Relieved, knackered, ecstatic, stunned, delirious, emotional, drained. All of these words can be used to describe my feelings at about 5.35pm on Saturday.
It was Scottish Cup Final day. The end of a long and strange season for us Jambo's. We were out in force as the best part of 40,000 of us headed for Hampden. From the outset this was always going to be a friendly final. There is no history between the two clubs, no religious nonsense, no same city rivalry, no sense of hatred for things said and done.
This was 2 clubs, both with multi-millionaire owners who are flamboyant figures in their own ways, coming together to play for a cup which meant something to both teams and both sets of supporters. Hearts were playing in their 13th cup final and looking to win it for only the 7th time in over 100 years. They are a club with a history of being the one's to crash at the last hurdle, the one's who lose it all at the last minute. Gretna were playing in their first ever major final in any competition. A club who a few years ago were playing non-league football under the English FA. A club who were bought by a colourful millionaire with a dream to build them up. Since they were accepted into the Scottish Leagues they have rattled through them and this season secured their place in the First Division. They were the team looking for the fairytale ending.
On paper this looked like Hearts should walk away with the cup without breaking sweat. You would have struggled to find a Hearts fan who believed this would happen though...too many years of hearing the same. So we went to this match, with the same feelings as the Gretna support...hoping we'd win it rather than feeling we had it in the bag.
The first half was no great surprise. Hearts had more of the game and more of the chances but Gretna were holding their own. Not far from half time Rudi Skacel put Hearts ahead and 3/4 of Hampden erupted. The second half though showed a different side to both teams. Hearts looked tired and were just too slow all over the park. Gretna meanwhile seemed to have stepped up a gear and were first to every loose ball. I still felt we could sneak another on the break but I had a feeling Gretna would score long before kick off and it proved right. Gretna were awarded a penalty after the ref decided Chesney had fouled their player in the box. Craig Gordon, the Hearts goalie and Scotland's number 1 keeper got to the ball and saved it but Townsley scored for Gretna with the rebound and suddenly 3/4 of Hampden was very quiet.
The tension creeped in for the last stages of the second half and it was edge of seat stuff to see if anyone could grab that winner for either side. Gretna got a break and one of their players took the ball round our keeper and looked certain to score only for Robbie Neilson the Hearts Right Back to come from nowhere and make the best tackle I've seen for a long time to save our skins. The one goal winner didn't happen though and we were into Extra Time. 30 Minutes left for someone to snatch glory.
Hearts struggled in the first half of ET. Players were down with cramps, we were losing the ball in silly ways. Gretna didn't do much better in that period either but they still looked sharper than us. The second half of ET though was a different story. Hearts came back fighting. They hit the woodwork and twice had great shots to take the lead again but blew them both. Gretna dug deep and came back with their own efforts including a messy goalmouth scramble as they tried to get the ball into the Hearts net. It was watch through your fingers stuff! One perfectly timed pass though and Hearts were away. Rudi Skacel through one-on-one with the Gretna keeper Alan Main. Main ran out off his line straight into Skacel who stumbled badly but stayed on his feet on for the ball to head out of play. The Maroon and White sections of Hampden screamed for the penalty kicked but the ref wasn't having it. The boo's round the stadium were defening and the ref took absolute pelters. Paul Hartley, Hearts' star midfielder, was book for dissent when he voiced his opinion on the matter. I've seen the incident on tv heaps of times and was about 50 feet away from the actual incident...it was a stonewall penalty. Clear obstruction in the box. However we didn't get it and play continued. The atmosphere was electric as both sets of fans, feeling the tension, sung and cheered their team on. With only minutes to go before we headed to penalties Hartley made a great run. Gretna were on him and he headed to the corner flag looking to get the kick...Gretna's Townsley gave him the kick. As the ball went out of play he swung at Hartley. Hartley retaliated and kicked back at him. The ref ran over and booked Hartley for the second time and he was sent off. Our best penalty taker was heading for the dressing room and yet again the ref had shown himself up. Yes Hartley had to go but Townsley should have recieved a booking at least for his part. The final whistle blew and the score was still 1-1.
I seriously thought about leaving at that point. I can't stand to watch penalties on tv never mind in real life. I honestly can't tell you all the emotions going on in me at that point. I turned to Better Half and said "Christ feel my knees, they are absolutley shaking" I had to laugh when he said "I don't need to feel them, I can see your trousers moving". I was literally shaking with nerves. A fair few fans at both ends were seen heading out towards the concourse as they couldn't bear to watch either, they gathered round the tv sets inside preferring to see it unfold there.
The ref called things to order and we were under way. Gretna's Goalie Alan Main took to the goal first and our captian Steven "Elvis" Pressley stepped up and drilled his penalty home. 1-0 Hearts. Grady levelled it for Gretna before Robbie Neilson again gave us the advantage. Birch was next up for Gretna and he slotted his home. All square again. Then came Rudi who made sure it was 3 out of 3 for Hearts. It looked like we'd end up at sudden death but then Craig Gordon made a save from Gretna's Townsley and it was 3-2 Hearts. Micky Pospisil made it 4 for us and the noise was incredible as Gretna's Skelton went to take his kick. The Gretna fans knew he had to score, the Hearts fans praying for a save or miss. In the run up there was an audible intake of breath around me...he hit it straight and hard and almost in slow motion I watched as it hit the crossbar and crashed back out. We had done it! Game over. 4-2 on penalites! The roar from those in Maroon and White could have been heard back in Gorgie. I think I hugged and kissed every Jambo within pulling distance of me! 5 year old was being thrown around and 9 year old was caught up in a huge group hug! Scenes of joy everywhere!
A few minutes later and it was medal collection time. Gretna began their way up to collect their runners up medals...if it had been Smellick, Rankgers or the Hibby's I'd have said losers medals...but Gretna were definitely runners up. The whole of Hampden was on their feet to applaud them and the Hearts support joined in as the Gretna fans sang for their team. This was reciprocated as the Gretna fans applauded Hearts as they went up to get their winners medals and more importantly their hands on that cup. The good feeling continued as the Gretna players, led by their manager Rowan Alexander (who looked gorgeous in his kilt!) came to the Hearts support and thanked them and applauded and picked up Hearts scarves and hats that were being thrown to them from the stands. The Hearts players doing the same at the Gretna support before heading to their own fans to celebrate.
It was a great ending to what had been a long and dramatic day. Little did we know the English FA cup was going through the same as us. The Liverpool and West Ham supporters being put throgh the wringer as well! Sadly the result there wasn't the one I hoped for and West Ham lost out. We headed back to the bus for the journey home feeling happy but knackered and smiling and chatting to Gretna fans along the way. It was a strangely quiet bus that headed back home to Gorgie along the M8 very different from the one's that left Celtic Park in '98 after we beat Rangers.
We may have won it the hard way but we had it and that was all that mattered.