Letter from Lochend

Letter from Lochend

On the 2nd of January, I recieved a letter from Sebas, the Dutch Hibee. Of course I only read it days later, as I was still in the hospital at that time. The plan was to publish the letter on the day before the Edinburgh derby, but I had some other things tot hink about that day. Although the letter is bit dated now, I still think it’s interesting to read. And I love the irony in Sabas’ last sentence: “I wish you a happy first two days of 2015!” Aye, they couldn’t have been better ;-)

Dear Joris,

My reply has been long overdue. By now I can congratulate you. It seems save to say that the title race has already been decided in your favor. Hearts have only dropped four points so far (it was so nearly five on October 26th…), so it will require a collapse of grand proportions to still lose that top spot.

But you also have us to thank, for we have contributed a significant six points of your current fifteen-point lead over Rangers. And in what spectacular fashion did we add the last three last week Saturday! A great warm-up for the new year’s derby, it seems. But evidently, Hibs rarely go into a derby as favorites as long as we’re living in the current “Derby Age of Hearts”. The last “Age of Hibs” in capital derby history lasted from the mid-1960s until the end of the 1970s. Between 1965 and 1979, Hearts only won five competitive derby encounters, while Hibs won nineteen.

But those days are no more. The last “Age of Hibs” in derby history passed over into the currently ongoing “Age of Hearts” in the 1980s. Remarkably, those two ages are separated by a period of four years in which no competitive derby matches were played. Around that time, both capital clubs were struggling. In 1979, Hearts relegated from the Premier Division (they had already been in the second tier for the 1977-78 season). Consequently, no Edinburgh derby was played in the 1979-80 season, and this time it was Hibs that relegated from the top flight (despite having George Best amongst its ranks). At the same time, Hearts won promotion back to the Premier Division. Next season the rolls were reversed once again: Hearts went back down and Hibs went back up, avoiding each other for a third year in a row. This time it took Hearts two years to bounce back, finally reinstating the derby in the 1983-84 season. It had been the longest spell without a competitive Edinburgh derby since the Second World War. Immediately after returning to the Premier Division, Hearts remained undefeated in the derby for 17 matches in a row. Hibs briefly broke that reign in 1987, remaining unbeaten for five matches, but between 1989 and 1994 Hearts set a new record with 22 derby matches without a defeat (consisting of 13 victories and 9 draws).

It seems that the key to solving our “derby curse” lies in those derby-less years in the early-1980s. The sudden shift of derby dominance strikes me as very remarkable. What happened at both clubs at that time? What kind of culture and institutions were established at Tynecastle and Easter Road? It might be worth looking into some time.

There is another derby-related theme I’d like to bring up. After our first win over Rangers this season, I read some comments on the Edinburgh Evening News website of Hearts fans who –  mockingly – thanked their “special agent Cummings”. They were referring to Jason Cummings, the Hibs striker who with two goals had contributed greatly to Hibs’ 1-3 win at Ibrox. There I learned that Cummings had been a Hearts fan while growing up.

I have heard of more boyhood Hibs and Hearts fans that ended up playing for the other team. Gordon Smith, one of Hibernian’s “Famous Five”, supported Hearts as a boy. After his eighteen year-spell at Hibs (winning national titles in 1948, 1951, 1952) he would play one season for Hearts, helping them to their national title of 1960 (in 1962 he won another title with Dundee, making him the only player that has won the Scottish title with three different clubs, of which none were Celtic or Rangers). John Robertson, who scored a record number of goals in Edinburgh derbies for Hearts, apparently grew up supporting Hibernian. And when in 2011 Hearts player Craig Thomson was convicted for grooming under-aged girls online, Hearts fans were quick to point out that Thomson had been a Hibs fan when growing up. These are all cases that I know of. Do you know more names of players that supported one Edinburgh team but ended up playing for the rival? Are these players an indication that the Hibs-Hearts rivalry is not as intense as some others in Scotland or England? I can imagine that there aren’t many Celtic fans that choose to play for Rangers and vice versa, or are there? And how come the boyhood’s favorite of these players is public knowledge in Scotland? In the Netherlands we generally do not know such things about players.

The last couple of months you have also witnessed the annual remembrance of the British war dead, symbolized by the symbol of the poppy: the only flower that grew on the war-ridden battlefields of the First World War. The “Great War” is an era that holds specific significance in the history of Hearts, isn’t it? Apparently they lost almost an entire team in the trenches of the continent. Isn’t there a monument in honor of these men standing somewhere in Gorgie? Hibernian also lost some of its players. Hibs historian Alan Lugton describes how the First World War urged the integration of the Irish community of Edinburgh, as they too had fought for Britain in the trenches, side-by-side with the native Scots under the Union Jack.

The poppy in relation to Scottish football can be a touchy subject. The fans of Celtic and Rangers have heavily politicized it. No such rows are going on in Edinburgh (or anywhere else in Scotland), but sometimes also the general British way of dealing with the First World War gives me a slight feeling of unease. I once came upon a piece by a Hearts fan, sent in to some local Edinburgh newspaper if I remember correctly, that summed up the achievements of his favorite team over that of Hibs. Almost all of those were sporting achievements (winning more derbies, winning more cups, etc.), yet one considered Hearts’ superior contribution to the Great War. The entire team of Hearts had signed up, which he argued left Hibs in their shadow on this front as well. A photograph of the piece circulated online. Apparently many people felt it was worth sharing.

To me it felt that the remark about the superior war contribution was very much out of place in a summary of football achievements. To what extent are war dead an achievement that is comparable to winning a football trophy? In all nations of Europe the social pressure to enlist was enormous. This particularly went for professional football players. Athletes above all were expected to demonstrate bravery. Historians have suggested that this attitude was formed by an education centered on the heroic tales of Greek and Roman mythology. These widely held notions of national pride and heroism culminated in an unprecedented (and largely senseless) slaughter of almost an entire generation. Has this extensive social pressure to enlist, which reduced the worth of individual life to a mere tool of the hollow image of national honour, sufficiently been acknowledged as a regrettable era in European (and British) history? It seems that equating war contributions to football achievements depicts war as an opportunity for heroism, and neglects its horrors and contempt for individual human life.

The people that died should be remembered. Symbols, monuments, and rituals for that purpose are a good thing. But should a remembrance become a celebration of national pride and honour? Shouldn’t we wish instead that none of the players – from both Hearts and Hibs – had enlisted, and had not been deprived of the opportunity to further develop their career?

I realize that I look to this aspect of British society from the outside, and my judgment might be misguided. Like me, you are an outsider. But you have been living in Edinburgh now for some months, so I am interested to learn about your perspectives of this issue. What has happened in Edinburgh, and at Heart of Midlothian FC, regarding the remembrance of the war(s)?

I have never lived in Edinburgh. I wish I had, because I find the city absolutely magnificent, and I haven’t been there all that much. I am not a big fan of flying, although I have made a rather average amount of miles up in the air. Including to Edinburgh, but I prefer to travel to the city by train. I love seeing the British island passing by as the train makes its way up north. And then there is nothing that beats making your way into Waverley Station, and then walking up the slopes of Castle Rock through the old streets of Old Town. The stunning cityscape of the Scottish capital definitely has contributed to the development of my love for its football team; its all part of the elaborate Hibernian-package. Yet, the downside is that train journeys in Britain are very expansive. For 2015, my aim is to graduate, make some money, and visit Edinburgh (much) more often.

I cannot say that I feel uncomfortable in Leith. Maybe because – despite the fact that I haven’t been there all that much – it feels like ‘Hibernian area’ and therefore as home turf? Living in a two-team city must be a new experience for most Dutch football fans. A couple of years ago I planned a trip to Edinburgh for a home game against St. Mirren, which to my frustration was cancelled a couple of days before I left for Scotland, due to snowfall. But as the trip had already been booked I went anyway. As the weather remained bad during my stay, I bought a hat at the Easter Road club shop depicting the Hibernian crest up front. As I wandered around the snowy city wearing it, I wondered what would be the standards of social interaction when running into someone wearing maroon. In the Netherlands, those rules are quite clear: wearing enemy colours in rival territory invites physical discomfort. Wearing an Ajax-crest in The Hague, Groningen-colours in Enschede, or a Feyenoord top in Amsterdam; all clearly not the best of ideas. Yet, understandably, rivals born on each other’s doorstep necessarily have to develop some routine that channels the hostile feelings to allow for local coexistence.

Then, while heading west on Princess Street, I spotted a bloke wearing a Hearts trainings jacket, coming towards me from the opposite direction. As the Hearts crest on his chest was clearly notable, as was my green Hibs crest peeking through the snowfall from underneath my hood, it was clear that we were going to be engaged in our own small derby encounter. Such must take place hundreds of times in Edinburgh each day; a simple routine affair for the indigenous population surely, but my initiation into one of the unknown cultural rites of the city. I was aware that my maroon adversary was expecting me to perform the rite perfectly, as surely no tourist or foreigner would ever dress up like a Hibs or Hearts fan. I would have to put some effort into it, requiring full concentration. I went for the performance that I suspected would be the right one in these kinds of situations: as we passed each other by, we briefly made eye contact –without slowing down our pace – and both put on a glance that expressed a combination of alertness and aversion. After about a second the encounter was over as we both continued our way. Being absolutely convinced that I had passed for a local, I thought I had pulled it off great!

I wish you a happy first two days of 2015!



Leave a Reply