Hibernian

Hibernian

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Tom Hall

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In the bad times, it is the good memories that sustain you. And Easter Road has been smothered in a fug of despondency too often of late. So, I cling to the good times. I remember a couple of cup wins and the outpouring of joy that went with them, both at Hampden and back in Leith.

There’s been the odd satisfying win in Glasgow. There was that Sunday evening when Mixu, Franck and Russell seemed to rule Edinburgh as Hibs wiped the floor with Hearts in a 6-2 demolition that was the coming together of everything Alex McLeish’s team had promised.

That night comes close to topping my list. As we left the stadium, we ran into Lawrie Reilly. The smile on his face was all the confirmation anybody would need that, even through the dark times, this was a football club that could still thrill.

But it is a night of European drama, of ultimately futile heroics, that stands out as my favourite Hibs memory.

The UEFA Cup in 2001. Hibs were drawn to play AEK Athens. The away leg was hastily rescheduled following the events of September 11.

The postponed game was something of a let-down. AEK ran out 2-0 winners without too much fuss. Hibs looked like interlopers against a team that obviously fancied themselves as European aristocrats.

Did we believe that the return leg offered any hope? Perhaps we did. Easter Road, then three quarters of the way through its redevelopment, was packed that night.

The ground was rocking. The players seemed to draw strength from the fans. Suddenly a wave pre-match optimism turned into an orgy of belief. Anything became possible.

Hibs exploded out from the kick-off. AEK looked rattled, their contingent of travelling supporters looked shocked.

Sauzee orchestrated from the back, Ulisses De La Cruz looked the record signing he was, Craig Brewster led intelligently from the front.

In the 53rd minute Paco Luna, a briefly shining star in the Leith firmament, pulled a goal back. An injury forced Sauzee off but still Hibs drove on. 81 minutes gone and Luna pulled us level. The impossible was suddenly possible.

In the 90th minute, Luna had another chance. A header that would have won Hibs the game and put the seal on of our great European comeback. He glanced his attempt wide.

Extra-time beckoned. One last push from the players. And, before that, one last push from the fans. The rendition of Sunshine on Leith that night was electric. It seemed to swirl and reverberate round the whole ground.

Hibs had been through a relegation and bounced back. Now we were watching a side that didn’t know when it was beaten, thrilling to the collection of stars that McLeish had turned into the pride of Leith.

Some say the song has a hymn-like quality. There was certainly something almost religious about the emotion of the singing that night, as the words seemed to echo off Arthur’s Seat and from the depths of the Forth. It seemed to confirm something about the club, the fans, the bonds that hold us all together.

Sadly the dream didn’t last. With the absence of Sauzee’s calming influence, Hibs were caught by two AEK goals in extra time.

A stunning Zitelli effort gave us a deserved victory on the night but it was the Greeks who advanced with a 4-3 aggregate victory.

A night of bravery and no little skill. With a dash of the glorious Scottish failure thrown in. More than that, though, this was a night when the communal joy of following a football team displayed itself at its rawest, its most spine-tingling.

It’s the promise of nights such as these - of shaking your head in awed disbelief at what you are hearing and seeing, of sharing all this with your mates - that makes suffering the bad times just about worth it.

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