Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Better late than never - Leith lauds its conquering heroes

Once every millennium is about right for this kind of affair. As the world and his wife knows, Hibernian last won the Scottish Cup at the beginning of the last century. Yesterday, Edinburgh city centre, and more especially the old port of Leith, came to a halt when unlikely sporting heroes returned home, 114 years later, with the trophy.

Overnight, council workers found themselves obliged to plant “Special Event — No Parking” signs from the Royal Mile to Leith Links to make sure that the victory bus made the journey in good time. As tens of thousands of well-wishers flooded out of bars and tenements on to Leith Walk it took the full 90 minutes to cover a distance that might take 25 at a brisk trot.

Some of the fans had, as the song says, walked 5,000 miles for this moment. Ian Borge, 57, is one of four members of the Hibernian Supporters of Alaska and had a green banner to prove it. “I go to every final Hibs play in,” he said. “That’s two this year.”

Mr Borge, 57, grew up in Leith and moved to Anchorage half a lifetime ago to work for BP. Kenny Radin, 58, his friend, went in the opposite direction and has spent much of his life in Sydney, moving recently to Jakarka with his wife.

Mr Radin was at his mother’s deathbed in 2012 when Hibs played Hearts in the Scottish Cup final. He asked the hospice nurse if he should go to the game. She said: “What would your mother want you to do?” He went to the game. Hibs lost 5-1; his mother died.

Had he no fears on Saturday? “Do you know, I thought we’d do it?” he grinned. “And to be there. Grown men crying. Kids, marriage, whatever — that was one of the best days of my life.”

These two have seen some changes while waiting for their team to triumph. The pub they had chosen, the Mousetrap, they once knew as the Volunteer Arms, the violent “Volly”; another stamping ground was the Victoria, now a Scandinavian Bar. And they’d visit Robbies, now a respectable real ale bar.

We used to say ‘The Volly for a swally,” said Mr Radin, “the Vicky for a quickie and Robbies for a jobby,’” Carnival in Leith.

As anyone ensconced in EH6 knows, this party had started 24 hours earlier. Not everything is lovely around a high-spirited football crowd, drunk on victory and everything else.

Outside Leith Dockers Club, four women argued about who would go back home to look after the kids, while the rest remained to celebrate. A man walked by in a maroon top, his pit bull on a short lead.

By The Marksman, two women in saris smiled at the crowd gathered on the pavement holding glasses, the flotsam occasionally tumbling on to the road.

Further up the street a crowd with scarves and banners gathered around a drummer outside the Hing Sing Chinese supermarket. Within the hour, a police cordon had formed to keep them off the road. By midnight, with the street blocked to traffic, the rules were: “dance” in the middle of the road, sleep propped by a wall at the side.

Next morning, at Picardy Place, Sherlock Holmes was wearing a Hibs scarf and waving a green chequered flag. The statue marks Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s birthplace. The author, who was a goalkeeper and believed in fairy stories, would have felt vindicated by the sight of the trophy which last passed past this way in the year that The Hound of Baskervilles was published.

Banners hung from every other tenement; women dangled the feet over window sills; a man with a green and white flag blasted Sunshine on Leith from his berth above a hairdressers.

When, at last, the victory bus turned into Constitution Street, two young men clinging to the statue of Queen Victoria, raised their arms and shouted: “We are amused!” Or words to that effect.

Mr Sherry, a Sikh shopkeeper, had gone to Saturday's game with his sons and grandsons, three generations of the Singh family. They came out to celebrate again, clad in green and white turbans, and Hibernian tops emblazoned, “Singhs go marching in”.

Mr Sherry, 57, has been to every big final since he was youngster. Witnessing victory at last was a joy, but “ruined a bit” by the crowd invasion, which has sparked a police investigation. He was smiling now though. “I thank my father and my Sikh faith,” he said, “they have made me a proud Hibee.”Proof, if any were needed, that, in Leith football is a religion.