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  • We Are Hibernian FC - Part Twenty

    With the war still raging on in Europe a number of football clubs went out of business whilst others withdrew from the league but Hibs boss Dan McMichael, who would not live to see the fruits of his labours, worked valiantly to put a Hibs team on the park whilst Glasgow Rangers did their best to kill Hibs off.

    If previous close season breaks had been difficult for Dan McMichael in terms of assembling a squad of players for the next campaign then this one would prove even more so. Some of his players had been conscripted, some had volunteered and some were in reserved occupations doing their bit for the war effort. All in all it made it extremely difficult to assemble a squad but somehow McMichael managed it as he added Willie Miller from Cambuslang and Davy Gordon from Leith Athletic. As a consequence, Hibs were able to field a side on the opening day of the season when they drew 1-1 with Airdrie. Fans watching that game had been given the opportunity to buy season tickets with a seat in the stand costing 11/- (55p) and a spot on the terracing 5/6 (27.5p) with a kids ticket for the terracing costing 3/- (15p).

    A week later Hibs were at Parkhead, losing 3-1 in a match where Willie Miller made his debut; the first of many games he would play for Hibernian. A thrilling 4-3 home win over Hamilton took Hibs into September on a winning note but it was a bit of a false dawn as they lost their next three outings, the third of those being a 2-1 defeat at Tynecastle with Willie Miller getting the Hibs goal. A good 3-1 win at Rugby Park was all the more impressive when it became known that defender Peter Kerr had turned out in goal.

    By this time the Americans had entered the war and in Leith and its surrounding areas there was hope that this would mean a quick end to hostilities so that loved ones could return home to their families. It was not to be and as the war raged on and more and more men lost their lives football carried on. In the nine matches that took Hibs up to the end of November, only one victory was achieved as Falkirk were beaten 1-0 at Brockville but six ended in draws, including a good point earned at Easter Road against high flying Rangers for whom Harry Hutchison had resigned after leaving Hibs in the close season.

    December 1916 started with two draws but followed on with two hefty defeats as the greens went down 5-1 at Ibrox and 4-1 at Hampden to Queens Park. Not in the team for those games and indeed out of football for good was poor Robert Alexander who had fallen from a ladder at work, landed in some machinery and lost an arm as well as suffering bad injuries to both legs. John Meaney from Cowdenbeath was drafted in as a replacement but he could do little to help as Hibs crashed 4-2 at home to Morton in their last competitive match of the year.

    Their indifferent form had Hibs joint 14th in the league with Hearts when the sides clashed on New Years Day 1917 in the final of the Wilson Cup at Easter Road. By this time the entire Hearts team had enlisted and were off fighting the war which meant that their manager John McCartney had suffered the same problems as Dan McMichael in getting a squad of players together. Around 6,000 watched the game as Hibs raced into a 3-0 half time lead with goals from Tommy Kilpatrick who got two and a first for the club from John Meaney. The second half was less entertaining as Hibs defended their lead successfully to lift the trophy.

    The unusually mild weather in January and February allowed Hibs to play nine league matches and as you might expect, results were mixed. Four wins and five defeats produced just eight points with 15 goals scored and 18 conceded. A four game unbeaten streak in March was ended when the greens went down 3-1 at Broomfield against Airdrie but given the circumstances surrounding player availability it was a miracle that Dan McMichael could even field a team, let alone get a fair share of positive results.

    April began with a postponement because of snow but a week later the pitch was playable again as league leaders Celtic took both points but had to fight hard to beat Hibs 1-0 at Easter Road. Two days later Hibs entertained Hearts in the league at Easter Road where the game was played in a snow storm which didn’t stop the visitors winning 2-0 with a goal in each half. A 2-1 defeat at Pittodrie was no real surprise when Hibs had to play an injured and struggling Bobby Templeton in goals. That was the last league game of the season and Hibs eventually finished in 16th place in a league of 20 that, believe it or not was propped up by bottom club Aberdeen.

    May started with Hibs visiting Tynecastle for the semi final of the Rosebery Cup and with only minutes to go until kick off, word came through that keeper McManus had been unable to get away from work and so once again Hibs were forced to put an outfield player in goal – they lost 3-0 in what proved to be their last game of the season.

    The war still rumbled on in Europe and during most of April and half of May a huge battle took place at Arras. It was the bloodiest of confrontations but although around 15,000 British servicemen died a staggering 100,000 Germans also perished as it looked for once as though the Allies might be getting on top of their enemy. Another 10,000 German lives were lost at the Battle of Messines which was dominated by seemingly never ending salvo’s of heavy artillery fire. Such was the volume of noise from these heavy guns that combined with the fact that tunnels had been dug under the German fortifications and filled with dynamite, that people said the noise of the explosions could be heard in London, more than 100 miles away. Of course that’s probably not true but it amply illustrates the fact that the noise was indeed deafening and one can only imagine what it must have been like sitting in trenches with that madness going on all around you.

    Things were becoming even more difficult at home, in a football sense. St Bernards followed Leith Athletic in going out of business whilst Raith Rovers, Dundee and Aberdeen all withdrew from the league but there was a desire at Easter Road to keep the Hibs going if that was at all possible.

    Meanwhile, unrest was growing amongst the general public that after three long years the war in Europe continued unabated. No-one could understand why the hostilities continued but whilst they argued and debated, perhaps the bloodiest battle of all was just a few short weeks away.

    As to Hibernian the usual problem of assembling a squad reared its head again but Dan McMichael was a resourceful man and he managed to draft in players from the likes of the now defunct St Bernards, Cowdenbeath and East Stirling. It wasn’t the strongest of squads but it meant that Hibs could keep playing, rather than coming out of the league when doing so might have had disastrous effects on the future of the club.

    Hopes may have been high and expectations may have been higher still but the greens and their fans came down to earth with a bang as they lost their opening five league fixtures including a 1-0 reversal at Tynecastle that put Hibs firmly at the bottom of the league table. Worryingly, Hibs had conceded nine goals in those games but had not scored a single one and so it came as something of a shock when, on 17 September at Easter Road they thumped Hearts 4-0 in the East of Scotland Shield Final carried forward from the previous season. That win must have boosted the confidence a bit because they one their next game 3-1 against Airdrie and then drew 2-2 with Partick Thistle in Glasgow.

    Meanwhile the Allies were involved in fierce fighting at what became known as the Third Battle of Ypres. Passchendaele was the site of the battlefield where the Allies fired over 4 million shells onto the German lines for ten consecutive days before sending in the troops. Heavy rain had turned the ground into a mudbath as the soldiers climbed out of their trenches and made their way towards the enemy lines. The mud got everywhere and many weapons were rendered useless by it as literally thousands of men were mown down by the German guns. Being bombarded for ten days effectively served warning to the Germans that a major offensive was planned and so they moved troops into the area to rebuff it, and the Allied forces were like lambs to the slaughter. Many brave men died in that battle and more than a dozen earned the Victoria Cross for their bravery.

    Despite the horrendous losses General Haig ordered further attacks and so more lives were lost with very little actual ground being gained. Historians would argue long and hard regarding Haig. Some thought him a brave soldier who was not afraid to take difficult decisions whilst others refereed to him as a butcher as he had little regard for the lives of the men he was sending over the top from the trenches.

    Whilst that madness was going on the people of Scotland were trying hard to live as normal a life as possible and that included going to watch football matches. Those going to Easter Road at the start of October would have been disappointed to watch Hibs lose 3-0 to Dumbarton but heartened in the next two games which brought nine goals, four points and five goals for Willie Miller. Hibs didn’t win again throughout the end of October and the whole of November but they only lost once in that period as the other games ended in draws.

    December 1917 started well for Hibs with a good 3-1 home win over St Mirren but that was followed up with a 1-0 away defeat at Dumbarton. Christmas was fast approaching but like the Christmases of the last three years, celebrations would be overshadowed by what was happening in the trenches. For those still at home Hibs displayed their usual inconsistency by dominating the next two matches but only drawing them both, against Hamilton at home and then Falkirk away. On the Saturday between Christmas and New Year the greens overcame Partick Thistle 2-1 at Easter Road and that should have set them up nicely for the Ne’er Day match at Tynecastle where the winners would lift the Wilson Cup. League placing sometimes offered a clue as to how these matches might pan out but with Hearts severely weakened following the departure of their squad to join the war effort and Hibs without five regulars and having to play left back Bobby Templeton in goal it was anybodies guess how this one might go. A mere 6,000 turned up top watch Willie Miller score twice and Charlie Campbell grab another as the greens won 3-1.

    Moving on into January 1918 the carnage in the trenches continued as the Generals on both sides threw more and more men into the battle, resulting in high casualty rates and very little gaining of ground on either side. Back in Scotland Hibs played three league games during that month winning one against Clyde, drawing one with Morton and losing one at Kilmarnock.

    In Europe things were beginning to take a different shape in terms of the hostilities as Russia, content that it had regained most of the lands lost, negotiated peace with the Germans and promptly disintegrated into a Civil War of its own. Fighting still continued on the other fronts however and meanwhile back in Scotland Hearts arrived at Easter Road for a league match and got revenge for the Wilson Cup defeat by winning this match 3-1 with Willie Miller once again the Hibs marksman. That was the start of a thoroughly miserable month for Hibs as they followed up defeat by Hearts with defeats from Rangers, Airdrie and Queens Park.

    As the Suffragettes finally won their very worthy fight to secure the vote for women it was at last acknowledged just how important a role women had played in the war against Germany. Certainly it was the men who were sent to the trenches but women worked in the munitions factories, supplying the army with the weaponry needed to continue the conflict and of course many women worked in front line field hospitals, tending the wounded and in many cases saving lives. The vote should have been theirs by right but it took a protest movement and a World War to make men come to their senses and acknowledge that voting should be the right of all adults, regardless of gender.

    March 1918 began for Hibs with a 1-0 home win over Raith Rovers in the semi final of the Dunedin Cup and then continued with a fine 4-1 home win in the league over Third Lanark, a 2-0 away defeat at Clydebank, a 2-1 home win over Falkirk and finally a 2-1 away defeat at Motherwell. Just three more league games remained and those brought one defeat, at home to Celtic and two draws leaving Hibs to finish in third bottom spot in a league won by Rangers.

    An East of Scotland Shield Final win over Hearts brought some cheer but in the Dunedin Cup Final at Brockville the home side won 5-3 before the greens played their last game of the season in going to Tynecastle for the final of the Rosebery Cup. After a dour first half, Moir scored twice for Hibs in the second without reply to secure another cup for the greens.

    Whilst football went into hibernation for the summer the war continued unabated and a number of Hibs men volunteered to go and fight in the trenches. The Germans, perhaps sensing defeat, made one last huge effort and bombarded the British lines for days on end before sending their troops over the top to face the Allied forces. As before the casualties were enormous on both sides, little ground was gained or lost and the Generals went back to the drawing board to plot out their next moves.

    This really was a senseless loss of life and it showed little sign of abating anytime soon, despite having already been going on for four long years. On the home front and for reasons best known only to them Rangers approached the Scottish footballing authorities and asked that Hibs be removed from the fixture card as they did not have the calibre of team required for the league. This was a hostile and totally unwarranted attack on Hibernian, a club that had seen many of its players volunteer for active service and a club that had done many things throughout the conflict to raise funds for the war effort. Thankfully, those in charge of Hibernian had absolutely no intention of letting Rangers have their way and the response from the greens was such that the authorities immediately declined Rangers’ request. One cannot help but find a parallel of sorts with the situation today, at least in the fact that Rangers still look down upon Hibernian and clubs of equal standing to the greens, arguing that they (Rangers) cannot improve their standards because of the lack of serious competition within the Scottish game. Now, as then, the retort from Hibernian is ‘we are here to stay.’

    Hibernian was a fortunate club in that it had people like John and Philip Farmer, Owen Brannigan and not least Dan McMichael at the helm because these were men that had already lived through one period where the club almost died and there was no way they were going to allow that to happen again. It was their will that those Hibernians fortunate enough to return from the trenches should come back to a football club worth supporting. Of course that was easier said than done in that many of the best players were now fighting overseas but Dan McMichael was a workaholic when it came to his beloved football team and so he travelled many miles across the country to identify players that could wear the famous green jerseys. Two such players were Willie McGinnigle of Cambuslang, a club Hibs had brought players from successfully in the past and Hugh Shaw of Clydebank Juniors with both of those players going on to become vital components of future Hibernian teams.

    Even as Dan McMichael was working at building a side for the coming season the war raged on in Europe and it took a concerted and joint effort by the Allied forces to repel what would prove to be the final large scale offensive launched by the Germans.

    Season 1918/19 started disastrously for Hibernian as Dan McMichael’s patched up team lost its first nine league matches including humiliating 5-1 and 7-1 defeats by Third Lanark and Kilmarnock respectively. In fairness Hibs had only nine fit players to face Third Lanark and suffered an injury to one of those that did start meaning they played most of the match with just eight men. Add into the mix a 2-1 defeat at Tynecastle in the East of Scotland Shield Final first leg and a 3-1 home defeat by the Gorgie club in the league and you can imagine how everyone connected with the club must have been feeling. It was not until 26 October that Hibs finally won a league match when they defeated Airdrie 2-1 at Easter Road although the points were not enough to take the greens off the bottom spot in the league.

    At long last it looked as though the Great War might be drawing to a close as a massive Allied force of more than half a million men, supported by artillery, tanks and aircraft launched a major attack, known as the Argonne Offensive, on the German lines. Initially, progress was slow as the German forces employed a ‘backs to the wall they shall not pass’ attitude and indeed in the first three weeks of the battle the Americans alone suffered the loss of over 100,000 men but in time the push became too much for the defending forces and the Allies pushed on, severing supply lines to the enemy and finally, after almost five bloody years, forcing the German High Command to surrender at 11am on eleventh, November 1918. Lest ye forget, some 10 million lives were lost in the war that should have ended all wars and that was almost entirely the lives of 10 million working class men, women and children. It was hoped that the Armistice signed on 11th November would ensure no such war would ever be waged again but as time would prove, the overthrowing of the Royal Family in Russia and the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany led only to the establishment of Communism in Russia and the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. Communism for long years carried the threat of nuclear war whilst the rise to power of the Nazis in Germany heralded a Second World War in which millions more lost their lives.

    From a Hibs perspective, November was another bad month results wise as the greens suffered three straight defeats before overcoming Clyde at Easter Road on the 30th of that month and December wasn’t much better with only one win in four games when Falkirk were defeated 2-1 at Easter Road. As 1918 came to an end Hibernian had played 19 games, won 3, drawn 1 and lost 15, scoring 14 goals but conceding 53. Their points total was just 7 and they were firmly rooted to the bottom of the league. Interestingly, Jock Ward who had a fish and chip shop in Easter Road decided that in celebration of the war ending, he would give free fish and chips to customers when Hibs won at home for the remainder of the season!

    Hoping that the end to hostilities might mean some of his players returning to Easter Road, Dan McMichael, now suffering ill health, battled on and retained the good will and support of the fans as they recognised his was an impossible job and yet he had stuck manfully to the task. With a few players back in the Hibernian ranks the greens went to Tynecastle on 1 January 1919 and drew 2-2 in the final of the Wilson Cup with Gilmour and King firing the visitors into a 2-0 lead only for Sinclair and Nisbet to level things for Hearts. Still, it was encouraging to get a result like that at a difficult venue and in front of 10,000 fans too. Could this be the turning point in Hibernian’s season? Sadly, the short answer to that was, no.

    Of the four league games played in January, all were lost including a 3-1 reversal at Tynecastle where a goal by the returning Sandy Grosert was overshadowed by Andy Wilson’s hat trick for the hosts. If January was a disaster on the park then February was most definitely a disaster off it. At Brockville on the 1st of the month, earning a very creditable 1-1 draw, the returning Hibs party was very sombre in mood as Dan McMichael took ill and all but collapsed. His health had been deteriorating for some time and it was known he had both kidney and heart problems, on top of which he contracted a particularly nasty flu. Back in Leith, Dan was taken to his home in Easter Road where the family doctor tended to him but on the morning of 6th February 1919 Dan sadly passed away.

    In these modern times the word legend is often over used but it must be said that Dan McMichael was a true Hibernian legend having served the club faithfully and well as a supporter when the club was founded in 1875 through a variety of positions within the club to manager at the time of his death. Dan had stood strong when the club almost died at the hands of Celtic and had fought ferociously to keep it going all through the difficult years of the war. His eye for a player saved Hibernian a great deal of money as many he signed up would go on to achieve great things and had Hibs wanted to buy such quality it would have cost a pretty penny. Dan was gone now but his legacy lived on as a number of the players found and signed by him would star in great Hibernian teams to come.

    Life goes on and Hibs had to play Dumbarton at Easter Road on the Saturday following Dan’s death. Black armbands were worn and the Hibernian flag emblazoned with a gold harp and bearing the legend ‘Erin go Bragh’ was lowered to half mast. The crowd was in sombre mood and the players looked as though their minds were elsewhere but they still managed to carve out a 1-0 win and earn two very valuable points.

    A week later Hibs were at Cappielow, minus their manager and still feeling the pain of his absence. A torrential downpour prior to the match seemed to render the surface unplayable but Dan was not there to object and the home side was quite comfortable playing on such a surface. Hibs were humiliated in an horrendous 9-2 defeat but one thing is for sure, if Dan McMichael had been alive that game would never have been played.

    Hibs desperately needed leadership in the dressing room as the absence of a manager put great strain on the senior players, all of whom wanted the situation resolved as soon as possible. Little did they know that before long the new manager would indeed be appointed and that he would be one of those senior players mentioned. Ahead of the announcement, Hibs lost 2-1 at home to Hamilton with Hugh Shaw getting the goal. After the match the new manager’s name was announced and it was none other than former Leith Athletic and now Hibernian stalwart Davy Gordon who would prove to be an excellent choice for the post.

    Gordon’s first game in charge saw his side facing Dundee Hibernian at Easter Road in a friendly and winning 6-2 before losing out 1-0 to Ayr United in a league match. The Scottish Cup had been suspended during the hostilities but the authorities had decided that in recognition of the end of the war they would have a competition where teams would play for the Victory Cup. As fate would have it, Hibs were drawn at home against Ayr United only this time it was the greens that triumphed 1-0 as Tommy Kilpatrick scored in front of a crowd of around 13,000.

    League points were still scarce and two more were allowed to slip away as Hibs went down 4-2 against Third Lanark at Cathkin Park but a week later at Easter Road Motherwell were beaten 2-0 in the third round of the Victory Cup, giving the home fans in the 20,000 crowd something to cheer about in this dismal season. It has to be said that in both Victory Cup games, goalkeeper David Stevenson was every bit as much a hero as the goalscorers, putting in two wonderful displays and fully justifying Davy Gordon’s decision to recall him to the first team.

    Amazingly, Hibs had now reached the semi final of the Victory Cup but their run would end there as they lost 3-1 after extra time to a very strong St Mirren at Easter Road in mid April. One astonishing fact from that match was that the crowd exceeded 30,000, proving that the greens still had staunch support if only they could improve upon their shocking league form. Oh and incidentally, the Buddies went on to win the trophy in the final at Parkhead where they defeated Hearts 3-0.

    Two friendly matches allowed Davy Gordon to experiment a little with his line up as the greens defeated Dundee Hibernian away and drew 0-0 in Fife against Cowdenbeath. Whether Gordon learned much from those games is unclear as next time out Hibs lost at Partick Thistle 2-0.
    A new face appeared on the scene at this time as Davy Gordon signed winger Harry Ritchie who made his debut in a home match against Queens Park and played his part in a fine 1-0 win against a very strong visiting side. A few days later a former club of manager Gordon arrived at Easter Road for a friendly match and that turned out to be an entertaining affair that ended Hibernian 3 Hull City 3.

    Only two league matches remained and they brought a 3-1 defeat at St Mirren and a 3-3 away draw with Airdrie meaning that the greens finished bottom of a league won by Celtic but thankfully there would be no relegation this season and so Hibs would remain in the top flight.
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