#Rangers v #Hibernian - From the Maracana to mediocrity

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It's an oft-forgotten claim to infamy, but Edinburgh's Hibernian was the role model for Glasgow's Celtic. That's a lot of baggage to be carrying around but let's not dwell on sectarianism in Scottish football. We have the Scottish sporting media to do that, and no-one does history revision on the subject better than they do, so I'll begin with an admission: I used to have a quiet admiration for Hibs.

In 1953, Hibs played at the Maracana Stadium in Brazil in a tournament billed as a World Club Championship. They didn't win it but being asked to participate was a huge honour. This was the status of the club's mid-20th century reputation, and yet it seems unimaginable today. Sixty years on, in 2013, Hibs endured a 9-0 aggregate thrashing by Malmo of Sweden - the biggest margin of defeat experienced by a Scottish club in European competition history, taking over from Rangers' 12-4 humiliation at the hands of West Germany's Eintracht Frankfurt. Like the story of Scottish football itself, Hibs' journey in the last half-century has been a painful downhill procession.

Between these two extremes, Hibs reached the semi-finals of the European Cup; they took on and defeated Barcelona, they trounced Napoli 5-0 after being 4-1 down from the first leg (Colin Stein scored in both games) and even managed to shock Real Madrid 2-0 in a 1964 Easter Road friendly. Of course, the Hibs of more recent times has been ordinary at best and abysmal far too often, but this is a club that once made a name for itself with a scintillating and admirable brand of football. While it's true that Hibs hasn't won the Scottish Cup since Methuselah was a teenager, being asked to participate as Scottish League Champions in the prestigious setting of Brazil is a reminder that this was once a highly respected football club, even beyond our shores.

In an era when Scottish football was more competitive, more aesthetically pleasing and far more internationally credible, the Edinburgh club should be applauded for contributing towards putting our country on the world football map. Hibs, like Rangers, has lost its way now, but they had genuine ambition once and played the game the way purists like to see it being played. When we watched the recent World Cup in Brazil, not many would have realised that a Scottish club had already graced the famous Maracana Stadium - by invitation. There used to be a touch of class about Hibs.

In better times, that famous Hibernian shirt, green with white sleeves, gave the team an elegant sartorial look that was consistent with its fluid, composed and expansive style. Rivals, Hearts, had a tendency to be more physical, while Hibs had a suaveness and lightweight sophistication that hinted at a more refined football education. It was as if Hearts had been schooled at the local comprehensive whereas Hibs resembled a team tutored in the ways of a haughty private school - of which there are many in Auld Reekie.

It's fair to say that Rangers against Hibs has always been one of the top fixtures in Scottish football, but if anyone had suggested a few years ago that the clubs would soon be squaring up to each other in a division other than the top one, the prospect would have been dismissed as quickly as the money that haemorrhages from Rangers' bank account.

It used to be an attractive meeting, too. Hibs' desire to play adventurous football would be countered by Rangers teams that blended skill, guile and endeavour. For the fans, it was a game that had edge and it was typically fiercely contested. Those Edinburgh fans in green and white were reputed to be Celtic fans without the bus fare to Parkhead, so when Rangers met Hibs, more often than not, it was a contest to savour - on the pitch, in the stands and in the pub afterwards.

Sadly, the passage of time has diminished both clubs. Rangers' problems are deep-rooted and complex while the on-field collapse of Hibs was sudden and largely unexpected. Both clubs have unresolved issues and frustrated fans, and it is surely undeniable that Scottish football cannot afford to have clubs of this calibre missing from the top tier.

Hibs have started the season poorly and have a fight on their hands if they want to clinch promotion. Rangers are competing hard because they cannot afford to be absent from the main stage for another year, however, the modern tradition at Ibrox is one of dogged determination and plain fare. Silky football is a rarity unless David Templeton is in the mood. He has the ability and the flair to upset defenders and excite fans, but of course he may not even be in the starting eleven. At Rangers, the physical trumps the technical.

Kris Boyd has struggled to score in the league this season but he still believes he is the best finisher in Scottish football, and he's not wrong. Between Boyd, Templeton and Kenny Miller, Rangers has some quality, but uninspiring management over several years has seen the club, quite rightly, being associated with dull football and spectator boredom.

If Hibs show belief and score the first goal, Rangers will be roused and more inclined to support the front players, but if the deadlock isn't broken until late on, the game could be an endurance test for the growing number of fans whose thirst for a beer sometimes overtakes their hunger for a Rangers goal.

The star quality that these clubs used to enjoy has long gone and this weekend's game will be a mere shadow of how it used to be, but while this reflects badly on both Rangers and Hibs, it also gives an insight into the sad and sorry state of Scottish football. Fans have been angered by the boardroom shenanigans at Ibrox and Easter Road, but top level incompetence is not uncommon in Scottish football - see the SFA for details.

Rangers are firm favourites to collect all three points and it will be a pleasant surprise if they are delivered in an attractive package. My mole at Ibrox has been kind enough to supply me with team news directly from the home dressing room. Barring injury, the Rangers team will be:

Big Lee, and ten others.

 

Please feel free to comment below or on the forum thread for Hildy's match preview here - Rangers v Hibernian: From the Maracana to mediocrity