Wait continues for patient Hibs

April 11, 2012

Bobby McMahon is the lead analyst for FOX Soccer Report, airing nightly at 10:00 p.m. ET on FOX Soccer Channel.

In 1902, Hibernian beat Celtic in the Scottish Cup. It was the year Real Madrid was founded, and when the first Rose Bowl game was played — and was the last time the Edinburgh giants managed to get their hands on one of Scotland’s major trophies. One hundred and ten years on, Hibs’ bare cupboard is both a source of frustration for their fans and a genuine oddity.

Hibs, one of two teams in the capital city, aren’t slackers — but too often they have gone close without managing to actually pull in silverware. The stranglehold that the Glasgow clubs have had on the league plays a huge part, but the fact that the team from Leith couldn’t get the job done back in an era when Scottish football wasn’t all about two teams is a tale.

Just after the Second World War, and right through to the late 1950s, "the Hibees" were one of Britain's best sides. Hibernian took part in midweek floodlight friendlies that pitted the best club sides in Britain against each other in the days before the emergence of European football. The same Hibs team also led Britain into European play — the first British club to participate in the European Cup and the first to reach the semifinal stage of the European Cup


But a Scottish Cup has evaded Hibs since 1902. Twenty-six managers have tried and failed to grasp the Cup. Pat Fenlon hopes not to be the 27th.

Fenlon was whisked away from Dublin’s Bohemians last year to take over from the sacked Colin Calderwood. Fenlon was well regarded but he has found it tough sledding at Easter Road.

When he arrived, Hibs had 14 points from 16 matches - under Fenlon it has added another 13 points from 17. That is relegation form and only the quite pitiful Dunfermline buttresses Hibs from the drop with five league games left.

Hibs’ opponent on Saturday in the Scottish Cup semifinal will be Aberdeen, a club that also lives under a very long shadow. The halcyon days of domestic and European success under Sir Alex Ferguson have long gone.

In the 26 years since Fergie headed south to Old Trafford, Aberdeen has won only three trophies; a League Cup win over Rangers and a classic 9-8 penalty-kick win against Celtic, both in 1990, and a Scottish League Cup victory six years later.

Former Scotland national team manager Craig Brown is now the man in charge at Pittodrie and it has not been a soft ride. Up until the New Year, "the Dons" were averaging only a point a game. A run of nine games after the bells of 2012 chimed had Aberdeen fans arguing over whether the glass was half full or half empty. Unbeaten in nine games but seven games finished as draws and four finished scoreless.

While Aberdeen or Hibernian are destined for a Cup Final appearance — and also for a lower-half finish in the Scottish Premier League — the other semifinal set for Sunday has Hibs’ arch-rivals Hearts up against newly-crowned league champion Celtic.

Hearts has a famously stormy owner and a subsequently poor track record of retaining managers. Nine gaffers have passed through Tynecastle since 2005, all running afoul of the mercurial Lithuanian owner "Mad Vlad" Romanov. Compounding matters is the high level of debt carried by the club. On four occasions this season the club has failed to meet the payroll on time.

Of course the problems faced by Hibs, Aberdeen and Hearts have only lessened the odds on Celtic completing its first domestic double since 2007.

After a decisive 6-0 win over Kilmarnock last Saturday sealed the SPL title Celtic is unlikely to be overly concerned about Hearts or either of its prospective opponents in the final.

But then again Kilmarnock was not given much hope in the Scottish League Cup final. They won it, and they are the reason Celtic is not zeroing in on their fourth treble in club history.