Hibs raring to go on European adventure after year stuck at home
What better present to give back to your loyal support, the ones who snapped up over 10,000 season-tickets for a campaign in which they weren’t allowed to attend a single game and then did so again the following year with no guarantee something similar wouldn’t occur, than a lengthy European adventure?
With the pandemic seemingly coming to an end (fingers crossed) as vaccine numbers grow and countries begin to open up again, the opportunity is there for Hibs to give those fans who came to the club’s rescue in their hour of need the ability to travel across the continent watching their side in action.
No supporters will be allowed to travel to Santa Coloma for the second-leg of their opening match in the new Europa Conference League qualifying rounds, but with other nations now making it known that fully vaccinated tourists will be welcome, that should change further down the line if the Easter Road club can make this venture onto the mainland a long one.
And that sense of anticipation is certainly shared by those within the club’s dressing room.
“I think the players are excited by it. I know I am. It’s my first time in Europe and it will be for a few of the boys as well,” said manager Jack Ross. “Even the preparation: knowing who we were playing and planning the logistics of it. It’s new, it’s different, but it’s good.
“It runs in parallel with us wanting to be successful domestically. We used [the pandemic] a lot as a driver last year for the people who had to watch from home. Now the dynamics are slightly changing and we’re getting people back into stadiums, and I saw how important it was to have fans inside the stadium last Tuesday [against Arsenal at Easter Road]. If that's what we got from 2,000, then if it’s just under 10,000 as we hope it’ll be then it’ll make a massive difference to the game. It makes a huge difference to the intensity.
“You want the fans, having waited so long to get back into grounds, to have good experiences. European nights have always been special for Hibs, and we want to live up to that as well.”
The Edinburgh club have three rounds to navigate to get to the group stages, which would give them 12 European ties in total even if they don’t advance any further. Thursday’s Andorran visitors to Easter Road shouldn’t present too much of an obstacle as those they’ll meet further up the road, but that doesn’t mean Ross is leaving any stone unturned.
"It’s a big game for us on Thursday, it’s not a gentle ease into the season. It’s always tricky going in as your first competitive game,” the head coach stressed.
"I watched their first leg game. I’ll watch their second leg game as well. As always, we’re respectful in our preparation of the opposition, but we also want to impose our own game as well.
"We’ve worked hard this pre-season, we’ve had to change our shape because we’ve only really had Kevin Nisbet fit up front, so we’ve changed from what we did most of last term. But I think we’ve been effective with it and it’ll just be a case of fine-tuning that before Thursday as well.”