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The London Hearts Annual General Meeting was held at Wilton's, Jermyn St, London SW on the 102nd anniversary of Hibernian FC's last (and by last I do mean LAST) Scottish Cup victory. The following is an inaccurate and highly-stylised version of what came out of discussions . . .
This season could never quite be as good for London Hearts as was 2002/3, which started for us in a small field near a camping site in southern Finland watching Martin Schopps, Henrik Eggerts and Austin McCann bring a cold feeling to the pit of our stomachs but finished happily ever after watching Mark de Vries, Jean-Louis Valois and Phil Stamp at Tynecastle in May and qualify for the UEFA Cup; and in between the small matter of three games against Hibernian which will live in legend long after we're deid. So the whole Hearts shebang this season, what with higher expectations, an unsettled team and the future uncertain, hasn't been quite so uplifting and this is always reflected in the level of interest and participation of supporters' clubs generally.
For sure, the London Hearts presence at matches hasn't fallen away - from the pre-season tour of Northern Ireland onwards, including Full Dress Rehearsal Parade Day in Belfast - and since we have a head's start when it comes to visits to mainland Europe there were several who made the journeys to say hallo to the Bosnians and the Bordelais.
Memories of Sarajevo will live with us all; to be in the place which has such an intimate connection with the Heart of Midlothian, so wonderfully documented in McCrae's Battalions, and see a reminder of the horrors that until recently have still plagued the region gave things a proper perspective.
However, sport is one thing that can ease the hurt and occasionally even solve problems, and the welcome given Hearts fans by Sarajevo and Zeljenicar was warm and memorable. Even more memorable was the exclusive interview granted by Craig Levein to London Hearts (put it this way, he couldn't get away from us) at 4.30 am in the bar of the Holiday Inn where the Head Coach made his position crystal clear: pity about Jeremy Paxman, mind.
Herbertson: Craig, I was wondering if you thought that shomehow in the wave playing izn vresh sup the park whilesover arrazarafzzza munsh tyen bluwwerzzum?
Levein: Er - I'm really sorry - but I didn't quite understand your question.
Bordeaux proved an even finer triumph, and not just for the 1-0 victory. Having taken up residence in the well-named 'Cap Horn' bar (can't work out why people want to go to a fake Irish pub in France when the real thing's so much better) featuring a bottle-nosed shark and staff with a terrific sense of humour, we managed to invent a version of 'Edinburgh is Wonderful' without offending anyone (apart from anyone who's been to see 'Lord of the Dance' a hundred times, that is) while middle-aged media execs were seen playing that well-known street game of "French Girl French Girl Give Us A Wave" to any old bint in a Renault, and the last we saw of him was on a billboard advertising some rejuvenation pill made from monkey glands. This is what London Hearts is all about. So next season, whoever, whatever, make sure you're on the boat to wherever Hearts are drawn.
If you cared to read last year's end-of-term report, the current London Hearts philosophy and situation is outlined there. As a supporters' club we don't hold formal meetings in London - a gathering in a pub once a month is quite enough - but we Follow The Hearts, and real meetings are convened on trains, planes, and sometimes Edinburgh corporation buses (which are maroon). Our finest hour on the way to a game this season was probably the historical re-enactment of a mis-en-scene of events in Tallinn some six years ago (six! sigh.) when after celebrating Stranraer's victory over Hibs one member of our party failed to notice the difference between vintage and non-vintage Bollinger. This time round the taste test was done in the First Class carriage of a GNER train with ample provisions from Fortnums Food Hall. The comparative results weren't ever published and we can't remember what they were. But it was all very good. The evening was rounded off nicely by a youngish couple who put the emphasis on the word couple as they disappeared into the cubicle having first asked if any of us had an unused condom to spare. Bizarrely, one of our number was able to oblige, but he felt a bit insulted when they inspected the 'Best Before' Date.
The absence of Scottish football on the telly this season (only Glasgow football, which is only shown in those few places which admit people wearing only soiled clothing) has meant that last year's diary ("Come and Watch Hearts Horse the Hibs at the Rob Roy! Hibbies welcome!") has been a lot emptier. Six of us put our lives (and our morals) on the line by going to the London Rangers fortress, the Cock Tavern (or the Hun-Dread Club as we called it) appropriately situated next to Smithfield meat market to watch Hearts pummel the Rangers defence for 30 minutes, although pummelling referee Stuart Dougal would have been a better idea altogether. You have never heard Hun so quiet as five minutes into the game when de Vries was rugby tackled as he bore in on goal, nor so noisy when they scored later on. Relief was certainly the only thing that washed over Rangers fans that day. And to think that some people wondered if the trip to Bosnia might be dangerous.
So suitable venues haven't been at a premium; we tried moving to the Scotia Bar nearish to London Bridge but it's not been ideal; and as more and more members keep quitting London to move closer to Gorgie (seems reasonable to me, and explains the increase in London Hibs membership) the backbone of London Hearts is now in Edinburgh. (One or two other parts of the anatomy are still in London.) So without any live football in London to share and enjoy (given that we're not going to enjoy being in the same place as Glaswegians), any member who wants to be part of the London Hearts experience is recommended to get themselves to a match and meet before or after in the variety of drinking venues we patronise - trains especially. Whilst the concept of a social secretary is anathema to us - if events have to be 'organised' then they're not really events, are they? - the pool team continues to use sticks to knock balls down holes without worrying too much about their colour. We are planning on a convivial summer meeting of chips'n'beer in central London (invitations to follows shortly) when we can vote upon various resolutions ("Item #7: Another Beer: those in favour please press your maroon button") and comment on Hibs', er, progress on the yellow brick road of the Intertoto cup. (Presumably that will come under "any other incompetent business").
Another point made in last year's report was that, compared to ten years ago, the world is a far less collective place, and when once a number of people with a banner could unite and be seen to make a difference, individuals are today just as powerful. Members have made private and direct contributions to Save Our Hearts, which has far more impact than sending an officially-headed letter expressing the collective opinion of a hundred people. Ten years ago a Supporters' Club would be the only medium to disseminate information and co-ordinate a response (although debating about contributing from Club Funds would have taken all day and all night), but nowadays everyone has access to the same information now through all kinds of media and (thankfully) gone are the good old days when the Secretary had to photocopy a million sheets for members and involve ourselves in the laborious process of meetings, resolutions, votes. The website is one framework for that information and we have informally canvassed members but beyond that as an organisation we can have little more impact. It's up to each and every Hearts fan to keep Hearts in Gorgie. The good news, of course, is that we have easy access to the Chairman of Hearts as he works in London. The bad news is that he's not going to have any good news.
It's also easier and cheaper to travel independently to and from Edinburgh rather than as a group, though members are alerted to various others' travel plans should they wish to coincide somewhere near the buffet at 0847 passing through Biggleswade. The internet has also removed the necessity for face-to-face meetings, as so many thoughts, opinions (and abuse) about so many subjects are now exchanged between members via e-mail. So the message to all Hearts supporters in the South of England is - be part of it, get in touch, tell us what you're doing, tell us what you think, tell us what plane you're catching, tell us which pub you're going to be in. We don't just meet once a month. Since meetings are no longer necessarily formal monthly events, if any member finds themselves in Central London of an evening and wants to talk Hearts to Hearts people, we're always here - as Oscar Wilde says, occasionally lying in the gutter, but always looking at the stars.
The website remains central to the identity of the London Hearts Supporters' Club throughout the land. It continues to build its archive of every event concerning the Heart of Midlothian (and St Andrews FC - were we actually founded in 1873? Stay tuned!) and the addition of actual footage from various games is something of a pip. (Keep your eye on the Dunfermline fan in the white behind their goal in the 7-1 win!) It does include one or two defeats of historical note, but without context there is no truth and the truth is that Hearts can rely on the facts, every one of them, good and bad. There is no light without darkness - though recently Hibs fans would have been forgiven for wondering what light is. (However, there may soon be a shortage of sunglasses in EH6 after the removal of the large round object which kept blocking out the sunshine on Leith.)
It's not just the website where London Hearts members have made their mark: Gary Cowen's 'Memorabilia' section decorates the official programme - although the moral if not legal position about not paying for advertising is moot - but the prospect of Colin Goldie's 'Sectariana' page is still a bit hazy. But hopefully LondonHearts.com will continue to entertain as well as inform. As promised at its outset, the five-year half-life of the London Hearts opinion-gatherer, the Chief Grouser, came to its end - if only some journalists had the good sense to bow out when they know there's nothing more to say! In its place there may be some laughs to come, but whether or not we get round to any of the ideas dreamed up in the Golden Rule after games (and occasionally in the centre stand during one or two, to be honest) is another matter. Usually we can't remember half of them. A celebration of Hibs' latest season accompanied by the Muppet Show music is still in the planning stage, though Scott Brown as Animal suggests itself all too obviously - and we presume that Stadler and Waldorf are what the Stand-up-and-be-Counted campaign will look like in a few years' time.