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  • We Are Hibernian FC - Part Twenty Three

    Purchase of Easter Road, a fourteen game unbeaten run, a Scottish Cup Final and the emergence of Harry Swan make season 1923/24 a significant one in the history of our great club.

    In the 1923 close season Hibernian finally achieved its long held aim of purchasing the ground from the Trinity Hospital Committee and that news together with the fact that the club had refused several offers from other clubs for its better players had supporters of the greens singing the praises of the men in charge at Easter Road.

    Owen Brannigan, Barney Lester and John Farmer, Grandfather of current owner Sir Tom Farmer, had put their heart and soul into Hibernian Football Club, had steered it through difficult times and had managed to secure ownership of the ground upon which the stadium had been built so it is little wonder the fans offered their grateful thanks.

    The new season, 1923/24 opened for Hibs with a home semi final of the East of Scotland Shield against St Bernards. Hibs were of course the holders and wanted to retain that title but could only draw 2-2 and so would need a second attempt to reach the final. Ahead of that the greens opened their league campaign with a visit to play Third Lanark and after a slow start to the game they settled into a rhythm and ran out worthy winners with a 4-1 scoreline. Three days later Hibs defeated Celtic 1-0 at Easter Road in a match played for the benefit of St Ninian’s Church at Restalrig.

    Three days further on Aberdeen arrived at Easter Road for a league match and silenced the majority of the 17,000 crowd by scoring the only goal of the game ten minutes from the end. The greens got back to winning ways the following midweek when they beat St Bernards 5-1 in that replay.

    September began badly for Hibs as they lost 2-1 at Rugby Park despite leading 1-0 against a home side that was down to ten men after their goalie went off injured. An outfield player took over and pulled off a string of incredible saves to help his side win the game and send the visitors home empty handed. Four days later Hibs went to Tynecastle for the final of the East of Scotland Shield and drew 1-1 in front of around 11,000 fans. Jock White scored to put Hearts ahead but within minutes Hibs were level after Harry Ritchie scored from the penalty spot. After the match both clubs agreed to defer the replay to a date later in the season as both knew that the league and cup were far more important. Ironically the sides clashed in the league just a couple of days later when 26,000 fans flocked to Easter Road to witness another 1-1 draw. Leading thanks to a 6th minute goal from Jimmy Dunn, Hibs tried hard for a second but couldn’t find a way through and paid the price in the final minute of the game when a looping shot by Jock White was caught by Willie Harper but the Hibs keeper, in trying to save, allowed the ball to cross the line giving Hearts an equaliser.

    In their next two games Hibs drew at Broomfield with Airdrie dropping their first point of the season and at home to Celtic in a game that newspaper reports of the time described as ‘both grim and unexciting.’ Around the same time the press reported that Dundee Hibernian FC had applied to change its name to Dundee City Athletic Club but the footballing authorities received a strong protest from Dundee FC and as a result refused permission for the name change, asking the two clubs to meet and discuss some form of compromise.

    Meanwhile, back on the park Hibs were continuing what had been a poor start to the league season by going down 4-2 at home to Motherwell, much to the disappointment of the home fans in the 11,500 crowd. A week later Hibs were at Hampden. A 1-0 defeat by Celtic in the cup final had marked their last visit to that stadium but this time they secured a 1-1 draw with Queens Park in a league tie.

    Goals and victories in league matched had been scarce but Hibs found their shooting boots on the first Saturday in October when they defeated Raith Rovers 4-0 at Easter Road although in fairness to the Fifers, three of the four goals came in the last twenty minutes. Prior to the match a collection had been taken and as a result Hibs were able to present the Stirling Union with a sum in excess of £62.00 which was a fair amount in those days.

    A point from a 1-1 draw in Paisley preceded a 3-1 home defeat by Rangers as the poor league form continued. In the Rangers game goalkeeper Willie Harper took to the field with a pronounced limp and was clearly unfit but the club did not have another keeper and Willie was brave enough to play. Unfortunately, two of the Rangers goals came as a direct result of errors by Harper but it would be unfair to criticise a man who could easily have called off but obviously felt he did not want to let the club down.

    On the last Saturday in October Hibs travelled to Dens Park without Harper who was replaced by emergency signing Mason, as well as Dunn and Halligan whilst two other players were clearly not fit and struggled throughout the game. The hosts on the other hand were at full strength and made that advantage pay big style by crushing the greens 7-2. There is little doubt that the decision not to run a reserve team was costing Hibs because they had no experienced players to step in when first team regulars were injured. Despite the lack of numbers Hibs transferred Mattha Paterson to St Bernards, the former captain having played at Hibs for 16 years.

    The injuries continued to cause problems for Hibs and they lost their next match 3-1 to Hamilton but things improved the following week when a fighting 2-2 draw was secured at Somerset Park against Ayr United where on loan goalkeeper Hughes played his part. The stopper had been brought in from Celtic and impressed all who watched the match with a string of fine saves. Next time out Hughes played again and was rarely troubled as three second half goals won the match for Hibs in front of around 8,000 fans at Easter Road. It was a rare but very welcome win and Hibs did it again in front of their own fans a week later when they beat Morton 2-1 thanks to goals from Halligan and McColl.

    After those back to back wins Hibs went down 1-0 away to Partick and then drew 1-1 with Falkirk at Brockville before getting back to winning ways in beating first Clydebank 3-2 and then Queens Park 4-0 at Easter Road. Sadly the last game of 1923 ended in a 1-0 away defeat at Morton but starting from the New Years Day Derby Hibs were set to go on an unbeaten run of 13 games taking them through the whole of January and February 1924.

    Starting with that Derby, Hibs found themselves a goal behind with the clock running down fast but the veteran Jimmy McColl scored very late on to earn a point in a 1-1 draw in front of around 20,000 fans. Just 24 hours and a long train journey later the greens were at Pittodrie where again they drew 1-1, a penalty from Harry Ritchie securing a well deserved point.

    On the following Saturday at Easter Road Hibs scraped home 1-0 against Falkirk with Jimmy McColl the marksman but the winning of the points being as much due to a string of quite outstanding saves by Willie Harper. A 2-0 win on the road at Kirkcaldy was followed up by a cracking 5-2 home against Third Lanark, a good performance with the first round of the Scottish Cup looming large.

    Having been founded as Dundee Hibernians in 1909 and then having failed to change their name to Dundee City the Tayside club found itself being drawn away to Hibernian in the Scottish Cup. Ahead of that and following their admission to the Scottish League Second Division the Dundee club settled on United and so on 26 January 1924 the sides met for the first time under those banners. Although from a lower league the visitors gave a good account of themselves and only a first half goal by Harry Ritchie gave the 16,000 fans reason to cheer.

    During the following week Ayr United were at Easter Road on league business and according to the Scotsman newspaper result on the game ‘Ayr were beaten by three goals to nothing and had more goals come the way of the Hibernians they would not have been altogether undeserving of them.’

    The draw for round two of the Scottish Cup was kind to Hibs as it brought Second Division Alloa to Easter Road but this was Hibs in a competition that they had struggled miserably in for the last twenty two years. Sure enough the greens made hard work of it and only managed a 1-1 draw, forcing a replay on the following Tuesday night at Recreation Park. With several hundred making the journey from Edinburgh, Hibs made a much better job of things this time around and brushed their opponents aside in a 5-0 win despite losing the services of Jimmy McColl who was carried off after suffering a knee injury. An interesting point here is that prior to departing, McColl had scored a goal and as the others were scored by Harry Ritchie, Jimmy Dunn, John Walker and Johnny Halligan it meant that all five forwards had their names on the scoresheet.

    If the second round draw had been kind then the third round draw was anything but, as it sent Hibs to Ibrox to face Glasgow Rangers. Prior to that match taking place Hibs played two league games, defeating Dundee 2-0 at Easter Road and Clydebank 4-2 at Kilbowie. Some 52,885 fans, with a large number of them there to support Hibs, packed into Ibrox on 23 February 1924 when the hosts were red hot favourites to progress into the quarter finals. It should be borne in mind that the Great War had only ended six years earlier and that despite promises to the contrary the Government had done little to create jobs or to help relieve the poverty that many households suffered and so the fact that Hibs took thousands of fans with them to Ibrox speaks volumes for those supporters who offered quite a spectacle as they paraded down the Copland Road waving their green flags and shouting for the Hibernians.

    The hosts were running away with the league title and had been in excellent form ahead of this tussle and so it was no great surprise when Meiklejohn gave them a half time lead but this Hibs side was not for rolling over and early in the second half John Walker equalised to the delight of the travelling support. Rangers threw all they could at Hibs but the defence stood firm and keeper Willie Harper was in his best form in making save after save. Just seven minutes remained when Harry Ritchie crossed from the right and George Murray, in for the injured Jimmy McColl, fired home what proved to be a famous winner for Hibernian.

    As you might imagine the home support took defeat badly and there were press reports during the following days that told of Hibs fans being attacked by mobs and beaten to the ground. The behaviour of the Rangers fans was nothing short of barbaric but as is often the way with bullies it was always small pockets of Hibs fans that were set upon by large groups. Despite the violence there would not have been a Hibs fan in the crowd that day that didn’t tell the story of the match for weeks afterwards as the mighty Glasgow Rangers had been humbled on their own patch.

    On the following Wednesday evening at Easter Road Hibs took their unbeaten run to 14 games by defeating Kilmarnock 3-1 with Ibrox hero George Murray grabbing two and Hugh Shaw the other. All unbeaten runs eventually end and Hibs’ did on the Saturday when a weary looking eleven went down tamely to Clyde in a 2-0 defeat although in fairness, keeper Willie Harper and half back Peter Kerr were not in the side as they were instead playing for Scotland against Ireland.

    There was perhaps another reason why the Hibs were ‘off colour’ as Chairman John Farmer tragically passed away just days after witnessing his boys humble Rangers. Involved with Hibernian since the late 1880’s, John Farmer had served the club in a million and one ways over the years and had, when things were as dire as they ever could be, put some of his own money in to keep the club afloat. Without men like John Farmer, Hibernian would not be around today and would quite probably have died off after being decimated in the creation of Glasgow Celtic. Quite rightly, fans today revere the names of Canon Hannan and of Michael Whelahan but it seems to me that John Farmer is one of the other Hibernians and there were many, who deserves to be recalled with the same affection.

    Following that league defeat by Clyde, Hibs next played their Scottish Cup quarter final tie against Partick Thistle at Easter Road and despite dominating for most of the game the greens had to settle for a 2-2 draw and a replay four days later at Firhill much to the disappointment of the vast majority of the 19,000 fans present. Amazingly, even though it was in midweek, 30,000 fans turned up to watch the replay and witnessed a stirring cup tie with Hibs going ahead through Walker after 17 minutes only to have that lead cancelled out seven minutes from time by Lambie. Another replay would be required and it would take place at Parkhead but ahead of that Hibs lost 2-1 to Motherwell at Fir Park in a league match. In the cup replay with 27,000 watching on Hibs edged out their opponents by winning 2-1 thanks to a double from Wee Jimmy Dunn. For the second season in a row Hibs were in the Scottish Cup semi final but whereas Third Lanark had provided the opposition first time around it would be a very strong Aberdeen that stood in their way this time.

    On 22 March 1924 at neutral Dens Park in front of around 20,000 fans neither side could find a way through and the game finished disappointingly at 0-0. An interesting fact included in the match report was that Aberdeen played in their traditional black and gold jerseys; a far cry from today’s all red kit. Four days later, again at Dens Park and despite playing thirty minutes of extra time there were still no goals and so this marathon tie would need a third game to decide which club would face Airdrie in the final.

    In order to get the players away from the routine and in the hope that doing so might provide a renewed energy, Hibs took them to Dublin for a few days and whilst there they played a low key friendly against Bohemians which they won 2-1. Amazingly around 16,000 fans packed into Dalymount Park, many declaring Hibs to be their Scottish team and many others wishing to pay homage to the players that had put the mighty Glasgow Rangers to the sword.

    Back in Edinburgh, Hibs had two league fixtures to fulfil before they met Aberdeen for the third time. Two penalties, one for either side meant a share of the spoils with St. Mirren at Easter Road before Hibs were back at Ibrox only this time the home side won 2-1 and clinched the First Division league title in the process. There had been little doubt for some time that Rangers would top the table and it is worth noting that the team pushing them hardest throughout was not Celtic, nor Hearts, nor Hibs sadly but Airdrieonians.

    Dens Park was once again the venue when Hibs and Aberdeen clashed only this time there would be a winner. For a very large part of the game extra time looked certain as neither side could find the net but with just two of the regulation ninety minutes remaining John ‘Darkie’ Walker stroked the ball into the net from close range and Hibs were Hampden bound for the second season in succession.

    Amazingly, Hibs had played no fewer than ten games in reaching that stage and yet the winning game that took them to the final was probably witnessed by fewer Hibs fans than many of the earlier games. This, of course was due to the cost of travelling and not in any way due to lack of interest! In fact word had reached Edinburgh ahead of the team arriving back and a large Hibs support was there to greet them off the train.

    As chance would have it the next game Hibs had to play was against Airdrie at Easter Road and in what many considered a dress rehearsal for the Cup Final the greens won 2-0 with keeper Willie Harper playing for Scotland in the first ever international against England at Wembley and right half Peter Kerr taking over in goal for the greens! Four days later Partick Thistle were beaten 3-1 at Easter Road but Jimmy Dunn was injured during the game and limped off at the end.

    On Saturday 16 April 1924 Hibs took to the field against Airdrie at Ibrox Park in the Final of the Scottish Cup but sadly failed to spark on the day and were beaten 2-0 by a very good Airdrie side. Tens of thousands of fans had travelled through and would return disappointed as the greens did not do themselves justice with some fans criticising Alex Maley for fielding the eleven that had lost out the year before as Jimmy Dunn had clearly not recovered from the injury sustained in the Partick game just days earlier and full back Willie Dornan seeming to limp onto the pitch at the start of the match. Never had Hibs had as good an opportunity of getting a certain monkey off the back but little did they know that monkey would go on to live to a very ripe old age.

    Adding to the pain, Hibs were at Tynecastle just four days later when they would go down meekly by a 4-1 scoreline to Hearts in the final of the Wilson Cup. Trust Hibs to lose two cup finals inside the space of four days. Hard on the heels of that Tynecastle defeat, Hibs played their last two league games of the season, earning just one point in a draw with Celtic that meant the Easter Road club would finish the league in seventh place, two ahead of Hearts but behind the likes of Airdrie, Raith Rovers and St. Mirren.

    The season proper ended with a flurry of games in local competitions and those brought defeat by Raith in the final of the Dunedin Cup but victory in the finals of both the East of Scotland Shield and the Rosebery Cup where Hearts were beaten 2-1 and 2-0 respectively.

    In the close season that followed, Hibs went on a short tour of Germany and Austria and whilst they were away the stadium had works done to it with a large new main stand built along the west side of the pitch. Additionally the old wooden stand on the east side was demolished to make more room for standing spectators. These alterations took the capacity to around 50,000 with the new stand itself accommodating 4,500 seated supporters. New access roads to the ground also allowed for the opening of new turnstiles and a boundary wall was built around the ground. These improvements cost around £25,000 which was a huge sum of money in those days and Hibs were not finished yet. Often criticised for having a sloping pitch the club decided to do something about it. Bear in mind that the slope back then was much steeper than it was in later years and so the works undertaken in 1924 did not result in a level surface, more a lesser slope!

    In order to help finance these improvements the club decided to have a share issue and a number of local businessmen took up the offer to buy, amongst them was a gentleman by the name of Harry Swan who in years to come would prove to be a pivotal figure in the history of Hibernian FC.
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