How the tears flowed, oh how they flowed. Grown men, battle hardened by years of close things, what ifs and maybes, clinging to each other and unashamedly weeping.
They were, of course, tears of joy, the day no-one ever thought they’d see, the day Hibs finally lifted the Scottish Cup and ended their 114-year curse, hoodoo, jinx – call it whatever you like.
But amid those misty-eyed fans there were no doubt a good few tears for “the angles high above”, those Hibs fans who lived and breathed for their club but passed away with their one great dream unfulfilled, a number of them denied that moment by only a few days or weeks.
Down through the generations there have been those who’d seen the Famous Five win their three league championships, a first venture into European football, Turnbull’s Tornadoes, the League Cup wins of 1972, 1991 and 2007 and watched Hibs go close, oh so close to landing this one.
Ten Scottish Cup finals had been reached since Bobby Atherton became the last Hibs captain to get his hands on the trophy way back in 1902, and all ten of them lost, some more painfully so than others.
All facts Alan Stubbs and his players can ponder today and the days to come as they begin to realise the enormity of their achievement, the first club from the second tier of Scottish football since East Fife did so in 1938, a triumph which will see them reunited with European football again next season – even if it can be looked upon as very much a secondary prize to the “Holy Grail”.
And, finally, they have silenced all the taunts which have come from the other end of the city chronicling year by year Hibs wait for this moment, some Hearts fans going as far as to start a “million hour clock”, one which – presumably – has suddenly stopped ticking.
Not that Hibs boss Alan Stubbs had any complaints, revealing: “Other fans have mocked us and if I was a fan, Everton v Liverpool, I would be the same. When you are a fan or another team and it keeps happening then you are rejoicing in people’s inability to change it. Today we have shown an ability to change it.
“It wasn’t these players’ fault, the club has had a 114-year wait, but what we spoke about before the game and in the last couple of days that they had an opportunity and all you want as a layer is an opportunity to change things.
“We spoke the night before the game as in don’t be another team, be the team that took a place in history and they have certainly done that.”
It wouldn’t have been Hibs, though, if such a moment was achieved without a few twists and turns, Anthony Stokes giving the Capital club a dream start as referee Steven McLean played the advantage rule superbly, waving play on as Andy Halliday fouled John McGinn, only for the ball to run into the path of Jason Cummings who sent the on-loan Celtic striker away.
Stokes has had his critics since returning for a second spell at Easter Road, but, as he was to say afterwards, form is only temporary, the hitman ghosting past James Tavernier and as Rob Kiernan made no move towards him, he guided the ball past goalkeeper Wes Foderingham and into the far corner of the net.
The Dubliner was to terrorise Rangers all afternoon down that left flank, denied a second by the post and two more by decent saves from Forderingham, his early strike undone as former Hibs star Kenny Miller rose to power home an equalising header before he, too, struck the woodwork.
Although Hibs had been by far the better team in that first half, Mark Warburton’s players looking a little ring-rusty after their three-week break, the sense was that something bad was going to befall them having not pressed home their superiority and, right on cue, it came as Halliday thumped home a tremendous shot from 25 yards.
Game over, or so everyone not in green-and-white thought, a third Scottish Cup final defeat in just five years beckoning. But they reckoned without Stubbs’ players displaying that “bottle” which so many have claimed they lack, not that the head coach doubted his players for a moment.
He said: “I didn’t feel as if the players had taken a big sigh and gone. I thought they went again. I was looking at the clock myself, saying to myself ‘come on, come on, one more push and we’ll get back in the game’.”
And they did, Stokes bulleting home Liam Henderson’s corner with only ten minutes left – a moment missed by the Easter Road gaffer who had taken a “comfort break”. He said: “I went to the toilet, I’ve done it a few times this season because I drink so much coffee and water before a game and as you know, it’s like after you’ve had a few pints, once you go you go all the time.
“I’ve done it a couple of times and we’ve scored. It doesn’t work every time, unfortunately, but it worked today.”
The match looked destined for extra-time, which would have been unsurprising given these two sides had met 12 times over the course of the past two seasons with six wins apiece, but fittingly it was captain David Gray who sealed his manager’s 100th game in charge, the right back this time getting his head on the end of another Henderson corner two minutes into the four added on.
Stubbs insisted: “At 2-2 I thought we still looked strong, the fact we’d had a few days off had helped them. They’ve shown an unbelievable willingness this season to go from game-to-game, Saturday to midweek to Saturday again. They had every right to feel tired, there’s no other team in the country other than Celtic who have a much bigger squad, who have played more games than us.
“But they have never complained once about being tired.”
After losing the League Cup final in the last minute and seeing his side’s promotion hopes shattered, Stubbs insisted lifting the cup was a little bit of compensation revealing his own emotion on the final whistle was: “We’ve done it.
“When you score so late in the game, it rips the stomach out of the other team. We have experienced that and know how difficult it is to come back from that. It was relief, excitement and euphoria.”
Unfortunately, the excitement of it all got too much for many of the 21,000 Hibs fans who had descended on Hampden, a human tsunami flooding onto the pitch amid claims of Rangers players being assaulted, an invasion which held up the trophy presentation, forced the Ibrox men to receive their runners’-up medals in their dressing room and prevented Hibs from enjoying a lap of honour, instead joining in a rousing rendition of Sunshine on Leith from the podium.
A full-scale inquiry was immediately launched by the SFA, leaving Hibs open to punishment. Stubbs said: “We are just going to have to wait and see what the ramifications are, the fall-out and whatever it is we will have to take it on the chin or see if we can get round it somehow.”
Stubbs admitted he’d been stunned to hear the allegations of assault on the Rangers players and members of their staff, the Ibrox club refusing to attend any post-match interviews while releasing a statement condemning what had happened.
He said: “I do not condone that whatsoever. If that’s the case, it’s very poor. I hope it’s not true, but Rangers wouldn’t have put a statement out if they felt that it’s not happened.”