IT HAS been an awful long time since Edinburgh has been able to fly the flag of champions, the Scottish capital has long lived in the shadow of Glasgow and even when the “old firm” took a temporary backseat to Aberdeen and Dundee United, Hearts and Hibs couldn’t quite climb the podium. The last time a team from Edinburgh won the Scottish title was in 1960 when Hearts finished top of the pile, although “the Jambos” went painfully close in 1986.
The two clubs are like weather house figurines, one comes out into the limelight, while the other moves into the house, and vice-versa. It’s rare for both to be successful at the same time, although the 1950s were a golden time for the city’s two big names.
When Scottish football went into lockdown, Heart of Midlothian were bottom of the Premiership and naturally, distraught at the prospect of being “relegated” if time is eventually called on an incomplete season. Hibernian, meanwhile, were in a comfortable position, away from danger. The two clubs were due to meet in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup in April.
Since the season was suspended, attempts have been made to expand the Premiership, which would effectively save Hearts from the drop. Hearts owner Ann Budge, was one of the people advocating an enlarged Premier and an overall structure of 14-16-16 in Scottish football. Hibernian did not back the new format, which Budge and others say will remove the need for teams to play each other four times in a single campaign, an element of the Premiership that may negatively affect spectator interest. She also says it is fundamentally wrong that a club should be unfairly penalised as a result of exceptional events.
Not for the first time, Scottish football is split over its future with some people calling for a more rationalised top division of 10 clubs and others wanting a radical reconstruction and a 16-team Premiership. At the root of it all is money, with a new broadcasting deal waiting in the wings. Budge, who was not backed in the bid to expand the top flight, has not ruled out the possibility of taking legal action against the Scottish Professional Football League. The Foundation of Hearts, which helped the club out of administration in 2013, and has since raised £ 10 million in funding, claims the lack of support for a reorganisation has ruined any potential for the progress of the Scottish domestic game.
Hearts have had a dire season, but their wage bill is among the highest in the Premiership. According to the Global Sports Salaries Survey, Hearts paid on average £ 138,000 per player per annum, almost £ 20,000 more than Hibs, but a fraction of Celtic’s £ 896,000 per player. Hearts have clearly not had much value for money from their squad.
Hearts’ turnover in 2018-19 was £ 15.1 million, some £ 5 million more than their neighbours. Both were profitable, Hibs making £ 2 million while Hearts’ profit was £ 1.6 million. Interestingly, the clubs average attendances were more or less the same, running at 17,500-plus in 2018-19. Likewise, their gates have almost matched each other in 2019-10 at around 16,700.
Hibernian are rapidly gaining a reputation for being an innovative club thanks to the influence of owner Ron Gordon. They are already reputed to be the “greenest” in Scotland – and not just their shirts – and have also designed their strip for 2020-21 which includes a thank-you message to the National Health Service. They are looking to make a six-figure donation to the NHS. Hibs are also leveraging social media to good effect.
Hearts and Hibernian are big clubs in Scotland, but living alongside Celtic and Rangers is a huge challenge. The financial structure of the big two means that success is hard to come by. The coronavirus’s impact on Scottish football makes life more difficult, but for Hearts, the outlook is even more uncertain.