Cristiano Ronaldo, my mum, and Chris Hogg
Chris Hogg, erstwhile Hibernian captain, has just joined Inverness Caledonian Thistle. After five or six years at Easter Rd, including a league cup win, his last year has been disappointing, littered with mistakes, and increasingly fewer appearances, and sections of the crowd have turned against him. In the end, it’s probably a good move for both parties.
However, despite his recent playing form, I have to admit I am sad to see him go. As club captain he was a superb ambassador for Hibernian – my football team. Nothing was too much trouble for him off the pitch, supporters and charity events, acts of personal kindness, and dedication to a professional sportsman’s lifestyle. Not for him the ‘nightclub brawl’ headlines, the missed training sessions, or the embarrassing behaviour of an increasing number of footballers, who seem quite ignorant of the privilege they enjoy – being paid to play sport and being entrusted with the dreams of the supporters. He did his job to the best of his ability and never did anything off the field to embarrass Hibernian. (His detractors would claim it was different at times ON the field, but that’s a separate issue!)
In saying farewell to ‘Hoggy’, I am minded of two incidents from the past:
A couple of years ago, Manchester United held a formal event to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster. Many connected with the club – in the fifties and since, were present, as well as members of the current squad. I am not particularly in thrall of the present Manchester United, but anyone who has a part of their soul invested in what we still attempt to call ‘the beautiful game’, can’t help respect the Busby Babes and mourn the tragic loss of life and talent that occurred on that slushy Munich runway.
Except, apparently, Cristiano Ronaldo.
A friend who attended the event reported that Wayne Rooney, of all people, was in the middle of delivering a poignant and moving reflection on his antecedents in the red shirts, when the silence was broken by a loud noise from the back of the room. Rooney hesitated and all heads turned to see Ronaldo banging on the glass doors, gesticulating at his watch and telling Rooney to get a move on. Even when approached by security and door staff, he continued to wave his hands and bang on the window while his team mate struggled to complete his tribute. As the crowd left the hotel, they were still shaking their heads at such crass behaviour.
Which takes us to another hotel, a wee bit further north. In the early 90’s, my mother and three friends were staying at the Peebles Hydro. All of them were in their mid seventies and were looking for a change of scene and a bit of peace on a midweek break. When they returned, my mother was keen to tell me about her stay.
“You’ll never guess who were staying at the hotel with us,” she said.
“The Hibs team!’
My mother watched football all her life, latterly on television. Brought up an Evertonian in Liverpool, when she came to Edinburgh in 1949 to marry my dad, she entered a family that were Hibs daft; my uncle had played for them in the 20s and my dad loved the team to bits. Luckily, my mother’s arrival coincided with the Famous Five in their pomp, and the first of three championships. Indeed, in the decade she spent in Edinburgh before my father’s death prompted a return down south, she probably lived through the best Hibs side ever; she didn’t go to Easter Rd, but, as women did in those days, she supported the team through her menfolk. Confined to bed when pregnant with me, she was cheered by my father’s habit of leaving the window open, so she could hear the roar from Easter Rd as each goal went in! Our flat being in Piershill near the ground, the crowds being huge, and the HIbs forward line being lethal, she was quite often rewarded by the sound that cheers.
Even when we were living in England, Gordon Smith and Hibs were regular topics; I suppose she nurtured my support for the team, and when I returned home to University, watching the Hibs every week, she couldn’t have been happier.
So I understood her joy at sharing the Hydro with the Hibs. It was when Alex Miller was in charge and the team would have been staying there prior to either the final or semi final of the League Cup which they won that year. Mum was fulsome in her praise:
“What a lovely bunch of boys! So well mannered and friendly. Chatted away to us, no rowdy behaviour. The Manager came and talked to us, said if any of the players disturbed us we should tell him immediately. We told him they were behaving perfectly and we were proud to be Hibs supporters”.
When she told me that I welled up, and, at the time I wasn’t sure why, but, over the years since, I’ve come to understand it.
My mother didn’t wear a scarf or stand on the terraces; I don’t think she’d been to a football match since watching Dixie Dean when she was a teenager in the 1930s, but those she loved were Hibs mad. The team had wound its way through her life and brought pleasure to those she cared about. Because it was important to them, it had become important to her. It was something she held on to from happy family times before she was widowed; it was something she was proud of in me.
The Hibs players in Alex MIller’s squad could have had no idea of the impact they would have on the four old girls in the corner; they couldn’t have known that a foul mouthed exhibition of boorishness would have taken some of the sheen off something that was precious in an old lady’s life and memories. That their behaviour was a credit to the club was a tribute to them and the coaching staff, but it meant a whole lot more as well.
Football occupies a ridiculously large role in our sentiments; it affects us and those we love in the most unpredictable ways; it touches something special in our psyche. That may be ridiculous, but for a lot of Scots it is true.
That is why I will forever have a soft spot for the players who made up that squad – quite apart from their cup winning exploits; it’s why I’ll always have a good word for Alex MIller – who obviously valued appropriate behaviour amongst his players; and it’s why, rightly or wrongly, if I ever had to choose between Cristiano Ronaldo and Chris Hogg to play for Hibs, it would be the Englishman who would be my choice every time.
Thanks for the memories, Hoggy; thanks for being such a great ambassador for Hibernian FC; and thanks above all for showing respect for the club, its support, and their dreams.