fine and the football was a trifle stilted but at least I got to see a home game where half of the home support didn’t leave before the hour mark.
Edinburgh sparkled on a clear day and was full of visitors being taken around by a variety of guides, some dressed in tartan trews, some in kilts and one who looked like a cross between Catweazle and Billy Connolly. The European and Asian tourists in his groups loved him; I suspect Renton from Trainspotting would have glassed him.
A stroll up to Coda Records, a hole in the credit card and brunch in an old-fashioned Italian style café near the statue of Greyfriars Bobby gave a good start to the day. Bobby’s statue was patted, stroked and photographed by those visitors not being dragged around by guides and the whole mood in the city was positive as befits a nation that is going to have a huge influence on the political makeup of the UK next month.
A brisk walk along West Maitland Street and a wee bit of pressure on the bladder led to an impromptu call into The Haymarket, a pub I have walked past many times but rarely used. The array of 12 hand pumps and 10 different ales aroused my dormant passions and, after a long look I chose Orkney Brewery Dark Island, a splendid pint from the far north. It needed to be at £4.05.
From there, the walk along the Gorgie Road to Tynecastle was a joy in the warmish sun. A roar from Dicksons Bar indicated that Hibs had failed to make a date for May 30 at Hampden where their semifinal conquerors Falkirk will meet, much to everyone’s surprise, Inverness Caley in the SFA Cup Final. Large grins as the smokers poured out onto the street.
Tynecastle looked good as parts of the ground bathed in the sun. Three hundred or so visiting fans had travelled down from Raith in anticipation of dancing in the streets should they win; 15,000 roared their allegiance to the Scottish Championship Champions and sat back expecting a comfortable win.
Hearts started last season in disarray, having 15 points deducted for going into administration and it looked as if this famous old club, founded five years before SAFC in 1874, would go to the wall or would, at the very least, do a Rangers and end up playing at Annan, Montrose and Berwick.
They were saved by a group called the Foundation of Hearts who were given preferred bidder status by the High Court. They called on the club’s support to rally round, sold 10,000 season tickets and asked/cajoled/begged fans to make a monthly donation. I chipped in with a tenner out of the pension.
Ann Budge took over the running of the club as the titular head of a group called Bidco 1874, assuring fans that this would be for five years and then the FoH would either run it themselves or look for suitable partners (Lithuanian bankers and Sportswear magnates need not apply). But it was essential that they were back and settled in the SPL before this time was up.
Not an easy task. The Championship also had cross-city rivals Hibernian as members (relegated in a laughable way in a penalty shoot-out) and Rangers FC, a club that seems to attract the kind of investors that any other club would give short shrift to.
Hearts won their opening two games against the aforementioned and have not looked back since. Four games lost all season, a 22-point margin between them and Rangers, currently in second place, and crowds that have averaged 15,000 against the likes of Livingston, Cowdenbeath and Alloa are a testimony to the manager Robbie Neilson, the players, (particularly the skipper Danny Wilson, a young central defender who has said he will be leaving at the end of the season – could do a job for a certain Championship side next year!!!) and the fans who have shown that they love their club more than those who follow the Old Firm because they are the Old Firm and not because they are part of their community.
The game ended in a fairly routine 2-1 win for the Jambos, with promising winger Sam Nicholson and Dutch centre forward Soufian El Hassnaoui claiming the goals. Raith pulled one back and could have equalised but the mood of exuberance over Gorgie, which commenced with the Hibs defeat, was not about to disperse. They go to Central Park, Cowdenbeath next week before Rangers bring down the curtain on an exhilarating and exciting season on May 2nd.
No Edinburgh visit is complete without a pint in HP Mather’s Bar, but I was a wee bit disappointed with the choice of ales on tap. The Flying Scotsman was fine but I suspect that this venerable old pub is now owned by the Heineken Group hence the domination of Caledonian Breweries beers. I may have to vary my route back to Waverley.
Meanwhile, back in the North East, the Northern League title race continues and is down to Marske United or Shildon. Both won on Saturday and the maths is simple; Shildon need to win all of their remaining games to win the title. It is in their hands, starting at Meadow Park, Ryhope on Tuesday night. Forty miles south, Marske play already relegated Celtic Nation so they can expect to win that one. I shall keep you posted, dear reader.
Finally, I hope the plane thing doesn’t come back to bite us in August. I can see one flying over the Stadium as we line up against Rotherham United gloating at our demise. But we were the first to do it.
And finally, finally, no FA Cup Final for Stevie G. A nation mourns – or at least the football press does.