As Hibs prepare to join Hearts in Europa League qualifying tomorrow, it will mark the first time in 24 years that the two Edinburgh clubs have contested European football at the same time.
The 1992/93 campaign was the last one in which Hearts and Hibs were represented simultaneously in continental competition. They both qualified for the UEFA Cup – the Tynecastle side by virtue of finishing second in the Premier Division the previous season, and the Easter Road outfit courtesy of winning the Skol Cup.
Back then, there were no summer starts and qualifying rounds to contend with. All 64 UEFA Cup contestants kicked off in the first round, which began in mid-September. That meant Hearts and Hibs were in the hat alongside the might of Manchester United, Real Madrid, Juventus, Roma, Napoli, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax, PSG and Sporting Lisbon. Hibs were paired with Anderlecht, while Hearts landed Slavia Prague.
Unlike tomorrow, when Hibs host Brondby at the same time as Hearts are tackling Birkirkara in Malta, the two Capital clubs didn’t play on the same night in 1992. Both legs of Hibs’ tie against the star-studded Belgians took place on a Tuesday, while Hearts faced the Czechs a day later on each occasion.
Unfortunately Edinburgh’s two-pronged challenge lasted only one round as Hibs crashed out gallantly on away goals after drawing 3-3 on aggregate with the star-studded Belgians. Hearts marched on, a round further than Man United incidentally, after beating Slavia 4-3 on aggregate before succumbing 2-0 to Standard Liege in the second round.
Evening News columnists Gary Mackay and Michael “Mickey” Weir featured prominently in the aforementioned matches. Mackay, then 28, scored a crucial early opener in the return leg at Tynecastle as Joe Jordan’s side set about overturning a 1-0 deficit from the first leg in Prague. Further goals from Ian Baird and Craig Levein had Hearts’ noses in front but they were pegged back on each occasion before Glynn Snodin, the Yorkshire-born left-back, struck the decisive blow of an exhilarating tie with a brilliant free-kick 11 minutes from the end.
“I didn’t score in many games, so I certainly remember that one,” said Mackay. “They were a decent side who had a young Patrik Berger in their team. Joe Jordan was putting his imprint on the team and Glynn Snodin scored a brilliant free-kick. It was a great night for us. They always are under the floodlights, when you’re playing against fresh opposition, but that one really sticks out for me.”
When Hibs hosted Anderlecht in the first leg, a 26-year-old Weir was sent off with his side trailing 2-1 after Marc Degryse and Peter van Vossen cancelled out Dave Beaumont’s early goal. However, Pat McGinlay equalised with nine minutes left to ensure Alex Miller’s side were able to head to Brussels with hope for the second leg.
“Drawing Anderlecht was a great reward for us after winning the cup the previous season because they were a quality side,” said the former winger. “As soon as the first whistle went, I knew we were in a totally different game to what we were used to. I remember a period in the first leg where we barely touched the ball. Eventually we settled into the game.”
Weir’s red card, for two bookable offences, took the sheen off the occasion for himself. It cost him the chance to play in the return leg in the Belgian capital as Darren Jackson’s strike cancelled out Luc Nilis’ opener. Despite a spirited display, Hibs were unable to find a winner.
“I was a bit naive in getting sent off – it was a stupid tackle, one of those you just can’t get away with in Europe,” he recalls. “The manager wasn’t happy with me afterwards. I was devastated about missing the return leg. I remember saying to the manager I didn’t even want to go to Belgium for the second leg because I was so gutted but eventually I came round and I went to watch the boys.
“We had a really good go at them in both legs but we probably played better in the away leg and had really good chances at the end to win it. We deserved to go through but it just didn’t happen for us. We gave them a real shock.”
That season’s UEFA Cup was won by a Roberto Baggio-inspired Juventus, who defeated Borussia Dortmund 6-1 in a two-legged final. In the hypothetical event that Hearts or Hibs were to have gone the distance in that campaign, they would only have had to negotiate 12 matches. This time round, Hearts, who started in the first qualifying round, would have to contend with 23 matches in the unlikely scenario of winning the tournament in Sweden next May. Even just to get to mid- September, the point at which they started in 1992, the two Capital clubs must first come through three two-legged ties.
“It’s great for both clubs to be in Europe but I sympathise with the players because they don’t really have much of an off-season these days,” said Mackay. “That’s a concern for me because football’s a far more demanding sport now than it was back in my time, yet they’re getting even less time off now.”
Since 1992, this is the 11th season Hearts have been in Europe and the fifth time Hibs have made it. “It doesn’t surprise me that this is the first time in 24 years they’ve been in Europe together because it seems to be the way in Edinburgh that one team peaks and the other one troughs,” said Mackay. “That seems to have been the case over the last two and a half decades, but it’s wonderful for the city that the two clubs are back in Europe after their success last season.”
Weir added: “I didn’t know it was that long since both teams were in Europe at the same time but it’s a great thing for the city that they’re both involved again. Hopefully both will progress.”