In the immediate aftermath of the Scottish Cup final, thousands upon thousands of Hibs fans engulfed the pitch upon hearing the full-time whistle, and half-dozens upon half-dozens did so with the intention of causing trouble. For most, the stands were not grand enough to contain 114 years of agony in our nation’s premier cup competition. For a small number, escaping them gave means to swinging punches at Rangers players and fans, and to celebrate the historic moment by committing acts which would eventually lead to custodial sentences. It was bampottery at its most illogical.
With Rangers fans also invading the pitch, running battles ensued before law and order was eventually restored, with Hibs hoisting the trophy about an hour after they’d actually won the thing.
That, however, was just the start. Rangers refused to have their players talk to the media and soon released a statement condemning the violence of Hibs fans. The Ibrox club followed this with another released the very next day, attacking Hibs for the lack of concern, the media for criticising Rangers fans who entered the field, and Nicola Sturgeon for failing to mention the violence in her tweet congratulating Hibs. The victors, meanwhile, pulled out the old “boys will be boys” line, and basically stuck the viccies up at the side they’d beaten.
The fallout continued for months. An independent panel cited both teams, though they would get off scot-free in the end, leaving the SFA to shrug its shoulders and mumble something about “strict liability”. The only people punished were those directly responsible, with arrests reaching over 130 to this point.
This all played out with no distraction of any football taking place between the two sides, much to Police Scotland’s relief you have to assume. Had Hibs made it back to the Premiership along with Rangers, the hatred between the two sets of supporters may have intensified in the intermittent period. Letting them both cool down is the best way to avoid future trouble directly stemming from the result of what occurred in May of last year. The authorities, be it football or public, will be delighted the draw failed to pair these two together.
Of course, there’s still a possibility of a rematch coming in the cup final itself, but it’s not likely to happen. ‘Law of averages’ is the only logical argument behind Rangers defeating Celtic right now, while the same rationale goes against Hibs as their tremendous run against top flight sides in the Scottish Cup across the last three seasons will have to come to an end eventually. Hibs are more likely to make it to the final, though it seems almost incidental at this point as the Celtic juggernaut shows little sign of slowing down, even if they were just given a scare by St Mirren.
Yes there’s still something there to savour in the semi-final ties we were handed. But the past two years have been bloated with Old Firm semi-finals. Do we really need another? And while Hibs and Aberdeen is an intriguing contest in its own merit, it’s not quite Hibs v Rangers, Hampden showdown part II.
The hypocrisy alone would have made for great material, as publications and broadcasters would have been doing their most to shame the scenes of last year, all the while simultaneously feeding off the resentment in order to sell this year’s encounter. And that’s the dirty little secret nobody wants to admit, isn’t it? Journalists and those in the public eye will tell us about how shameful this all is and the last thing we need is another battle, quite literally, between these two teams. But there’s that morbid fascination inside us all to wonder what would happen. Would Rangers fans flood the pitch at full-time if they won? Would Hibs fans have the nerve to do so again? Like those who went to the Colosseum to see a man fight a lion, an unhealthy section of the wider football public would be baying for blood.
In trying to desperately suppress that devilishness, though, we should probably admit it’s a good thing that hostilities will be allowed another five months in which to cool. On the park, though, it’s almost a shame we never got to see what would have been granted a highly anticipated rematch.
Neither side have changed all that much in the intermittent period, which would have added to the intrigue. Would Hibs target James Tavernier again? And if so, how would they go about doing it without Anthony Stokes’ movement or Liam Henderson’s corners? Would Rob Kiernan have another Hampden horrorshow? Could John McGinn star again on the big stage? Would Rangers show that last year’s poor performance was partially down to rustiness, having not played in 20 days leading up the match?
Who would get the chance to stop Celtic’s march to the treble at the final hurdle? Would it be their rivals? Or would Hibs stop them, all the while completing back-to-back Scottish Cup triumphs? A feat no-one thought would be possible one year ago.
Then there’s the Neil Lennon factor. Having started Celtic’s bid for ten-in-a-row, could he deliver the final insult to Rangers at the end of a deeply disappointing season? Or would the new Rangers boss endear himself to the fans by thumping the Hibees at Hampden?
We may get the chance to find answers to all of these questions, but it’s unlikely to be the case. Is that a good or a bad thing? You can decide.
Written by Andrew Craig