Our ambition to see a game of fitba was longstanding. For more than fifteen years, my stepbrother and I had spoken of taking in a game north of the border. The Scottish teams always seemed both familiar from Final Score and intriguingly exotic. As results went through, the sides seemed distant, even alien. Cowdenbeath, Queen of the South, Stenhousemuir, Caledonian Thistle, their names are redolent of Northern promise. Results like East Fife 4 Forfar 5 stuck in the memory as sheer poetry.
With the advent of low cost airlines and the arrival of my first child in the spring, the trip became both possible and urgent. Early research with the Watford Mailing List suggested a number of Watford connections, but no firm and definite links. Would we see a big game? Would we seek out the "genuine supporters" of the lower leagues? The weekend before Christmas, Hibs were at home and easy to get to in Edinburgh. The research began in earnest.
Finding out about the club involved several essential stages. The first was surfing the Internet. I read the official club site, the fansite and looked at Soccerbase. The statistics that Hibs had gone more than seventy league games since being involved in a no score draw in a league match and the porous defence of Motherwell, their opponents, were encouraging. "Of course," I struck my forehead: Stephen Glass had gone to the Hibees after Watford. Next in Scotland, I needed to understand the sectarian aspect of Scottish football. Like other clubs' sites, the Hibernian site proclaimed itself vehemently against sectarianism but not from which side of the fence it was anti-sectarian. Fortunately, the club's Irish name and green shirts made it quite obvious. Though we weren't expecting a player to play a flute in front of the home fans a là Gazza, we wanted to be prepared if unfamiliar chants broke out. Lastly, I took up management of Hibs on Football Manager 2004. The signs were good - they flew through the EURO Vase Competition, all bar a handful of players were still there in reality a season later and - best of all - Stephen Glass was Man of the Match in successive games with 9 and 10. Capable, stable and exciting.
The turnstile man looked bemused as he gave us each a bar of chocolate, courteous of the match sponsors. From the very top of the South Stand, we saw the setting sun on the Firth of Forth. The letters FFC (Falkirk?) were plastered on the window of a flat overlooking the ground. The cold was bitter, dry and straight off the Highlands. The pies were Scotch but greasy and filling. Half-time featured a primary school team penalty shoot-out. Obscene shouts - mainly directed at the ref and Hibs' own players - filled the air in Scots accents. The programme referred back to glory days now long gone. As Final Score promised, this was indeed both familiar and exotic.
The football was of Division Two standard. One would like to say good Division Two standard, but no, just Division Two standard. Both sides went at the game at a pace above the level of skill they could sustain. Poor marking let Hibs in from a cross in just the third minute and Fletcher tucked the ball in from a cross. A little over ten minutes later, 'Well equalised against the run of play. It was certainly involving and exciting. Over the next seventy minutes the referee tried to make himself Man of the Match by dishing out ten yellow cards. No player was sent off but Tony Mowbray, the Hibs manager, was sent to the stands as the fourth official relayed his comments about the referee to the referee. Meanwhile, Graeme Smith, the Motherwell keeper was succeeding in making himself Man of the Match with some stunning saves to keep Hibs out. We would have felt a little disappointed for him when he let in the injury time winner but by then we had become Hibees. We celebrated with the locals as the final whistle blew and joined the booing of the ref as he left with a police escort.
Unfortunately, Stephen Glass cut a forlorn figure in the victory. Woefully underused at left-back, he reminded me of myself in the school playground. Despite standing on the touchline in acres of space, no one would play the ball to him. At free kicks, he would wander hopefully around behind the ball, looking for someone to let him have a go once in a while. The difference was that I hadn't charged up the touchline to knock in inch-perfect crosses or scored a belter against Burnley in the Cup from a dead-ball situation for Watford. Marginalised by a young Irish winger called Ivan Sproule, who knocked in a hat trick to win at Rangers earlier in the season, perhaps Glass will be moving on.
So if not Glass' next club, where next? Off to Norway to see Charlie Miller, who appears from their website to be Laird of the Manor at SK Brann? Possibly to see Allan Nielsen playing out his days at Herfølge of Denmark's Superleague? How about Allan Smart at, er, Bury? Maybe not.
Final Score will now be less exotic but more interesting as I listen for the result of "my" Scottish team, Hibernian.