Hibernian, A Brief History…

Hibernian Football Club is one of Scotland’s most famous football teams.  They are an Edinburgh team, formed way back in 1875; the only other club in the Scottish capital is Hearts, or Heart of Midlothian to give them their full name.  From about half way through the middle of the 19th century many Irish people made for Scotland in an effort to make a better life for themselves and their families following the Irish potato famine, not surprisingly a number of those Irish immigrants made their way to Edinburgh.

Hibernian, 1876.

Large parts of Britain in those days were dominated by the church; Britain was a very religious place back in the 19th century, so it can’t come as much of a shock to learn that the clergy had a hand in the formation of Hibernian Football Club.  Understandably the church also helped those Irish immigrants to settle in the city, making quite a concerted effort.  Many of the Irish immigrants, the majority of whom had settled in the Cowgate area of the city, had joined the Catholic Young Men’s Society. 

St. Patrick’s Church in Cowgate, where Hibernian were formed, in 1875.

To cut quite a long story short, during the August of 1875 Hibernian FC were formed after a meeting was arranged to discuss the possibility of forming a football club.  The first team manager of Hibernian F.C. was Edward Hannon, the local Catholic Priest, its first ever team captain would be Michael Whelahan.  It was a very successful undertaking and highly influential, the Irish communities in Dundee and Glasgow followed a similar path to form their own football clubs, namely Dundee United and Glasgow Celtic. 

Michael Whelahan.

Interestingly, there was another club in Edinburgh, St Bernard’s. They were formed a year before Hibernian in 1874 at roughly the same time that Hearts were formed.  St Bernard’s were originally called The Third Edinburgh Rifle Volunteers, sharing a home venue The Meadows with Hibernian and Hearts. Sadly, St Bernard’s went out of business in 1943.  Hibernian played its first match at The Meadows on Christmas Day 1875.

Hibernian 1886 – 1887.

It was a condition that all players who took to the field for Hibernian FC had to be members of the aforementioned Catholic Young Men’s Society, many people think Glasgow Rangers were the first sectarian Scottish football club, but no, that was Hibernian.  Hibernian suffered a little through mismanagement in those early years to some extent.  The club missed out on being founder members of the Scottish Football League in 1890 purely down to the fact that they missed the meeting.  This meant that for Hibernian there would be no Scottish League football, something enjoyed by many other Scottish clubs.  This gave rise to many problems for the Edinburgh club, on top of those problems the lease on the ground they called home from 1880 to 1891, Hibernian Park, was about to come to an end.  They had experienced some good times there which included winning the Scottish Cup in 1887.  The same year they played what was billed as “The Association Football Championship of The World Decider”.  It was played against Preston North End, Hibernian winning the match despite Preston being the favourites of many.  So late in the 19th century Hibernian found themselves effectively homeless, the consequence being they went out of business and the players moving on to other clubs. 

A trophy laden Hibernian 1903.

Happily though the club picked itself up and dusted itself down and reformed about a year later with fresh purpose, whilst they were doing this they managed to acquire a new lease, this time at a place by the name of Easter Road in the Leith area of Edinburgh and there they would stay, for years it’s been known to Hibernian fans as “The Holy Ground”.  Hibernian played their first game at Easter Road in 1893.  Hibernian were at last admitted to the Scottish League in the same year although they had to win the Second Division title twice. 

An aerial photograph of Easter Road, taken sometime in the 1950’s.

They did well in their first season in the Scottish top flight, finishing third in the league.  The same season they reached the final of the Scottish Cup where they played neighbours Hearts, unfortunately for Hibernian they were beaten 3 – 1.   As the years went on the Glasgow clubs Celtic and Rangers began to establish their stranglehold on Scottish club football and Hibernian took a back seat, only reaching three Scottish Cup finals, losing all three.  It got worse in 1931 when they suffered relegation from the Scottish top flight for the very first time, happily though they soon won promotion back to the Scottish top flight. 

The Meadows, where Hibernian played from 1875 to 1880.

They experienced a very successful period following the Second World War, winning the Scottish title in 1948, 1951 and retaining it in the season after in 1952.  This period in the clubs history is known for the five players Bobby Johnstone, Eddie Turnbull, Gordon Smith, Willie Ormond and Lawrie Reilly, these players became known as The Famous Five.  After the Queen’s coronation in 1953, the football authorities celebrated by organizing a tournament by the name of the Coronation Cup, a tournament contested by the then best teams in both Scotland and England.  Hibernian reached the final by beating Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United; unfortunately they lost to Glasgow Celtic in the final.  Hibernian were on the up, they were a very much respected club and things got better for them when they were invited by the newly formed UEFA to take part in the very first European Cup competition. 

The Hibernian ‘Famous Five’ forward line. From left to right Gordon Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond.

The fledgling European Cup completion had yet to shape itself into the competition that we know today, it was an invitation only competition meaning winning your countries domestic league was no means a guarantee of entering the completion.  Indeed it was Aberdeen who won the Scottish First Division title that year.  Hibernian actually got as far as the semifinals where they were beaten by French club Stade de Reims.  Hibernian had a successful 1970’s in Scottish football when they were managed by Eddie Turnbull.  Eddie was from Falkirk who had previously played for the Leith club, achieving a great record, scoring 150 goals in 349 games for Hibernian.  Turnbull had come back from the USA after having a spell managing Washington Whips in the United Soccer Association which was the precursor to the North American Soccer League.  Although they never won the league, Turnbull’s Hibernian did enjoy some very good times in the ‘70’s, finishing runners up in both 1974 and 1975. 

Eddie Turnbull.

They also won the short lived Drybrough Cup twice.  On the New Year’s Day of 1973, they traveled to Tynecastle, home of local rivals Hearts for the Edinburgh derby; they came away with the two points after leathering Hearts 7 – 0.  In 1977 became the very first Scottish football club to have a club sponsor on their shirts, the Stockport based sportswear company Bukta having the honour.  This resulted in TV companies refusing to show Hibernian games on the television, this was something many clubs had to go through with having the names of commercial companies on their shirts, particularly Admiral had plenty experience of this with football clubs and television.  Another first for Hibernian occurred in 1980 when they became the first Scottish club to install under soil heating in its stadium. 

George Best, 1977.

The 1987 – 1988 season was an interesting one for Hibernian.  Back then they were managed by Glaswegian Alex Miller.  Miller had been a part of the 1970’s Glasgow Rangers team during that had won a truck load of silverware.  Hibernian’s first game of that season was away to Dunfermline Athletic, just a forty minute drive over the water in Fife.  It ended 3 – 3.  After they recorded a good win at home over Glasgow giants, Rangers, Hibernian’s John Collins scoring the only goal of the game, however three days later they were well beaten at home to Dundee to the tune 4 – 0.  After another 3 – 3 draw this time with Morton, they suffered a 1 – 0 home defeat in the first Edinburgh derby of the season against Hearts.  It was a bit of an up and down season for Miller’s Hibernian.  In early October they went to Parkhead, home Glasgow Celtic and came away with a creditable 1 – 1 draw.   They would also visit Rangers later in the season and again come away with a point following another 1 – 1 draw. 

John Collins of Hibernian in 1987.

That season Hibernian were sporting an eye catching green and white home shirt, the away short was an attractive white shirt with smart green piping around the vee neck collar.  The shirt sponsor was P & D Windows, a small company that also went into sponsorship in basketball.  Hibernian had a good February that season, enjoying three straight wins against Dundee and Dunfermline and away at Motherwell.  They finished the season with a 3 – 1 home win against Morton.  They finished 6th that season which was an improvement from the previous seasons finish of 9th.  The domestic cups passed Hibernian that season; they went out of the Scottish League and FA Cup in the 4th rounds.  There were happier times ahead for Alex Miller’s Hibernian. In 1992 they won the Scottish League Cup, beating Dunfermline in the final. 

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