EDINBURGH, Scotland, May 16 (Reuters) - The Scottish Cup gets under way in January and my birthday is in February and so every year I make the same wish when I blow out the candles on my cake.
I never told my dad what that wish was, but he’s a supporter of Scottish Premier League soccer club Hibernian too and he’s not daft.
One year, not long into my teens, I puffed loudly and he couldn’t stop himself. “You can keep wishing, son,” he said, “Hibs (Hibernian) are not going to win the cup.”
It was a fairly safe prediction given that Hibernian hadn’t lifted the Scottish Cup since 1902.
This week, though, I am in Edinburgh, having flown 6,000 miles from my home in Brazil in the hope of seeing my dad’s prediction proved wrong. For just the ninth time in more than a century, Hibs are in the final against Heart of Midlothian F.C.
They face their local rivals at Hampden Park in a match described by Hearts coach Gary Locke as the biggest Edinburgh derby of all time. It is the first time the two clubs from the capital have met in the Scottish Cup final since 1896.
I know most people think I am mad and I have to admit, as Saturday’s big match gets closer I do sometimes question the sanity of my decision. Because as losing streaks go, ours is a belter. Forget Manchester City and their 44-year quest to win the English league title. Forget even the Chicago Cubs and their 103-year pursuit of baseball’s World Series. The last time Hibs won the cup, the Boer War was still raging and the Titanic hadn’t even been thought of.
The maddest thing is that I broke the bank to come home and we’re not even favourites. We made it to the final despite having our worst team in 30 years. We’ve only won 14 of 47 games this season, narrowly avoiding relegation. And we’ve not beaten our cup final opponents for three years.
But I can’t help it. I can’t bear the thought of Hibs finally winning the Scottish Cup and me not being there to see it.
If I supported Celtic or Rangers, or Chelsea or Manchester United, or any one of the other ‘big’ teams who buy success with huge salaries, then this wouldn’t be such a gamble. The chances of us winning would be pretty high.
But this is Hibs, a club whose rich and storied history is matched only by its inability to honour that with silverware.
Sure, we’ve made our mark since being formed by Irish immigrants way back in 1875. When football was a sport and not a business and people turned out to support their local clubs, Hibs were one of the most exciting teams not just in Scotland but the entire world.
In the 1950s we boasted the Famous Five, one of the greatest forward lines the game has ever seen. Since then we’ve beaten Barcelona and Real Madrid, spanked Sporting Lisbon, and destroyed Man. United and Arsenal. We can proudly say we were once champions of the world - albeit in 1887 before the rest of the world had discovered the game.
But then Hibs were always ahead of the curve. We were the first British team to play in Europe, taking part in the inaugural European Cup - later to be the Champions League - in 1955. We were the first team in Scotland to wear a sponsor on our shirt, the first to get undersoil heating, the first to have an electronic scoreboard.
We just never won very much.
Since the heady days of the Famous Five - a team so good Sir Alex Ferguson said it was forever “etched in his mind” - we’ve never come close to winning the league.
We’ve been to the Scottish Cup final three times in my life but we lost each time. And while we’ve lifted the relatively unimportant League Cup on three occasions, I contrived to miss each one; the first took place when I was only five, the second and third came after I had moved abroad.
I was in Mexico in 1991 when my mother called to give me the bitter-sweet news of our victory. “They finally go and win something and you’re not here,” she said over a crackly phone line, her sobs lurching between sadness and joy. “After you followed them through thick and thin.”
Thin and thin was more like it.
My mum isn’t around anymore but my dad will be there with me at Hampden this Saturday when we take on Heart of Midlothian in the most hotly anticipated final in decades.
He doesn’t remember telling his young son we’d never win the cup. But I do know he’d love to be proved wrong.
We’re all wishing... (Editing by Paul Casciato)
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