New layer to Hearts and Hibs rivalry expected to increase interest in capital foes
Six figures, split down the middle of the Edinburgh divide, were in attendance on Tuesday morning at the launch of a new trophy which they all hope will add further fuel to their burgeoning rivalry.
Interest in the Hearts-Hibs derby in the women’s game took a significant jump last season. The clubs decided to each host a SWPL 1 league game at their home grounds. A domestic Scottish record attendance of 5,512 took in the match at Easter Road, while over 3,500 watched the return fixture at Tynecastle – Hibs running out 3-0 and 3-1 winners, respectively.
Now the mission is to grow things even further, hence the creation of the Capital Cup. The piece of silverware will be fought over in each and every derby match in the league, much the same way the Calcutta Cup works in rugby union between Scotland and England. While Spartans, a top-flight side who have beaten Hearts this campaign and drawn with Hibs, may find themselves on the outside looking in, the reasons are simple: to capitalise on the historic Hearts-Hibs rivalry in men’s football and get more punters interested in the women’s game. With the backing of Edinburgh fund manager Baillie Gifford, fans will continue to be able to attend each game for free.
"It's exciting and probably been built on the success of last season and the two fixtures,” said Hibs boss Dean Gibson. “Then Baillie Gifford getting involved allows it to grow again. It's an exciting thing for both clubs, for both sets of players and hopefully it can capture the fans' imagination, like it did last year.
“We saw it last year when we broke a domestic record which still stands now. It was a huge crowd that night, even Champions League attendances in Scotland haven't beat that figure since then. Can we double it? Let's hope. But if not lets at least beat it again. Adding in the cup just adds that little bit of excitement.
"We had two of the three games at the main stadiums and the third at the Tony Macaroni last season. I think the one at the Tony Macaroni had a different feel to it. We were very comfortable in that game. But the ones at Tynecastle and Easter Road felt like derbies. The butterflies started early in the day and because they were midweek games so the tension going into the games was quite high. I feel they're going to be more difficult this year because there isn't much between the squads.”
In fact, Hearts currently sit above their rivals in the league table with each club having played two of the ‘big three’ in their six games thus far. With a very young squad to pick from, the aim for first-year manager Eva Olid last campaign was about remaining competitive and her team staying off the bottom of the table. Following the switch to semi-professionalism, they’ve added a number of signings in the summer and performances are already noticeably improved.
"We are growing quickly. First with the support of the club in the women's team and now some outside support. It's all important,” said the Spaniard.
“I'm so happy. The club is supporting me a lot. I presented a project and they have supported me. That's the best thing as a coach you can have. I am so lucky.
“It's not a bad start, of course. But we have to keep our feet on the ground and keep working every week. Every week is a different story.”
Speaking of different stories, news of the Capital Cup’s creation arrived on the same day it was announced Sky Sports would be televising five SWPL 1 games a season as part of their contract extension with the SPFL. The women’s game has already been showcased on the BBC, and will continue to be, but with as much respect to the publicly-funded broadcaster, Sky Sports is renowned in the UK as the home of football and has been for three decades.
"It's grown massively. It's completely different to when I was playing ladies football when I was 16 years old,” said Hibs full-back Shannon Leishman. “There's lot of investment in the game. It allows you to bring better players into the league and that's obviously a very good thing.
“I think everyone's dream is to play on Sky Sports and on these big occasions. Of course I'm looking forward to it.”
“It’s massive for women's football,” added Hearts co-captain Georgia Hunter. “The progression is moving quick and it's exactly what women's football deserves.”
Making up the other two players in attendance were Eilidh Adams and Gwen Davies, two footballers with very different relationships to the Edinburgh derby. Adams was the scourge of Hearts last term, scoring in all three of the derby victories enjoyed by Gibson’s side.
"Scoring is always important to me as a striker but as long as the team is scoring it doesn't actually matter if it's me or anyone else in the team,” said the young forward. “Although I would love to score in each derby again, as long as we win as a team that's all that matters.”
"It's been really good since coming to Hearts,” said Davies, a summer signing from Bristol City. “It's been really different than what I'm used to, but it's good different. I'm still settling in at the moment but I am really enjoying it.
"Moving away was difficult but it was a no-brainer when the offer was there and I saw what the club was about in terms of ambition.”
The first Capital Cup contest will take place at Easter Road on Sunday, November 27. With no men’s top-flight football to attend due to the World Cup there’s real hope for another record crowd.