Exploring foreign cities, lounging on a beach, drinking cocktails for breakfast, tasting exotic foods, discovering new adventures, it all sustains by giving pleasure and meaning to my ongoing existence upon this flaming hellscape of a planet.
Yet the ease of travel has been taken away by the ongoing global pandemic. It’s certainly possible, but luck has twice conspired to cancel paid trips away and I’m not sure I have heart to be let down a third time. I’m sure many of you reading this will be in the same boat.
Hope is all we can cling to; that things will get better, stay better and allow us to book travel tickets without fear of disappointment. And what better way to dream around such future fantasies than multiple European trips away to see your team in action? Football, fans and cheap continental lager – there’s nothing better.
This is the dream for Hearts and Hibs supporters alike in 2022. If the Omicron variant can calm itself down to a riot, and there’s no new one ready to take over that’s more contagious or deadly, then we should be allowed to leave this island care-free and venture to the continent when July and August rolls around.
Hearts to sign new forward with Stephen Kingsley set to return
Predicted Hibs starting XI for Livingston clash - with post-derby decisions to make for Hibs boss
Hearts' European opponents confirmed as former Tynecastle winger prepares to return
Predicted Hearts XI for visit of Dundee United - with huge clash against Zurich in manager's mind
Zurich v Hearts live on TV as Europa League play-off tie is beamed back to Scotland
But the real aspiration is for these fixtures to extend into the autumn and even winter months. Because, unless this season’s Champions League is won by a team that don’t qualify for next season’s tournament via their domestic league (looking at you, EPL), then there is a spot open for a Scottish team to gain access directly into the play-off round of the Europa League. Even if this club is unsuccessful in their attempt to qualify for Europe’s secondary competition, they will then fall into the group stages of the Europa Conference League.
At present, this dangling carrot will ultimately belong to whomever wins the Scottish Cup. Seeing as the competition has only been won by a non-Old Firm team seven times since the year 2000 (and three of those came during Rangers’ Banter Years), and those two will very likely finish first and second this campaign, we can make a fairly strong assumption that third place will get the prize.
Can you imagine? You don’t have to sweat over making a trip to Armenia or Malta or Kazakhstan in case it’s the only European awayday that year. You can pick and choose from four (FOUR!) avenues available.
At present, this scenario should have Hearts fans salivating. The Tynecastle side currently hold a five-point lead in third place over Motherwell going into the winter break. Hibs, however, should not be counted out, not by a long shot. They’ve suffered through an extended dreadful run this campaign, one which moved them to dispense of their previous manager, yet they still only sit seven points off. That’s not much of a gap to make up in the grand scheme of things, especially as there are likely to be three derbies left to play, two of which are at Easter Road.
With new manager Shaun Maloney already making an instant impact on the team, and marquee summer signing Chris Mueller ready to make his bow in January, they have more than about them to challenge Hearts till the end.
Even putting fan ambition to one side, it’s a tremendous opportunity for both of halves of the Edinburgh divide to help themselves grow as clubs. There will be at least a couple of million in prize money up for grabs, not to mention the increased exposure, home sell-outs and persuading valued assets to stay longer.
Far-flung foreign football trips in 2022 may not be limited just to those of a domestic kind. Scotland are just two games away from qualifying for the World Cup, which will take place in Qatar at the end of the year. It may not be the most desirable of locations, especially if you’re anything other than a straight male, but contentious host countries are always on their best behaviour when it comes to international sporting events. Besides, Qatari weather will look a lot more appealing when you take a look at what’s outside the window in mid-November.
Even if a trip away to that corner of the Middle East isn’t worthwhile, it would still be terrific to stay in our home city, venture out to our favourite watering holes and experience the sense of community we all felt during our doomed Euro 2020 campaign.
It’s also a huge year for local-league sides Bonnyrigg Rose, Tranent Juniors, Penicuik Athletic and Linlithgow Rose. The latter three are in the process of squaring off in the East of Scotland title fight with the victor given a play-off chance of reaching the Lowland League.
This is where Bonnyrigg Rose currently reside. They have a ten-point gap over Rangers B in second (who can’t be promoted) and are 11 points ahead of The Spartans with a game in hand. If they stay the course they’ll face off against the winners of the Highland League (currently Fraserburgh) for a chance to meet Team 42 (probably Cowdenbeath) for a place in next season’s SPFL.
It may not be Spain, Italy or Croatia, but having seen mostly the same opponents for several years it would be terrific for Rose fans to get the chance to travel to the likes of Annan Athletic, Elgin City and Forfar Athletic next term.
There’s more than enough to feel hopeful and optimistic for in 2022. Let’s just hope we can get out and experience it all.