Paul Heckingbottom has revealed how he was captivated by Hibs’ historic Scottish Cup triumph and that clips of fans belting out Sunshine on Leith were sent to him minutes after he became head coach.
And that day at Hampden helped him understand just what he was coming into as he succeeded Neil Lennon who, by an extraordinary twist of fate, will be in the opposite dugout when Hibs face Celtic in this evening’s quarter-final tie.
Disclosing that he had watched a few Scottish Cup finals – he signed Marley Watkins from Inverness Caley, the winners 12 months before Hibs ended their 114-year hoodoo by beating Rangers – Heckingbottom said: “It was a thriller, not only for the celebrations and everything about it – it was a big deal.
“I don’t think many people missed it. I watched it because it was on and I remember watching it, nipping in and out and then it was one of those games that captured people’s attention.
“If you were impartial like I was then, once you started watching, just the way the scoring went and the level of the teams involved, it really captured the imagination. So they’ll have done what I did – made a cup of tea and then sat down to start to watch it.”
Heckingbottom insisted there was no reason at that time why he should realise the size of Hibs’ fanbase, but that was brought home to him by the scenes at Hampden and the following day as 150,000 thronged the streets in and around Easter Road as Alan Stubbs and his players paraded the trophy.
He said: “There was no reason for me to know how big it was, and there still wasn’t until recently. But you look back at things like that because they help you form an opinion of people, places and football clubs. That was something that stuck with me.
“You naturally pick things up from people you think you might not necessarily would do, people who have been in the building forever, fans who you bump into when you are doing your shopping. There is always someone who has a story. It’s like a jigsaw, you start to piece it together and start to make sense of it yourself.”
Heckingbottom was reminded of that day in 2016 immediately on being appointed Hibs new head coach. “Someone sent me the fans singing straight afterwards, as soon as I signed,” he said.
“Did they play the music over the tannoy first? I was thinking they can’t be that good surely. Then everyone joined in and it was fantastic. It’s always interesting if you are in a final, there’s always a winner and a loser, one half of the stadium is bouncing and the other half is emptying.
“You could see that that day. It’s a special club anthem and it’s little stories like that you get to understand when you come here. Now we are two games away, so what better motivation than that.”
Heckingbottom has never been to Hampden, but he knows just what a day out at the national stadium means for supporters. He said: “I was lucky, I played at the old Wembley, won a couple of finals at the old Millennium Stadium, and then went back to the new Wembley for some more big occasions.
“They were big, big days. I’ve never been to Hampden so it would be nice to go there for another big occasion. National stadiums have history wherever you go. It could be any country, people tend to speak about them because they are the most well known and most traditional.
“Things are changing across Europe with the size of some domestic competitions and clubs have the stadiums, but there are certain ones where it will never change.”