Last Saturday's football scores depressed the hell out of me. Nope, not Celtic 3 Hearts 0. No, up on the tv screen came Hibs 2 Stranraer 0. It seems half a lifetime ago that three other London Jambos and I sat in a bar in Tallinn, Estonia, unable to believe what we were seeing on Teletext: Hibs 0 Stranraer 2. I know they gone one back close to the end - that made it even better. What a hand Fate was dealing us. Life was indeed The Sweetest Plum.
At the end of September JJ spoke at the Shareholders' Meeting. He answered questions concerning Robbie Winters and the need to find a permanent right-back. ("After last week's wonderful display, do you think you've finally found a position for Thomas Flogel?" Pause. "Thomas Flogel," he replied, "is a very talented player.") That was about as serious as things got. At least he said "Gary Locke is never a full-back," which was heartening, though no-one asked him if he was a midfielder. "If he'd been fit, would you have picked him in the final?" I bottled out of asking.
And since then? Well, from a distance it's been so baffling, so impossible to fathom what has been happening. It's gone from dodgy to bad to worse to worse than that and now - what? Every thing that has gone wrong has prompted someone else to go wrong. Aside from Colin Cameron - and I'll come to that - there have been injuries to all our best players at bad times: McPherson, Adam, Naysmith, Salvatore, McCann, McKinnon. Weir's mind was transferred from Hearts last summer, Ritchie lost form alongside him and Fulton hasn't kicked a ball properly since September. The Word On The Street was that his brother's near-death-from-drugs shook him badly and I believe that. When he banged in a twenty-five yarder against Aberdeen in August he wasn't looking too worried about life. The defeat by Mallorca (a poor performance and Rousset The Pousset's flappage in the box gifted them a goal) was swiftly followed by gutless display at home to Dundee. Nil-nil at half-time, an early goal lost in the second half, game finishes 0-2 - heard that anywhere recently? © HMFC 1998-99.
There was the occasional decent display - Kilmarnock which we won, Dundee Utd which we didn't - but the news that Jefferies was tempted by the Aberdeen job made one stop and think. (More to the point, why didn't he go?) The arrival of Juanjo and Guerin - two players of undoubted quality - helped the believers keep the faith in JJ. McSwegan, however, smelled of second-best, a consolation prize for not bagging Winters, and the abominable display in the League Cup against St Johnstone plummetted us to as low as we could get. The immediate reaction was to play Celtic off the park in the 2-1 victory, where Guerin seemed to have moved into the Cameron role and work with Adam, allowing McCann and Hamilton to do their stuff. (Fulton, by the way, had a poor game.) Having thought we'd witnessed the turning point, it was with some disbelief I've watched Hearts play so badly. We have become a Benefit for Dundee.
The Cup game against Motherwell was so poor that 'Well wanted revenge at Tynecastle the following week for only getting three past us. What the hell was Jefferies thinking of, playing three at the back at Fir Park? The first thing he did when he joined Hearts was to play four at the back. No wonder we lost the second goal claiming for offside. The complete shapelessness which has characterised this Hearts side for months doesn't look like resolving. Losing McCann was a huge blow defensively, for he did a lot of work down the left, holding the ball, rarely mispassing it. The midfield doesn't defend so we lose goals. The midfield doesn't attack so we don't score goals.
All our success last season was down to a brilliantly-balanced midfield, and as soon as we lost Cameron I thought we might be in trouble. I hear people say that one player doesn't make a team but last year we played with not many more than twelve regulars, and to take a central cog like Colin Cameron away puts everyone's nose out of joint. Without Cameron, Fulton has no-one to play towards; he had so many options when he passed the ball last year, and at least three of those were Cameron. Cameron's presence might have got Fulton through his troubles earlier this season: without him, Fulton has been a lost soul. And as we bought replacements for the injured players, they themselves got injured. Is there a nail sticking out of our physio's couch? And the sight of Derek Lilley and Leigh Jenkinson - blimey.
Poor old Pressley has been left in limbo all season simply to accommodate Weir. Put in the center of a back four and played there regularly he'll get better. Not brilliant - just better. Whether or not McSwegan will get better if we play him more is a moot point: he lacks confidence in himself, and with that sort of ability so do I. Shouting at him won't do him any good, though it makes me feel better. But he's what we've got, and we'd better start going along with it. Mentally of course, we're ALL suffering from a 36-year hangover and this season is one enormous belch of indifference. We were all talking about the Brave New World in the summer: but when it didn't happen, were we surprised? More to the point, how much did we care? We've won the Cup, and that's what we were waiting for. Sometimes it's harder to do more than the limits of your ambition. I've spent the last thirty years wondering if I'd die before Hearts won a Silver Pot. So forgive me if I'm a little confused by the new territory we find ourselves in. Welcome to the Red Planet. Perhaps the God of Football decreed we just had too good a time last May. June. July. August.
So let's hear it one more time, 'cause it might be the last.
Hibernian 1, Stranraer 2.
I thank you.
© Chief Grouser 1999