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  • We Are Hibernian FC - Part Twenty Seven

    Second Division football brought low attendances and so drastic action was required if Hibs were not to slide into football oblivion. Cometh the hour, cometh the man and in Hibs' case it was Harry Swan that would sow the seeds for future success and stability. Promotion was gained and significant team rebuilding commenced, resulting in the fans coming back to watch this new Hibernian side.

    Things just had to change if Hibernian was not to wallow in the lower reaches of Scottish football and in the summer of 1931 the club finally decided to have a share issue that would allow members of the public/Hibs fans to invest in the club. In a move designed to ward off hostile bids the decision was taken that shares would only be sold to Directors, Debenture holders and the general Hibernian support. Amongst the most vociferous of the Debenture holders was Harry Swan who addressed a public meeting with great passion in his voice as he told those assembled that after 56 years of being owned principally by absent Irish families it was time for Hibernian to move into modern times and allow investors to have a say in the running of the club. In fully acknowledging the vital part played by those families, Swan was very convincing in his arguments and though it would not be a smooth transition, changes would take place that allowed the club to move forward.

    Meanwhile Hibernian had to prepare for a new season, where they would compete in the Second Division with the sole aim of winning it and getting promotion back into the First. After nine years with the club during which he had been a fantastic servant and a prolific scorer Jimmy McColl was given a free transfer so as to allow him to take up the post of player/manager of Leith Athletic. Only Johnny Halligan now remained of the famous ‘Cup Final Team.’ No major signings were made but a few new faces were on show as both the junior ranks and the Hibs feeder teams were raided.

    The campaign opened with a scrappy 1-0 home win over Alloa in front of just 4,000 supporters. It was going to be a long hard season it seemed and early proof of that came in a 1-0 reversal away to Forfar. Just as last season had proved that inconsistent displays were costly so too did this one as good 6-0 and 6-2 wins over St Johnstone and Dunfermline respectively, meant little when paired with a 2-1 defeat at Stenhousemuir and a shocking 4-2 home defeat by St Bernards and then there was also a spate of draws including a 1-1 with Armadale giving the West Lothian club its first point of the season.

    That reversal against St Bernards had occurred when Hibs lost goalkeeper Geordie Blyth with a broken leg but he was not the only goalkeeper injured that day. For quite some time Hibernian and others had been very concerned about the physical nature of play adopted by Glasgow Rangers. It seemed that just about every week there were reports of fierce play and of little action being taken to bring that to an end. It was ironic therefore that when Celtic goalkeeper John Thomson was carried off in an Old Firm match after being accidentally kicked in the head by Sam English it would result in the worst possible outcome of all. Later that evening the 22 year old keeper died in hospital of a compressed fracture of the skull. It is important to understand that English was completely innocent of any wrong doing in this matter but there was a hope that the rough play of Rangers might now cease.

    Back at Easter Road the club held its AGM and it would be a hugely significant day in the history of Hibernian Football Club. Due to business commitments Alex Maley stood down from the Board and it was agreed that the number of Directors would be increased from three to five. Current Directors Owen Brannigan and Barney Lester retained their places and three ‘new men’ were appointed in Sean Martin, Mick Donoghue and Harry Swan. Significantly, Harry Swan was the first Director of Hibernian FC that did not have family links back to Ireland. A successful businessman Swan advertised at the stadium inviting fans to ‘Have your lunch and tea at Littlejohns restaurant and café at 33 Leith Street’ Additionally, Swan was not a Catholic but a Protestant and his election to the Board finally put to bed any malicious gossip that Hibernian was a sectarian club.

    On 10th October 1931 Hibs reached an all time low in losing 2-1 to Edinburgh City in the league. Without being disrespectful to the victors this should never have been possible but it happened and if anyone was under the illusion that promotion would be merely a formality then they must have thought twice. That result acted as a bit of a wake up call for the greens as in their next six games they won five and drew one but in the next match it is reported that Hibs played ‘some very pretty football that was pleasing to the eye’ but managed to lose 4-1 at home to Queen of the South.

    Bad weather in Scotland meant that Hibs played just three league games in December 1931 and those yielded two wins and a draw. Of course the New Year Derby would not involve First Division Hearts this year and instead Hibs were away to St Bernards and managed to lose 1-0 in front of just 8,000 fans. It was a stormy match with the hosts scoring in two minutes, Hibs missing a first half penalty and then having two players, Frank Dobson and Ginger Watson sent off in a torrid second half. Income to the club had been severely affected as there were no Derbies and of course the clubs in the Second Division had much smaller supporter numbers but it’s worth pointing out that a fair number of Hibs fans had deserted the club and were not turning out to watch what they considered to be inferior opposition.

    The Scottish Cup was looming and ahead of their first round match they beat Armadale by the only goal of the game in front of just 3,000 at Easter Road and then lost 2-1 away at St. Johnstone. There was a degree of irony in the fact that Hibs had been drawn against Dundee United in the first round of the Scottish Cup, given the origins of the Tayside outfit that was in the First Division whilst Hibs struggled to get out of the Second. Weather wise there was a gale force wind and driving rain sweeping from one end of the park to the other and the visitors used that to good effect in the first half as they built up a 3-1 half time lead. The greens made brave efforts in the second half but scored only once from a penalty and so lost the game 3-2.

    Out of the Cup and not doing as well as hoped for in the league, Hibs now had thirteen league matches left to set about winning promotion but as they set off down that road they were only in sixth place in the table and seven points behind leaders East Stirling. Game one of the thirteen could not have turned out any worse than it did as Stenhousemuir took both points when they visited Easter Road. Barely 5,000 fans had turned out to watch and the vast majority must have gone home very disappointed.

    In the following two matches, played ahead of a crunch fixture against East Stirling at Firs Park, Hibs took both points by beating Montrose 1-0 away but then promptly undid that good work by losing 1-0 at home to Raith Rovers. And so it was that any remaining hopes of promotion would disappear unless a win over the league leaders could be achieved. Sadly the visitors were no match for their hosts and lost a fairly one sided game 4-1.

    In the lead up to the next game, tragedy struck at Easter Road as Barney Lester passed away at his home at 50 Albion Road. Barney had been with Hibs virtually from the day of their creation back in August 1875 and had served the club in a number of capacities. On the day of his death Hibs played Edinburgh City at Easter Road where a two minute silence was observed prior to kick off in memory of this Hibernian stalwart. In the game, Hibs won 3-1 with the players stating at the end of the match that they wished to dedicate the result to Barney Lester.

    That earlier loss to East Stirling and an indifferent run of results to the end of the season meant that Hibernian would not bounce straight back into the top flight but would remain in the lower league. There would be nothing to cheer the fans as far as the local competitions were concerned either. Even the first Derby in a while, the final of the Wilson Cup saw First Division Hearts easily brush the greens aside 3-1 in front of a mere 4,000 fans with those in green and white having only Frank Dobson’s goal to cheer. It had been a miserable season and to lose to Hearts was as painful as it always had and always would be.

    In the close season of 1932 there was internal discord on the Board of the club as the majority still felt there was no need to spend money on bringing players in as the youth and scouting system was offering up enough. What seems to have been ‘overlooked’ was the fact that this self same policy had resulted in Hibs being relegated and subsequently failing to win promotion back to the top flight. Add in the fact that the Board also stalled on signing talks with players already on the books and it perhaps explains why after just nine short months Harry Swan resigned from the Board. To further antagonise those who watched these developments with dismay the club then decided to sell John Friar to Portsmouth. Friar had been top scorer for Hibs in the season just ended and so his sale brought an expected response from a dwindling and disillusioned Hibs support.

    At the club AGM in early August 1932 a trading loss was reported and in a way that was virtually a certainty to happen given the big drop in attendance figures. With Barney Lester having passed away and Harry Swan having resigned the meeting elected two new Directors in Thomas Hartland and Edward Lester, son of the late Barney. It would be the job of the new men to assist the old in getting Hibs back into the top flight again.

    The first league game of the new season brought relegated Dundee United to Easter Road. Ahead of that the public trial matches had drawn decent crowds and those that attended must have liked what they saw as 10,000 Hibs fans turned out for the United game. Although no ‘big name’ signings had been made, Bobby Templeton did add a few players including James Hart from East Stirling, Rab Walls and Peter Carruthers as well as signing a full back named Nicky Langton from East Fife. With Hart on the scoresheet the greens won 2-0 and that result was viewed as excellent given that their opponents had last season been playing in the top flight and had indeed knocked Hibs out of the Scottish Cup.

    It wouldn’t be Hibs if they didn’t make life difficult for themselves and so they followed their excellent opening day win with a very poor performance in Coatbridge as they went down 2-0 to Albion Rovers. The next two games brought a better outcome with both being won and James Hart getting five of the six goals scored.

    By the end of October Hibs were sitting in the top three and had notched up a number of excellent results including a 7-0 win over Bo’ness. Encouragingly, James Hart was still finding the net on a regular basis and Hibs had moved to strengthen their attack by signing Peter Flucker from Queen of the South with the new man and Hart forming a good pairing that would test opposing defences to the full.

    Of the four matches played in November, all were won and one of those by 8-2 over Armadale in which Rab Walls scored five goals and the visitors’ keeper was clapped off the park by the Hibs fans for stopping his side losing a lot more than eight. Unfortunately December started badly with a 3-2 defeat by Dumbarton at Boghead before a 0-0 draw with leaders Queen of the South at Palmerston in front of a then record crowd of 7,500.

    A 2-0 home win over Forfar, with no fewer than five reserves in a side struggling with injuries preceded a cracking 2-0 win at Tannadice, significant because that result took Hibs to the top of the table as Queen of the South were being held to a 2-2 draw by lowly Leith Athletic.

    Across the City Hearts were going well in the First Division, lying fourth but just five points behind leaders Rangers and so when the Gorgie side visited Easter Road on Boxing Day to contest the final of the Wilson Cup a few eyebrows were raised when Hibs defeated them 3-2 thanks to a Peter Flucker hat trick. The former Queen of the South player must have enjoyed those goals as he had once played for Hearts but had been released prior to signing for the Dumfries club.

    Another side up there fighting for promotion was Albion Rovers and it was the Coatbridge outfit that provided the opposition at Easter Road on New Years Eve 1932. A finely balanced game played on a frosty pitch brought a 2-0 win for the greens and ensured that going into 1933 Hibernian would be sitting at the top of the Scottish Second Division.

    January was Scottish Cup month in Scotland but ahead of playing in that competition Hibs had four league fixtures and won them all with the pick of the bunch being a 5-0 thrashing of East Fife at Methil. The Fifers had lost only one home match that season but came up against a Hibs side that was hell bent on gaining promotion.

    The Scottish Cup first round draw gave Hibs a home fixture against fellow Second Division outfit Forfar Athletic and drew a crowd of 8,000 but it took a huge slice of luck for the greens to stay in the tournament that day. Indeed Forfar led 2-0 for a spell and though Hibs got it back to 2-1 they looked incapable of drawing level. Injury to the Forfar keeper meant he had to leave the park and a defender took over between the sticks. Immediately Hibs started bombarding the visitors’ goal but it took them 15 minutes to get the vital breakthrough. It was now 2-2 and only five minutes remained to be played. To their credit Forfar held out and forced a replay the following midweek at Station Park but this time Hibs would not slip up and in fact they were 3-0 up inside the opening 15 minutes and eventually went on to win 7-3.

    Prior to their second round tie Hibs dropped a point at home in only drawing 0-0 with King’s Park in Stirling before heading much further north to face First Division Aberdeen in the second round of the Cup. With the hosts in the top six in the First Division this would be a tall order for the greens but they managed to silence the majority of the 16,262 crowd by taking the lead and then by holding on for a replay after the hosts had equalised. Obviously excited at the prospect of a Cup shock a mammoth crowd of 23,790 filed into Easter Road on the evening of Wednesday 8 February 1933 witnessed a gripping game that was settled by a single goal, scored by Hibs captain Johnny Halligan six minutes from time. Amazingly, Hibs were in the quarter final and fate decreed that their opponents would be Heart of Midlothian at Easter Road.

    Promotion was still the absolute priority and it is pleasing to note that despite the anticipation of that cup clash Hibs stayed focused and won their next two league matches including a hat trick for Rab Walls in a crushing 7-1 win over Edinburgh City in front of 15,000 at Easter Road.

    Bad weather meant that the next game for Hibs would be two weeks later and it would be the keenly anticipated cup tie against Hearts. With the whole City buzzing at the prospect of this contest it was no surprise that a record crowd of 33,759 packed into the stadium where they were treated to a cracking end to end cup tie that had everything on offer except for goals. Both defences and both goalkeepers were outstanding and although there were no goals to cheer the spectators were kept entertained throughout.

    The replay took place the following Wednesday and despite it having a 3.30pm kick off it attracted a midweek record crowd of 41,034 through the gates. A very strong breeze was at the back of the Hearts players in the first half and they used it to their advantage in building a 2-0 lead through Johnstone and Murray. Try as they might Hibs could not emulate that in the second half and failed to find a way past Jack Harkness in the home goal. The Cup run was over but Hibs now knew that having faced Aberdeen and Hearts from the First Division they must make every effort to ensure they would be playing their football in that league next season. Just seven league games remained and of the 14 points available Hibs accrued nine, enough to secure the league title and promotion back to the top flight.

    In the close season of 1933 some works were undertaken on the stadium including an upgrading of the boardroom whilst the smell of fresh paint was evident around the ground. Also getting attention was the club strip which at that time was a collarless green shirt, white shorts and green socks all of which were replaced by shirts with white collars, white shorts and black socks with green tops or green and white hooped socks as a second choice.

    Needless to say, whilst the Hibs fans were happy at the upgrading of the stadium and the new outfits worn by the players they remained concerned at the lack of signing anyone of note. Effectively the team that had won promotion started out on the new campaign in the First Division and lost its opening game 2-1 to a strong Queens Park at Hampden.

    With more than 21,000 in the ground for the first home game the Second Division League flag was proudly unfurled to loud cheers before a highly creditable 0-0 draw was fought out with Rangers. The match report suggested that Hibs keeper Geordie Blyth had little to do whilst Hibs were unlucky to see one fine effort from Peter Flucker crash back off the crossbar.

    The first win of the season came in the next match by a 4-2 scoreline at Central Park, Cowdenbeath with two goals each from Rab Walls and Peter Flucker. The figure four featured large in the next three matches too as a 4-1 reversal at Hamilton was followed up by consecutive 4-1 home wins over Leith Athletic and Kilmarnock.

    All of those games drew decent followings for Hibs as the fans began to return to watch First Division football and of course one of the main highlights was the fact that Edinburgh Derbies were back on the fixture list. The first fell on 9 September 1933 at Tynecastle in front of 32,853 and though it ended goalless it was a fine encounter and a share of the spoils was considered by most to be a reasonable outcome.

    Over the next eight games, taking the season up to the end of October, Hibs had a mixed bag of results with a 3-0 win over Clyde the best and a terrible 6-2 home defeat at the hands of St Johnstone. November started well enough with a Rab Walls hat trick in a 6-1 home win over Cowdenbeath but the remainder of that month brought just one more win and two defeats whilst the five matches played in December resulted in two wins, one draw and two defeats the second of which was a 6-0 thumping at Ibrox. The match report for that reversal in Govan suggested Hibs were the better team in the first half, lost two goals in a minute at the start of the second and then were powerless to stop Rangers scoring four more! If the scoreline itself was surprising then so too was the fact that despite Rangers lying second in the league to Motherwell only 6,000 spectators took in the game.

    January 1934 started on New Years Day with the Edinburgh Derby, the first for two years following Hibs’ spell in the Second Division. Notwithstanding that lack of meetings it had been 14 years since Hearts had won the corresponding fixture at Easter Road but they did exactly that in front of around 20,000 spectators. The home side scored first through Nicholson but the lead lasted only two minutes before Massie scored the first of two he’d get that day whilst his team mate Reid added another two to make the final score 4-1 to the visitors. Twenty four hours later Hibs won 1-0 at Muirton Park against St. Johnstone and in the two games following they lost 2-1 at home to Hamilton and 2-0 away to Kilmarnock which was hardly idea preparation for their Scottish Cup first round tie against Clyde at Easter Road.

    Despite poor recent form the Cup tie attracted a good crowd numbering 16,426 and it is without doubt that as they filed into the stadium that day they had no idea just what a ding dong match they were about to witness. The visitors struck first but Rab Walls soon equalised but between then and half time the home defence had a nightmare and the sides turned around with Clyde leading 4-1. Bobby Templeton must have had some harsh words for his men during the interval but whatever he said it seemed to have the desired effect. Rab Walls made it 4-2 early in the half and then new signing Smith from Hearts scored a quick fire double to level the tie before Paddy Malloy thumped home what proved to be the winner some 15 minutes from time.

    Buoyed by that comeback Hibs next defeated Aberdeen in the league and then 12,118 watched them hammer Alloa at Easter Road in round two of the cup with Paddy Malloy scoring four in a 6-0 rout but any dreams of glory evaporated in round three when Aberdeen came to Easter Road and won 1-0.

    Once again Hibernian had failed miserably in the Scottish Cup and once again it was only league placing that remained to be contested other than the usual round of local cup competitions. Ten league matches remained and out of a possible twenty points Hibs accrued just four meaning that in their first season back in the top flight the greens had to be content with a 16th place finish in a league of twenty with Rangers once again the champions.

    Somewhat bizarrely, with league games still in progress, Hibs had decided to go on a short tour of the highlands before returning to Edinburgh to compete in the Wilson Cup and the Rosebery Cup. Perhaps they should have stayed up north because they lost to Hearts in the final of both competitions.
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