It is well documented that supporting any football club home and away requires a deep emotional connection. Describing the love-hate relationship between a die-hard supporter and a team that consistently disappoints to anyone outwith the football bubble is met by scoffs, questions and rolled eyes. They don’t get it, but their reaction is often justified. If I had a terrible night out at a certain pub or had a horrible meal at a particular restaurant, would I be back? Probably not. Football is different though. The day Hibs were relegated in spectacular style against Hamilton Accies at Easter Road, it felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I dreaded seeing my Jambo pals as they had yet another Hibs related fuck-up to laugh at me about. Why then, after a whole summer of hurt and pain, did I get my first season ticket in a very long time for our first season in the Championship? No idea. I must have Stockholm Syndrome.
The three years Hibs spent in Scotland’s second tier were some of the best days of my life. We were finally treated to a positive brand of football again. Some moments will live with me forever. Jason Cummings’ goals against Rangers, Farid El Alagui wheeling away after finishing Hearts off, witnessing John McGinn’s arse-pirouet for the very first time and watching Franck Dja Djedje climb highest to score a last minute winner against Livingston to name just a few. On a weekly basis, my dad, a family friend and I would explore new parts of the country, visit unfamiliar grounds and watch some of the most exciting Hibs’ teams in recent memory. I will cherish those trips for a long time – even the dreadful ones.
I am a big believer that Hibs needed those years in the Championship. However, they naturally came with countless disappointments, setbacks and glorious failure. It is the Hibs way, after all. Travelling to Cappielow to watch a grim 0-0 draw in the pouring rain, an embarrassing defeat away to lowly Alloa and the many, many hurtful results to Falkirk instantly spring to mind. During our first two seasons I often wondered if we’d ever get back to the top flight. Hearts and Rangers proved too strong, meaning that once again, we were left to pick up the scraps and finish third in the three horse race out of the second tier. Then, deep into our third and final season, I had the inch-perfect seat to watch James Keatings bend in a pearler of a strike against Falkirk to win the game 2-1 in the dying minutes. The win put Hibs ten points clear of the Bairns with a game in hand and put my Hibs related anxiety to rest; for now.
Trophy day presented itself as a happy, party-like atmosphere for both teams involved. Hibs, with the title grabbed a few weeks before, struggled against a dogged St Mirren side, who deserved the point they earned that day to stay up. My dad and I made a day of the trophy presentation and had a plaque put in on the West Stand, cementing ourselves in Easter Road history. I look for it every time I enter the Leith San Siro’s periphery and am grateful every time it catches my gaze.
I loved the Championship days. Ups, downs, lefts and rights provided an excitement I had rarely felt as a Hibs fan. The experience was fresh, new and unknown. I got to see the ‘proper football’ as my dad described, where hardened journeymen plied their trade for a worthy last payday. As a club, I feel as though Hibs gained plenty. The Easter Road faithful bought into the changed backroom, the attacking football and the forward-thinking attitude on and off the pitch. My feelings towards Hibs changed, with positivity oozing through me whenever I thought of the next game. It genuinely felt as though we could give anyone a game. The experiences I had travelling the country to new pastures with my Hibs-daft dad also provided some key memories for my early twenties. When the team lifted the Championship trophy, the words ‘Thank You’ were paraded around the pitch as a gesture to the supporter’s patience and loyalty. I felt as though I should have been thanking them for gifting me the infatuation I had with this squad of players. They gave us so much, including the holy grail; that day in May…