Hibs and Hearts players and staff are anticipating a derby to remember as Easter Road gets ready for what’s set to be a record-breaking attendance for a women’s club game in Scotland.
The Easter Road side made over 6,000 tickets available for free and saw them snapped up in just days, meaning the SWPL1 match could have almost double the previous crowd of 3,123, set in the 2019 Scottish Cup final.
Hibs have taken two wins from their first three games this season, while Hearts haven’t registered a win or draw yet, but while they compete for points and bragging rights in a fiercely fought derby, they’ll also share pride in taking part in a game that can help grow the game.
Dean Gibson, Hibs Women’s head coach told STV he was delighted at how interest in Wednesday’s game had grown.
He said: “I think it was more in hope than expectation but as tickets went on sale we hit 900 very quickly so at that point you start to think ‘maybe this could happen!’
“It’s been a great week and the excitement’s now building and hopefully the 6000 who took the tickets will turn up.
“It’s over to the girls now. The club have done their part. The coaching staff will do ours in terms of analysing Hearts and giving them information. It’s up to the players to go and put on a show, show how good a team they are, show how good players are individually and make fans want to come back and watch. I’ve no doubt if we play to our strengths, we can capture their imaginations and make them want to come.”
Hearts head coach Eva Olid says the match is huge in the context of the women’s game.
“It’s important because it’s a derby but it’s not just a derby, it’s in a big, amazing stadium,” she said.
“It’s not just an important match, it’s one step for women’s football to play in the bigger stadiums. This is something good for all the games, not just for Hearts and Hibs.
“The motivation can increase. It’s important playing in a stadium because you feel like professionals. I think this can be good not just for our performance but for the match. It’ll be a competitive match.”
The women’s game has been growing year on year but has encountered bumps along the road, with the pandemic being a serious setback as clubs looked to grow and develop their audience. Hibs defender Joelle Murray has seen plenty of progress over time, having made her Scotland debut 14 years ago, and she feels this season is a chance to make up for missed opportunities.
“On the back of the World Cup we’d hoped there would be a springboard effect but there wasn’t as much as we expected,” she said. “The game itself is ramping up with more media exposure, everything external is progressing and very positive.
“It’s going in the right direction and we’re hoping that will continue year on year”
And though Murray has experienced plenty in her time as a player, she hopes others aren’t fazed by the big crowd on Wednesday evening.
“Hopefully, they won’t be affected too much but we do appreciate that in an environment like Easter Road, under the lights, in front of a crowd of 6000, it can and may potentially affect them,” she said. “We’ve got a good group of experienced players in the group that I’d like to think it won’t faze them. I think they’ll probably take in the atmosphere pre-game but as soon as the game starts they’ll be focused and be fully switched on.”
Hearts captain Mariel Kaney thinks credit should go to Hibs and Hearts for creating a platform for the match and believes it’s a positive step forward for everyone.
She said: “It’s been a long time working towards something like this for the women’s game.
“It’s amazing to see so many tickets go so quickly, and a real interest in the game. It shows when you do put it on that stage then the interest is there.
“I think both clubs have done an amazing job to get it on and hopefully it’ll be a great occasion.”
Regardless of the outcome, Hibs boss Gibson believes the derby will set down a marker, and a challenge to everyone to continue building.
“It’s exciting (for the women’s game) but it’s just a start,” he said. “Every year we’ve got to progress it further.
“What I do hope is that Rangers break our record, Celtic break Rangers’ record, Hearts try and break that record and every team do what we’ve done this season and if they can do that next season’s only going to have a higher profile.”