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Hibs: The Last Three Years – Part Two

From Part One;

Then it happened.  At 90+2 Liam Henderson drifted in a corner that club captain, David Gray headed into the net.  Hibs were on the brink of history.

A footballing miracle.  Hibs had dumped that 114-year hoodoo. We’d won the Scottish Cup.  At last, at last, at last.

Hibs fans ran onto the pitch.

What an amazing moment it was when the final whistle blew and 114-years of waiting became no more. We were Hibs, we were the Scottish Cup holders 2016.  It was ours.  If anyone expected our fans to stay in their seats they need to re-evaluate the passion that we have for our club.

In England, promotion and cup wins (particularly against difficult opponents) always bring on a surge of fans who are merely on the pitch to celebrate.  They are there looking to thank their favourite player and hopefully get a selfie with them.  They are taking pictures to remember that incredible day.

In Scotland, fans coming onto the pitch seems to consitute a “riot”.  At least, that’s how the media portrayed it and the SFA didn’t say it was anything else.  Perhaps if The Rangers fans remained in their seats (or left the ground) then less would have been made of this.

Hibs fans had to put up with headlines claiming that all of The Rangers players had been assaulted.  Despite evidence to the contrary there has not been one apology to Hibs or Hibs fans for this claim.  The article remains on line. 

The Rangers wanted an apology from us but thankfully they never got it.  Rod Petrie was right when he said we were exuberant and that we entered the pitch with no malice.

Yet, almost a year to the day we broke our hoodoo, Police Scotland and the SFA are treating this as if it was the worst moment ever in football.  It was not.  If The Rangers fans had not entered the pitch it would have been a beautiful moment.  There was no The Rangers players attacked, not one.  Not one person has been charged with attacking a The Rangers player.  Hibs should be given an apology at least.

Anyway, despite the attempts of certain parts of the media and the official organisation, Hibs fans  – and players – were euphoric.  114-years is a long time to wait for a cup but it’s what

Petrie explaining things, namely exuberance and no malice

Hibs had done and now it was over.  No one was taking that away from us.

Leith partied until the early hours of Sunday morning.  Fans waited at Easter Road for a chance to applaud the returning heros.  Then they’d return to pubs and carry on celebrating.  House parties erupted.  This was our moment, we’d taken our chance and we’d done it.

Of course, Leith wasn’t the only area that partied, across the city, the country, the world people celebrated but the home of the club bounced that night.  I woke with bruises I have no idea how I got and I didn’t even stay out that late.  We just celebrated.

Sunday May 22nd.  Another huge day.  The cup would be paraded from the city chambers to Leith Links.  This was something that we’d waited on so long that it was never going to be a quiet event.

Estimates said that over 100,000 Hibees attended the parade and I feel privileged to be a mere one of them.  I was with the bus most of the way.  I loved it.  The players singing our songs.  It was a huge afternoon.  I can write the words I feel about winning the Scottish Cup but, in print, I’ll never be able to fully describe it with the passion it deserves.

However, as much as we loved it there was a harsh reality to face up to.  Stubbs left us and we loved him and would never stop but now we had a challenge to bring in a new manager (or head coach).  This appointment would going to be a big one because the season 2016/17 was always going to be about promotion.

In June 2016 Neil Lennon was unveiled as the new Hibs head coach.  There were mixed reactions to this but one thing couldn’t be denied – Neil Lennon is a winner.  He knows how to win trophies.  His appointment created something of a seethe from certain fans of other teams.

Lennon would bring in Grant Holt in June 2016, Andrew Shinnie on a season long loan from Birmingham City, Brian Graham from Ross County on a free and Israeli goalkeeper, Ofir Marciano in August.  Marciano’s arrival was held up by red tape but finally he was able to begin his season long loan from Ashdod at the end of August.

Injuries would leave us struggling a bit mid-December.  Neil Lennon did what anyone else with connections would do, he used the emergency loan rule.  Social media went into a melt down, fans forums exploded (you know the fans I’m talking about here) and as Kris Commons was secured on a short term emergency loan we would be accused of cheating and a whole host of other things.  However, in his five appeances for us he scored two goals and filled the gap we had perfectly.

Chris Humphrey joined us on 31st December 2016, his Hibernian career would halt in February when a calf injury saw him out for weeks, only just returning to training in the last fornight or so.

Brian McLean signed at the beginning of March on a short contract.

The second social media meltdown happened at the end of February 2017 when Neil used his contacts to secure Efe Ambrose on loan until the end of the season.  Lenny perfectly within his, and our, rights to use the emergency loan rule in this way.  The entire season the goal has been promotion but niggly injuries were leaving us weak at times so Efe and his triple-back flip celebrations were more than welcome.

We played some tiresome football all season but the results were coming in.  Too many draws but the points were building up nicely.  Enough to keep us ticking along.  We had some concerns about Dundee United, Falkirk, Raith Rovers for a while and Morton when they had a surge.  They would all, in their own way, slip.  Raith Rovers right down to second bottom of the league (currently).

Going out of the league cup as early as we did was a disappointment but it gave us a run of just league games which was helpful.  A couple of challenge cup games and we were out of that leaving us with just the league to play for and…the Scottish Cup.

We were still celebrating the 21st of May when we joined the Scottish Cup on 21st January 2017.  Bonnyrigg Rose at Tynecastle, and 8-1 win for us.

Shinnie scoring the third goal at ER helping to put Hearts out the Scottish Cup Feb 2017

The draw was made for the fifth round. Hearts at Tynecastle…again.  Hearts, of course, thought they would win it.  Hearts of course were wrong but we wouldn’t win it either.  The match could hardly get going thanks to a terrible pitch.  Everyone struggled.  This one finished 0-0 and, in a repeat of the year before we would take Hearts back to Easter Road and we’d beat them.  Jason setting the tone with his goal in two minutes.  Holty added on 37 and Shinnie on 67.  Hearts would get one back three minutes later but the work was done, we’d put Hearts out the Scottish Cup AGAIN.  It was bliss.

The support gained an extra boost and the song became “Here we go, two in a row”.  The song had been sung before but it gained momentum.  Sung everywhere we went whether it be home or away, league or cup game – it joined our ever growing songlist.

The feeling of belief was rife.  Easter Road felt charged every home game and the large travelling support did everyone proud, singing their way through matches.  For months it had felt great to be a Hibby and that feeling was getting better and better.

We beat Ayr United in the quarters at Easter Road on the 4th of March.  Something of a relief as we’d only managed a draw at Easter Road with them a mere month before.  We’d set up a semi-final against Aberdeen at Hampden (Easter Road West if you prefer).  Happy days.  Our third Scottish Cup semi in three years.  We’re liking the Scottish Cup these days.

However, business to be done before then.  The league had to be won.  Really done and dusted before the semi final.

We did it by the skin of our teeth the week before the semi, on Saturday 15th of April.  We needed to win and we needed St Mirren to either beat Falkirk or hold them to a draw.  In previous years I would have rolled my eyes, Hibs never get that sort of luck so Falkirk would probably hammer St Mirren.

There was a nervous energy around Easter Road.  We were doing our bit, 3-0 in 48 minutes with QotS not looking like they were coming back but we were focussed on what was happening at the Falkirk stadium.  St Mirren had gone ahead twice and Falkirk had levelled twice. Our final whistle had gone but barely a soul moved in Easter Road.  Don’t get a late winner!

Then it came through, final result 2-2 at Falkirk.  HOORAY! We’d done it, we won the league, we won the league!  Sunshine on Leith! We’re going back up to where Hibs belong.

There not really much to say about the semi.  We lost.  It was a fantastic cup run full of great times and two in a row would have been fabulous but it wasn’t to happen.  We’d achieved our season goal and got automatic promotion.  Job done.

To go back to what I was saying on Part One, it’s strange feeling I’ve got because we’ve had three cracking years really.  We’ve rebuilt, we’re strong again.  This is a Hibs I enjoy watching.  A lot has changed, attitudes being one thing, but just overall we’ve spent three years in the Championship focussing on everything that was wrong and making it right.  We’re not perfect but we’re ready for the new challenge next season.  It feels like, as much as Leeann, Stubbsy and Lenny (and everyone else behind the scenes) have helped rebuild the club, that the fans have contributed just as much to bringing this club back to the Premiership.  The outstanding support, the increase in ST sales, the travelling support, all there boosting the team and showing that if you give us something, Hibs, we will give you a whole lot back.

Saturday 6th of May 2017 we’ll run out at Easter Road for our last game in the Championship.  We’ll hoist the Championship cup high and we’ll celebrate – again – the achievements of the last three seasons.

We’re back where we belong.  Next season is going to be a biggie.  Fixtures due out Friday 23rd June.

GGTTH

Can’t forget We Are Hibs by Graeme Hunter

 

 

Cup romance must wait, Hibs need to woo the League

‘Here we go, two in a row’.  It’s got a nice ring about it.  The cup romance is still with us.  We’re still in love with the whole experience.  Having failed to win it in 114-years we now face the fairytale of winning it for the second time.  Oh what a time to be alive.

I don’t like bringing this up but I’m sure every Hibby remembers Sunday the 25th May 2014.  We remember all right.  After an absolute shambles Hibs were relegated from the SPL to the Scottish Championship.  I remember the feeling of being absolutely lost.  I remember the tears running down my cheeks, the scarves flying from above me onto the pitch.  The boos.  I saw other people crying, children and adults.  Old timers too. Continue reading

Second fifth round Derby defeat puts Hibs in charge of the City

I’d been buzzing all week for this derby.  Whatever I’ve been doing it’s been there in my mind, somewhere in my mind there was a rendition of Hibs, Hibs or Here We Go, Two in a Row going on.  I was also singing Hibs, Hibs but using other words like “Clips, Clips” and when at home in my freezer “Chips, Chips”. Continue reading

Ploughing the Tynecastle field, Hibs, Hibs woah oh oh oh oh oh

Another cup run, another fifth round meeting with Hearts at Tynecastle, another draw, another replay at Easter Road.  Another seethe from Hearts fans who can only come at us with “celebrating a draw”.

Watching on TV Sunday it was clear that Hibs fans were backing our team.  The best I have heard in a while.  The whole away end singing and backing the team.  That’s the difference.  That’s what we do.  It’s hardly “celebrating a draw” to support your team to the 90th minute. Continue reading

Anyone know what’s happened to Hibs?

I wrote a blog on Saturday evening when I was still really angry at Hibernian and, reading back over it, I’m glad I didn’t publish it.  It was just a full on rant that would have done no good at all.

Still I’m left wondering what the heck has happened to Hibs in the past few weeks? We were The Unbeatables, seeing off competition left, right and centre whether they be from the Championship or the Premiership.  Aberdeen came to visit us in the League Cup, they were in great form mixing it up at the top of the Premiership but we sent them packing 2-0 and out of the cup.  This was the Hibs we wanted.  Not afraid, tough, in tune with each other and just looking downright fabulous.

biff_o

Dealing with Premiership teams

It continued, Dundee United BIFF, St Johnstone BASH.  Then the Scottish Cup.  Hearts at Tynecastle.  Two-nil down.  Ten minutes to go.  All over surely? Nope.  Thanks to Jason Cummings and Paul Hanlon we were still in it and taking Hearts back to Easter Road where we would beat them 1-0 BAM.  The season was lining up perfectly. How could it all go wrong?

Sunday 21st February.  One-thirty kick off at Easter Road and a nice 3-0 win over Alloa (yes Alloa).  Perfect.  Home for Sunday roast.  Three days later, under the floodlights, after the final whistle sitting in disbelief.  What had just gone on? Greenock Morton had just clobbered us 3-0 in our own home.

The mixed bag opened up.  Inverness punted out the Scottish Cup over two legs, defeat by Ross County in the League Cup Final, league losses.  Nothing going right.  Then the straw that finally broke this camel’s back, Alloa beating us 1-0 (added to Falkirks win).

I’ll admit to being a positive fan, trying to see the good in everything but I’m still left shaking my head.  What the hell has happened? Four points out of the last twenty-one available.  FOUR! That’s almost unthinkable considering the unbeaten run we went on.

searching for answers

Searching for answers

Everyone is searching for answers.  No one is finding any. This would be a case that would break Mulder and Scully.   Though, when you look back on it, yes we were winning games but not by great margins.  In the form we were in we should have been tucking away teams in the championship with ease.  Would it have been wrong to ask for us to be putting Alloa away five or six nil? I don’t think so.  The fact is, as good as we have played in all these matches, we were not scoring enough goals.  Not for the want of trying, it just wasn’t happening.

Our lone striker really is Jason Cummings.  Dress it up any other way you want but he is.  We’ve got Stokes in there, trying to impress Ronny (but isn’t).  El Alagui who has struggled to return to fitness after a tough injury and who was missing from the squad on Saturday after limping off in the first half against Livingston.  This is a pity because I feel he could shine for us.  We’ve got Martin Boyle who struggles to get a start, the same with Dagnall and Keatings.  Why?

Why doesn’t Niklas Gunnarsson get a start? He came on at Tynecastle when we were two nil down and, for me, he woke the team up again.  He changed it.  Not afraid to power forward, he’s tall, he has speed and strength and he knows what he needs to do.  Yet week after week he sits on the bench barely managing to get on the pitch and when he does the clock is at nintey minutes.

I’m not second-guessing the team selection, I’m not in the dressing room before a match but I do, as a supporter, wonder.  I’m not calling for the head of Alan Stubbs because he doesn’t deserve that.  He is still the best thing to happen in the coaching side of the club for a long time and he has changed a losing, negative mentality that hung around at the club for a long time, into a winning, positive mentality.  We needed that at Easter Road and at East Mains.  Do I think we’ve lost it again? No.  I think most people in the camp are baffled at the moment but they’re still positive.

It has been suggested that the team have been on such fine form for so long they have simply ran out of steam.  They’ve played a lot of football, no one can deny that.  Not so long ago we were in three competitions and playing lots of matches.  Yet we had a fortnight’s break recently and that didn’t revive us.

All I can do as a supporter is keep my trust in the team and the coaches and everyone else involved.  We’re not out of the chance of promotion, we’re just looking like we’re going to have to do it the hard way.  I just hope this is a seriously small dip in form and we’ll rise again to finish the job.  What this season has taught me is that anything is possible and to keep backing the team that gives me pride and pain in almost equal measures.

Season ticket

Renewed. Despite being fizzing.

The season ticket is renewed and I have to admit, I’d follow Hibs if they dropped down leagues as well.  They are my team, I follow them.  I just want them to be the best though.  To give the supporters reason to cheer.  They’ve been doing it all season, let’s not end it now.

As for supporters, there’s a Catch 22 situation going on.  The club want people to come back in their numbers and people would if there was reason to.  Hibernian do well, supporters will return but in the club’s mind, Hibernian will do well if the supporters return.  There’s two sides and I can’t argue with either.  The club wants people to return but people want more.  For the game against Falirk on Tuesday supporters purchasing tickets will pay £22 to watch the team that got beat by a relegated Alloa on Saturday against the team above them in the league.  It’s at this time of a season, bad or good, any club should drop its prices and get the fans in but that’s another blog altogether.

 

Derby defeat but Hibs should feel no shame

Derby day in Edinburgh.  Traditionally not our favourite day.  Some dread it, some live for it.  All of us go into it with that same hope.  We will win.  I will say that about us, regardless of the actual records in Win, Losses and Draws, we still go in believing we can win.  Now, I say “we” as in the fans because I think around the dressing room there is still a nervousness that needs quashed.  Of course, a derby win would help but that’s not forthcoming at the moment so on we wait.

Hibernian starting eleven were: Oxley, Gray, Stevenson, Craig, Forster, Nelson, Harris, Robertson, El Alagui, Handling, Stanton.

Substitutes: Perntreou, Heffernan, Tudur Jones, Booth, Cummings, Allan, Kennedy

Danny Handling back in after suspension, Heff back on the bench, Nelson getting a start in place of injured Paul Hanlon.

First off I should point out that I watched this game on TV today and not live.  I did listen to bits on the radio but was at work so I watched the game when I got home.  Knowing the result I actually thought this might beneficial to me and I assumed that I would skip forward through most of the second half at least.  Well, that didn’t happen.  The only bits I skipped through were the pundits at the start, during half time and right at the end.

Hibs were never going to run out at Tynecastle full of confidence and nerve-free and hopefully no one would expect them to.  Our recent derby history isn’t good.  The hope today was that this would change and as the first half settled in it looked like Hibs certainly weren’t going to be bossed by Hearts and they weren’t.  That’s one positive at least.  Hibs took it to Hearts…and for a while Hearts couldn’t handle it.

Goal wise neither team had many chances but it would be Hibs that got the ultimate chance to take the lead.  Willie Collum pointed to the spot on 31 minutes after Hearts débutante goalie, Jack Hamilton, upended Danny Handling, and up stepped club captain, Liam Craig.  Anyone would have said Liam Craig would have slotted home the penalty for that is his norm.  A goal for Hibs here would lift them but unfortunately Craig’s effort went wide and what should have been a dead cert lead for Hibs became an enormous let off for Hearts.

Liam Craig’s head went into his hands but the heads of the team didn’t go down.  Not as they would have in seasons gone by.   Hearts looked slightly brighter and seven minutes later they had a chance from Sam Nicholson but Mark Oxley dealt with it and kept Hibs safe.

The first half played out and finished 0-0.  Both teams sharing possession fairly equally. From a Hibernian point of view, very disappointing not to have gone in 0-1.  What do you do though? The penalty was missed.  Hibs would have to put that out their minds and come out into the second half fighting if we wanted to take anything from the match.

The second half was scrappy with both teams struggling to gain anything.  Possession was again, almost fairly split.  Hearts keeper Hamilton dealt with a timid shot from Forster and then Ozturk had a free kick for Hearts but couldn’t get it past the Hibernian wall.

However, Hearts gained the lead on 76 with a goal from Sam Nicholson.  It blazed past Oxley 1-0 Hearts.  Still, no heads down but frustration crept in and moments later Scott Robertson found himself walking to the tunnel on a second bookable offence after he brought down Prince Buaben in the box.  Fairly soft penalty but it was given and Buaben slotted it past Oxley.  2-0.

Not a great time to be a Hibs fan.  Stubbs subbed Stanton at 79 brining on Kennedy and then replaced Handling with Allan at 85.  Too little to late though.  I’m with many other fans in thinking that subs should have been made earlier.  Stanton hadn’t been playing well for most of the match.  It was obvious he should have come off earlier but Stubbs is the manager and he made the decisions as he saw fit.

Hearts were themselves reduced to 10 when Osman Sow elbowed Michael Nelson in the face and Collum brought out the red.

However, the match wasn’t over at 2-0 and Hibs gave some consolation by getting one back through Farid El Alagui in stoppage.  A nifty move which included flicking the ball over the top of Hearts captain, Danny Wilson, before slotting it past Hamilton.  Perhaps too little to late but showing that despite the scoreline and despite the fact that the game was in its dying moments, Hibs weren’t giving up.  That is a massive change for Hibs.

The verdict on this from myself is…neither team were particularly dominant.  Possession was shared and play was scrappy from both sides.  Hibs didn’t bow down to Hearts and it’s a bitter disappointment that Liam Craig missed the chance to put  us ahead.  However, I don’t imagine for a minute he feels anything other despair and disappointment and he will be genuinely gutted.  That miss will have played on his mind the whole game, especially as it would have put us in the lead and who knows where the game would have went.  That’s speculation though.

Stanton was disappointing today and I feel Stubbs should have brought him off much earlier than he did.  It was good to see Hibs toughen it up a bit today, let’s face it, you have to play a tough game against Hearts and Jamie Walker might wonder what he did to Liam Craig and Lewis Stevenson in the final moments as he was put down on the ground and then faced up to Lewis Stevenson which resulted in a light head butt from Walker to Stevenson.  The technical term, I believe, is handbags and it truly was.  With referee and linesman in close attendance, Walker might have found himself on the end of a yellow card but it probably wasn’t worth it in the end.  Hibs were frustrated to be on the end of yet another derby defeat and Hearts nerves were jangling after losing Sow and a Hibs goal.  Yes, late in the game but still, a lead to be defended.

Stevenson though, a player I have backed for season after season.  He works hard, usually quietly and gets frustrated when his hard work falls to nothing.  I’m pleased to see him still in the team, hopefully a regular in the starting eleven and I certainly think he’ll work hard for Alan Stubbs.

Two games into the season, one win, one loss.  Not a brilliant game today, of which Hearts could say the same but they won and we didn’t and that hurts.  Derbies will always be scrappy though, goals will always come when you don’t expect it and that dead cert goal will usually not happen.

Hibs are under a lot of pressure at the moment.  There’s a negativity to be shaken off from last season and seasons before.  It was starting to shift but the derby defeat has brought some of it back.  Why? I’m not sure.  If you look under the scrappy game then Hibs were, again, playing as a team.  The passing wasn’t slick, the style of play wasn’t slick.  It never will be playing our arch rivals though.  Games against Hearts are always going to be gritty.  As they should be.

I’m pleased to get the first derby out done and dusted so early in the season.  Feeling in the dressing room when you’re up against your city rivals is different from when facing someone else and this would have given Stubbs the chance to see the difference in Hibs when facing Hearts as to when they face other teams.  Hearts have the upper hand on us in derbies and therefore the confidence going into them.  Let’s hope Stubbsy can change that.

On another note, I read an article pre-derby that confirms a lot of what I suspect many Hibees already knew.  The shambles that Alan Stubbs was taking over.  Rather than try to put it in my own words I’ll post a some quotes and a link to the article at the end.

From the article:

Stubbs, though, is willing to be seriously unequivocal in one assessment – where the Leith club are compared to his arrival seven weeks ago. He offers up a judgment that can only be considered a denunciation of the six-month Terry Butcher reign, and perhaps also of the earlier Pat Fenlon era.

“From day one to today, it’s a million per cent better. From when I came in to where we are now is an unbelievable change, it really is. People don’t realise what we’ve had to change over the last eight weeks, in such a short space of time. I’m not sitting here blowing smoke up my own backside but the club – Leeann [Dempster, chief executive], George [Craig] general manager, myself, the players, the staff in here – have done an incredible amount to try and get us to where we are.

“When I came in we had 14 players, we had five young players who had been offered a contract and were then suddenly told they didn’t have that contract.

“We had no physio, no fitness coach, no sports science involved. I had no assistant, no first-team coach, there was a scout/goalkeeping coach [Steve Marsella] – I don’t know how that works but that was what was in place. So that was just some of the things we had to change.”

Most fans suspected that scouting wasn’t happening correctly.  Stubbs had this to say:

…”We can’t be scouting players on the back of a Wikipeida page and one individual’s opinion. We need to have background checks, we need to know the player’s medical history.

“We need to see them at least six to eight times and there was none of that in place, none of it whatsoever. At times it was as if it was done off the cuff.”…

Many fans still believe Petrie is the one in control.  Stubbs was asked and this was the response:

Asked if he spoke to Petrie regularly, a defensive Stubbs’ initially questioned the “relevance” of such an enquiry. When it was explained the question was put because in his pre-Dempster days as chief executive Petrie was very much hands-on and in daily contact with his managers, Stubbs relaxed and gave an answer that ought to assuage some fans’ fears.

“I say hello to him and we have passed each other in the corridor and stuff like that,” he said.

“I speak to Leeann now, she is my point of contact. I speak to her whenever we are looking at the day-to-day running of the club. If it’s a football matter I’ll speak with Leeann and George. But, yes, I see Rod, but the decisions I make will be with Leeann and George.”

In re-engaging with the fans:

“We’ve tried to engage with the fans massively compared to what has happened over the last few seasons. We know there’s been a breakdown in communications between the club, the community, the players and the supporters, and that needs to be resurrected and built again.

“We’re not soft. Leeann and George are doing a great job in trying to put the wrongs right but unfortunately it’s not going to happen in a week. It may take a couple of months, but the season is over nine months, not one week, and that’s what we’ll be gauging ourselves on.”

Prior to that he also says that the fans are going to be a big part of this season and therefore he is right, the club is right in having to re-engage with the support.  It is happening though.  There is more contact with supporters.  Supporters are finding that the club is more supportive of them in using facilities.  You can read the full article here.

The only thing I would say is that the club have to give more back.  I’m a season ticket holder.  Give me a free ticket for a friend every fourth home game or something like that.  I’ll get a friend along.  If the seat is going to be empty anyway, what’s wrong with it being given to someone for free, who might come back as a paying supporter the next time, potentially a season ticket holder in seasons to come.

Change for the good will only come if we back it.  If we support Stubbs and his new crew.  The change can’t happen in a game or in two games, it takes time.  The progress made in a short time is telling of what Stubbs, Dempster and others are putting into making it happen.

As noted in previous blogs, we still need a signing or two.  Up front and in the back.  There is still time.

For me, there has been more positivity than negativity of late.

Meanwhile, focus is now on Saturday 23rd August.  Bring on The Bairns!

GGTTH