Joel Sked: Midweek derby dates simply highlight appeal of Hearts-Hibs

Hibs' Dylan McGeouch holds off Hearts' Steven Naismith in the last meeting between the sides. Picture: SNS/Paul Devlin
Hibs' Dylan McGeouch holds off Hearts' Steven Naismith in the last meeting between the sides. Picture: SNS/Paul Devlin
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For fans of Hearts and Hibs, Halloween night is very much a case of trick rather than treat this year. The teams are scheduled to meet each other on 31 October in what is the first derby match of the season.

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The SPFL rolled out the fixtures for the 2018/2019 campaign on Friday morning, and both sets of fans were aghast at the sight of another midweek derby clash.

This year’s Halloween falls on a Wednesday, which will prompt the expected cliches that surround such games on this date. Yet, there is no question there will be thrills and spills, screams and no shortage of non-PG footage on the pitch and in the dug-out as the teams look to land a weighty blow as the first round of fixtures comes to a conclusion, plus the bragging rights which come with it.

Fixture release date is one to get excited about. Your team hasn’t played in a few weeks and the withdrawal is starting to sink in as you pine for team to be in action. This year is no different, albeit slightly tempered by the World Cup. For the capital’s top-flight clubs one fixture is looked for more than any others: the first derby of the season. If fans of both sides were feeling slightly underwhelmed on seeing the aforementioned Halloween date, rolling their eyes and querying ‘not again!’ they had every right to do so.

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For the fifth league derby running the clubs will lock horns on a weekday. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Wednesday, Wednesday. Not quite happy days.

It is a peculiar situation. Although it should be noted that the Friday fixture was scheduled for a weekend but moved for television purposes, something which fans were more than happy with. It was an unusual occasion, the first Friday meeting since New Year’s Day 1971 when the teams played out a goal-less draw at Tynecastle in Division 1.

The SPFL works in conjunction with GotSoccer, a US-based company, who use optimisation software to produce a set of fixtures based on the information provided by the organisations. They also work with the France’s Ligue 1, the Poland Ekstraklasa and MLS.

Speaking to the organisation’s official website, Iain Blair, SPFL company secretary and director of operations, said: “I have been doing this job for almost 20 years now and if I’ve learned one thing it’s that there is no such thing as a perfect fixture list! Clubs and fans understandably focus only on their own schedule but our aim is to produce the best and most balanced set of fixtures we can.”

More than anything, it simply has to be put down as ‘one of those things’, which is given greater credence with the fact that the two other scheduled league derbies are set to take place at the weekend.

What should be more concerning for fans of both clubs is the lack of Saturday derby fixtures. When the teams meet on 31 October it will take it to just one Edinburgh derby in 27 played on a Saturday, excluding the 2012 Scottish Cup final which was, of course, at a neutral venue.

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Since Kevin Kyle headed the winner in a 1-0 league win for Hearts on New Year’s Day 2011, the only Saturday fixture at Easter Road or Tynecastle Park was in the Championship, a 1-1 draw in Gorgie on 3 January 2015.

Sixteen games have been played on a Sunday, the Halloween fixture will take it to four times on a Wednesday, twice each on Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus once on a Monday and Friday.

The reason is very simple: television.

The Edinburgh derby is a popular fixture for the broadcasters, and understandably so. It is a premier match in Scotland and will draw a big viewership, both in Scotland and abroad. Yet, complaints from fans who want to go to football on a Saturday, especially when it is a derby, are genuine.

The fixtures have Hearts and Hibs scheduled to meet on Saturday twice. Fans, however, should take that with a large pinch of salt. Recent history shows that they can start making other plans on the Saturdays of 29 January and 6 April.

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