How returning Hibs fans revelled in win and made Santa Coloma panto villains they deserved to be
What a difference a crowd makes.
Hibs supporters were back inside Easter Road for the first time since March 2020 for a competitive match – and boy, did they enjoy it.
Thursday’s 3-0 win over FC Santa Coloma in the Europa Conference League was far more pleasurable for the majority of a capacity crowd 506 days ago when they watched Hearts defeat Hibs 3-1. And while it is worth mentioning that 1800 fans watched a 2-1 win over Arsenal earlier this month, a friendly victory counts for little – even against an English Premier League team.
“A very good evening and welcome back,” boomed compere Barry Wilkins as 4697 supporters made the noise of double that. Both the West and East Stand were well-populated, excited people young and old clad in green and white.
There is a buzz in a stadium that can’t be replicated without fans. That crackle of electricity just before kick-off, that transforms into an energy bolt when the teams emerge. We have missed it so much. It was quite an emotional moment when Paul Hanlon led Hibs out to their adoring support.
Ten minutes in, a blurt from the tannoy interrupted proceedings, reminding those present that they must wear face masks. Much like at the Euros, not many complied when seated, but when moving around the stadium, the majority had their coverings on.
Then came the goal. Martin Boyle will have enjoyed celebrating in front of fans, drilling home his penalty after some calamitous goalkeeping by Miguel Angel Ramos. The celebrations in the stand were vociferous but not raucous – certainly no over-exuberance breaking social distancing rules.
It did get a little more heated as the half-hour approached when Joe Newell was sent off for a block tackle on Robert Ramos Isus. The home crowd clearly felt Vilhjalmur Thorarinsson’s was incorrect – and they were right, it was a bizarre decision – with an outpouring of anger followed by systematic booing of Santa Coloma’s No.2 thereafter.
Boyle’s second goal on 47 minutes was greeted with a tinge of relief considering the Andorrans were making a slight nuisance of themselves.
Thorarinsson had been widely heckled – and more so when he only dished out a yellow card to Juanma Miranda when red would have been acceptable.
Eventually, Santa Coloma’s comeuppance came on 66 minutes. Hamza Rhayi couldn’t live with Boyle’s pace and fouled him when clear on goal. Chants of cheerio as he sloped off the pitch followed. Fans have not forgotten the old favourites.
The waving was ratcheted up a notch when Santa Coloma had their second player sent off in Ramos Isus. Hibbies basked in the glory of their Pyrenean visitors unravelling spectacularly.
One Hibs fan, from his seat within Easter Road, tweeted: “Can’t believe I’ve been rattled by a team wearing a training top. God I’ve missed football.” Baying for blood, the crowd craved a third goal. It came, via Kevin Nisbet, and the audience rose. Emotions had been stirred.
Behind closed doors, this would not have been as dramatic, with Santa Coloma unlikely to be recognised as the pantomime villains they so clearly were.
At full time, Sunshine on Leith was played. It was a fitting airing. Let’s hope this is just the beginning of fans’ return. Football needs them.