The sight of a half-empty away end at Tynecastle on Sunday was nothing but depressing for anyone who cares about the Edinburgh derby and its status as one of Scotland’s showpiece fixtures.
Hearts fans may have been gloating at the fact the Hibs fans “came dressed as empty seats” again. However, the Capital derby’s allure, like most derbies, stems from the atmosphere created by the fans, as opposed to what actually happens on the field. With that in mind, a well-packed stadium is imperative. When there are thousands of empty seats, the spectacle is diminished for those in attendance or watching on television. Any curious interlopers from down south tuning in to get their first glimpse of the Hearts-Hibs showdown would have been left seriously underwhelmed. ‘What kind of Capital city derby doesn’t sell out?’ would be the sentiment as they reached for the remote.
But the galling thing is, we all know the Edinburgh derby is a big draw. Hibs’ wretched form in recent seasons allied to their dismal derby record was obviously a major factor in their fans turning their back on Sunday’s match. But it doesn’t help that the two Capital clubs seem hellbent on making it as hard as possible for their rivals’ fans to get tickets for the away end – both in terms of the application process and the ridiculous pricing. At the January 2 derby, Hibs, worried about Hearts’ financial situation, took control of ticket sales for Jambos fans and absolutely fleeced them by demanding an extortionate £34, which included a special delivery fee. I wrote back then that this situation could develop into a tit-for-tat, which would ultimately leave both sets of supporters feeling hard done by. And sure enough, in the lead-up to Sunday’s game, Hearts took control of the sale of Hibs’ tickets and whacked on a few extra quid to cover delivery costs, bringing the total cost for Hibees above £30. So, for a Hibs fan to get a ticket to watch their struggling team in a match where the odds were stacked against them, they had to go to the relative hassle of filling out a form and then paying even more money than usual. In the grand scheme, it hardly seems like a major ordeal, especially for the diehards who will walk over hot coals to watch their team no matter how dire things may be. But there’s certainly enough hoops to be jumped through to put off those who might be swithering over whether or not to part with their hard-earned.
Let’s face it, over £30 to watch Hearts or Hibs – or any SPL club for that matter – is utterly scandalous. To bring the folly of this pricing into perspective, the top price for the Scottish Cup semi-finals is £23, while Hearts and St Mirren fans will be able to watch their quarter-final for just £15 tomorrow night.
Hearts fans will slate Hibs supporters for not turning up, but the Jambos have only put up with such exorbitant pricing for away derbies because their team has been doing so well in the fixture of late, and they will feel that wins over Hibs are worth pushing the boat out for. However, like their Hibs counterparts, Hearts fans showed that when the going is not so good, high ticket prices are enough of a deterrent as the away end at Easter Road was barely half-full for at least two derbies in the early part of the Millennium when Hibs first started bumping the prices up.
This is not an issue for the two sets of supporters to score points from. They should unite in demanding that officials at Hearts and Hibs bang their heads together and come up with some kind of solution that gets the price for away tickets back down to a more reasonable level and makes them more easily obtainable.
The Edinburgh derby is highly reliant on supporters. Without their input, it would merely become another bog-standard SPL fixture. The two clubs would be well-advised to remember that.