HEARTS V HIBS: THE ONCE IN A CENTURY EXPERIENCE

Manchester City winning their first league title in 44 years probably leaves Liverpool, Spurs and the national team now battling it out for the biggest hoodoo in English football. North of Hadrian's Wall, however, we have a hex which dwarfs even the desperation to put a second star above the three lions. In fact, Hibernian's failure to win the Scottish Cup since 1902 probably overshadows the Chicago Cubs' infamous record in baseball's World Series.

The truth, however, is that the Hibs jinx is a lovely distraction from the real hoodoo in Scotish football - that no-one can break Rangers and Celtic's legendary stranglehold on our national sport. It's nice for everyone to pretend that the only joke round these parts is why Scotland's fourth or fifth-largest club hasn't won our best cup competition since the Victorian era. Ask any Caledonian who they'd want to lift the cup after their own team and the answer would be Hibs.

The only objections would come from that support which has shouted loudest and longest about the Edinburgh side's wait for a third win in the nation's showpiece game: Neutrals are loving the fact that, for the first time in 116 years, Hibs face Heart of Midlothian in this Saturday's final. For those of us watching on TV it adds a volcanic aesthetic to what would be a seismic event in itself.   

The Capital City derby is regarded in Scotland as one-sided. Hearts won each of this season's three SPL meetings by 2 clear goals. Yet while the boys in maroon do hold sway in the historic head-to-head, Hibs victories tend to be spectacularly memorable. Their 7-0 win at Tynecastle in 1973 and their 6-2 home win in October 2000 is why Hibees feel a season of fighting relegation can end with the win of their lives. 

Hearts again finished the league campaign in the European places and won the Scottish Cup as recently as 2006, thrashing Hibs 4-0 in the semis. Of course, this only serves to further convince Jambos that Hibs will end their 110-year wait this weekend.  

For the game as a whole, however, the first all-Edinburgh Cup final since 1896 couldn't come at a more apposite time. As Scottish football contemplates a future with a reduced Rangers, the most glamorous possible example of non-Old Firm life arrives in their Hampden heartland.

Outside Glasgow, only Aberdeen can match Hearts and Hibs' support. It's therefore somewhat disgraceful that Hearts haven't been national champions since 1960, with Hibs now going the full sixty years. For the first time since Motherwell and Dundee United met in the 1991 final, Hampden will be full yet evenly split between two sets of fans experiencing something truly unique.

It's 22 years since neither Old Firm side won either domestic cup competition. So Kilmarnock lifting their first ever League Cup this season gives much needed hope just as the Glasgow duopoly equals its record of league domination. When the 2012 SPL title was secured by Celtic it meant there hadn't been a non-Old Firm champion of Scotland since Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen in 1985. Twenty seven straight years of the Old Firm sharing the top league trophy.

As a youth in the 80s, watching Aberdeen and Dundee United splitting the decade's Premier Division titles with Rangers and Celtic, I'd look through the stats in my Evening Times Wee Red Book and note just two names stretching between Third Lanark in 1904 and Motherwell in 1932. So I'm feeling my age and Scotland's domestic game seems to have gone back in time.

The unhealthy hot housing of our rivalry means even Old Firm fans are desperate to see a third and fourth force emerge to dilute the rancour. The only hope for the "provincial" sides is that the spread of honours is cyclical. Hibs won three of their four league titles in a 5 year period after the Second World War. By 1965 Hearts had secured their third and fourth, Kilmarnock and Dundee their only league flags to date.

Nothing other than a miraculously bank-rolled Rangers, absolved of their current sanctions, can stop Celtic winning next year's SPL. But a challenge is slowly emerging, and it's coming from overseas. All of Scotland's domestic trophies will be split between three non-Scottish managers this season for the first time ever (three different Irishmen if Pat Fenlon's Hibs can overcome Portugal's Paulo Sergio on Saturday). 

Rangers exited both cup competitions before entering administration and champions Celtic were unable to claim a treble which just a few years ago would have seemed a certainty the moment Rangers hit the skids. We may be a long way from adding to seasons 1951/52 and 1894/95 - the only years the Old Firm won neither the league nor a cup between them - but Scottish football shows nascent signs of dishing out the gongs more widely.

Hibs were the first British team to play in the European Cup. At that time, in the 50s, with their green Arsenal strip, their Famous Five forward line and a ground holding over 60,000, they embellished the glamour inate to naming your club after a foreign name for a foreign country. 

The smart, redeveloped Easter Road has a raking East Stand on what was once a gargantuan east terrace and helps Hibernian retain, for me anyway, that intriguing sense of otherness which the modern ubiquitousness of Celtic - who famously stole Hibs' players and culture back in 1888 - makes impossible.
  
Similairly, there will be Union Jacks and images of Her Majesty being flaunted in the Hearts end at Hampden this Saturday. But while the Tynecastle punters often mimic the Unionist bent more prominently on show at Ibrox, Hearts are a damn sight harder to dislike for most.

Yes, Celtic manager Neil Lennon was attacked at Tynecastle last season, just as Rangers players have been attacked on the pitch at Easter Road, but the biliousness between Edinburgh's big two is greatly reduced. It's not even a "Diet Old Firm". A less staunch adherence to the tired old religious demographic is one reason; the fact their derby rarely has a direct baring on the destination of major trophies is another (some of us from the west are also convinced that having sauce on their chips instead of vinegar directly reduces the machismo of Edinburghers).

Like Hibs, Hearts have a beautiful strip and the maroon confines of Edinburgh's Gorgie Road make Tynecastle one of the best away days in Britain. For years The Hearts Song , with it's famous "H.E.A! R.T.S! If you cannae spell it then here's what it says ..." was the best anthem in Scottish football. But along came the Proclaimers, and the massed Hibernian ranks performing the pop duo's Sunshine on Leith is now the foremost tear-jerker north of the border.

Gerry Marsden's met his match. The Old Firm perhaps not quite yet. But if familiarity with Glasgow's behemoths has bred contempt, everyone with Scottish football in their bones will this weekend truly relish a once-every-second-century experience.

You can follow Alex on Twitter @FatEck

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