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  • We Are Hibernian FC - Part Five

    Part five of John Campbell's look back in time tells of Scottish Cup glory and International recognition for some of the players which had the fans of Hibernian FC sitting on top of the world!

    On the playing front there were to be changes before the next season would start with Michael Whelahan’s great friend Malachy Byrne finally hanging up his boots to concentrate on assisting with the running of the Club. A new goalkeeper was signed, from Morton, John Tobin and he was to go on to have a great and illustrious career with Hibernian.

    In April of 1885 there was much rejoicing in Little Ireland as their friend, guide and mentor Father Edward Joseph Hannan was made a Canon of the Roman Catholic Church. It was Canon Hannan’s 25th year as a Priest and in typically modest fashion he praised those whom he served and argued that he was only worthy of this achievement because of all the good and unsung heroes around him that helped to ease pain for the suffering and poverty for the poor.

    Season 1885/86 was to one filled with high’s and low’s both on and off the park for Hibernian Football Club and it started with the creation of yet another nursery team in Hibernian Emerald from which many future stars would come. The greens were now running a whole group of sides and in addition were actively scouting throughout Scotland for players it was thought would strengthen the side.

    Already new names had been appearing and making their mark. John Tobin was a fine goalkeeper; Owen Brannigan an excellent fullback; Tommy Preston a hard working provider of chances for others who had fought his way right up through the various nursery and reserve teams to stake a place in the first eleven and Phil Clarke a prolific goalscorer capable of providing a fierce shot with either foot.

    On the park results were going well and teams such as Rangers and Renton were defeated by an improved Hibernian outfit. Indeed, September brought a visit from the mighty Queens Park and despite the visitors dominating early in the game Hibernian went on to win 2 – 1, proving they could now match and beat the best the country had to offer. A week later Hibernian travelled to Tynecastle and beat Hearts 2 – 0 much to the consternation of the home supporters who were getting mightily fed up of these Irishmen having the upper hand.

    Later that month a Hibernian team travelled to Glasgow to fulfil one of its many fixtures where the object of the exercise was to help raise monies for a local charity. The Hibs defeated a team they had helped to found, Glasgow Hibernian and at the traditional gathering after the game, one interested observer was making mental note of the fact that Hibernian was adept at raising money for charity and had a large and vociferous support in the City. That observer was one Brother Walfrid whom several years later was to initiate actions which would have devastating, long term effects on Hibernian Football Club, its members, players and followers.

    Back on the field of play Hibernian secured a bye in the first round of the Scottish Cup and was then drawn at home against Hearts in the second round. All the talk amongst the supporters as they chatted in the bars of Little Ireland was that Hearts had proved no match of late for the mighty Hibernian and surely the Hibs would once again dispose of them.

    Up in Gorgie, however, the Heart of Midlothian management had taken drastic steps to improve their side as they were sick of losing to the Irishmen. A number of new players were found and signed up and early indications were that Heart of Midlothian might just about be ready to reverse the trend of defeats inflicted by those Irish upstarts.

    It was to be a rip roaring Cup Tie with the Hearts having the early advantage and going in at half time leading by the only goal of the game so far. Their small, by comparison, band of supporters had enjoyed watching their favourites take the game to Hibernian and they were entertaining thoughts of beating the Hibs for a change but a rousing half time talk in the home dressing room saw Hibernian come out and score two fine goals without response, to once again send the Hearts home with their tails between their legs.

    More charity matches were to see fringe and younger players given their chance in the first team and a number took the opportunity to impress enough to be added to the first eleven, including the attacking player George Smith who had ‘great ability and became a fine dribbler of the ball’ Another who caught the eye, oddly at full back, was Sandy McMahon who in time would prove to be a prolific goal scoring forward for Hibernian.

    Progress was made in the Scottish Cup and Edinburgh FA Shield thanks to home victories over Arbroath and Mossend Swifts in the respective competitions. The Irishmen then drew Dumbarton away in the Scottish and had to be at their very best to earn a replay which was to be talked about for years as one of the greatest games ever played by Hibernian. Three goals to one down and Dumbarton looking as though they were heading into the next round and then the Hibs suddenly found their form. Two quick goals had them level with the ground crammed full of noisy Hibernian fans roaring their men on. Incredibly, James McGhee hit a last minute winner and Dumbarton, twice winners of the trophy themselves, were out.

    Such comebacks were becoming a trademark for the Hibernian men and in their very next game they came back from being 2 – 0 down against Hearts to win 4 – 3 in the EFA Shield. Their reputation as a hard but fair team was known throughout Scotland and so players from all parts of the country were only too happy to sign for the greens if given the chance and so it was that the brothers Maley, Tom and Willie, came to Hibernian from their west coast home of Cathcart. It was not to be long, however, before they moved back west when a new football team was founded in Glasgow, but more of that later. These were not the only ones named Maley who would join Hibernian and the youngest brother, Alec, stayed put in Edinburgh and became a legend at the Club in the years ahead.

    A stalwart in the Hibernian side of those days was one Tommy Preston, whose namesake was to play a huge part in yet another historical event some seventy years later but for now we concentrate on the Preston who played for the greens in the mid 1880’s as at just 23 years of age he took ill after a match and some weeks later died in the Royal Infirmary. This was truly a tragedy for the young man’s family and for Hibernian as Preston had been a player brought up through the ranks and was a Hibernian through and through.

    Back on the field of play, Hibernian disposed of a strong Cambuslang side and in so doing reached the semi final of the Scottish Cup. The opponents in that tie were Renton, the Cup holders who won the game 2 – 0 but lost in the Final to Queens Park. Once again a place in the Final of the Scottish Cup had eluded the Irishmen. Was it then going to be a disappointing end to the season? Possibly but there was to be a wonderful star in the sky over the ground when the fans of the Hibs watched some of their reserve players shine in a 2nd XI Cup Tie. It was to be the first time that many of them would witness the sublime talents of Patrick William Groves who hailed from Glasgow but lived in Leith and had been snapped up by the ever alert John McFadden, Secretary of Hibernian. Groves was to become a Hibernian legend, albeit only for a few short years before being enticed west in 1888.

    Although the season was almost over, the Hibs still had an interest in the EFA Shield and reached the Final yet again after defeating Edinburgh University at the semi stage. This brought the Irishmen up against St. Bernard’s in the Final and in a one sided affair the greens ran out 5 – 1 winners. In their next game, a friendly against Dumbarton, McFadden decided to field Willie Groves who set up all three goals in a 3 – 1 victory. The young Groves then almost single handedly won the second XI Cup with his wizardry which made him the darling of the Hibernian faithful. In fact, from that day forward he became known to the followers of the greens as ‘Darlin’ Willie Groves.

    Suddenly the end to the season was becoming less disappointing and in fact it turned full circle when after disposing of Edinburgh University in the semi final of the Rosebery Charity Cup Hibernian heard that two of its players had been selected to represent Scotland in a full international match at Hampden Park. James McGhee and James Lundy were to become the first of many Hibernian stalwarts to wear the dark blue of Scotland down the years but such was the delight at this first international recognition of the standing of the Club and its fine players that Canon Hannan, Michael Whelahan, Malachy Byrne, John McFadden and a number of Hibernian players travelled through to Glasgow to watch those Hibernians play in a tough match against Wales.

    With their Rosebery Charity Cup Final still to come, Hibernian made a short tour of England and faced huge Clubs such as Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City. Prior to leaving, however, they had played and beaten the mighty Blackburn Rovers at Easter Road and the English defence in that game had been tormented by the skills of Darlin Willie Groves. Such was the impression made that the Rovers sounded Groves out with regard to a possible move south but the Darlin of the Hibernian support decided he preferred to wear the green.

    In the lead up to their encounter with Hearts the greens played another couple of games in Edinburgh and then finally, the day had arrived for the showdown with the men from Gorgie. The Irishmen dominated play and were two goals ahead when a Hearts man went down under a tame challenge and their supporters decided to invade the park and chase the Hibernian player guilty of the challenge. A fight broke out and irate Hibernian fans ran on to the park to rescue their heroes. Once order was restored the Hearts players refused to continue and the game was abandoned. Astonishingly, a replay was ordered and that match was to draw even more controversy than the first encounter.

    At Powderhall the Hearts were leading by the only goal when the Referee sparked a riot by awarding the Gorgie side a second goal when the ball was a good foot from crossing the line when Hibernian keeper Tobin saved it. Shamefully, an unruly mob from the Hibernian support ran onto the park and attacked the Referee, stopping only when the Hibernian players intervened to drag the poor official clear. The match, unsurprisingly, was abandoned with the greens suffering great shame following the irresponsible actions of a small number of their fans.

    Hibernian was everything to Canon Hannan and he was appalled that Irishmen would stoop so low as to bring such shame on the Club and on Little Ireland. He was in such depression at these events that he felt compelled to call his great friends Michael Whelahan and Malachy Byrne to meet with him to discuss what the Club should do. They decided that the honourable course of action was to offer written apologies to the Referee, the Rosebery Charity Cup Committee and the players and officials of Heart of Midlothian Football Club. These things they did and they also offered to forfeit the tie to their opponents but the governing Committee would not allow this and ordered a further replay.

    This time around the game passed without incident and Hearts recorded a single goal victory although the Hibs battered their goal but could not score. It was an inglorious end to a very long season which once again had its share of high’s and lows, with perhaps the capping of two Hibernians and the discovery of Willie Groves being the saving grace.

    Season 1886/87 was to be the one in which Hibernian would finally see its name added to Scotland’s most important Cup trophy but not before the Club had travelled a long and sometimes testing road. As ever, Hibernian was in much demand for benefit games with monies raised going to worthy charities. The popularity of the Edinburgh Irishmen was still high in all parts of Scotland and many miles were covered by the greens whilst helping organisations who raised funds for the poor and needy.

    One such game early that season took place in Glasgow where a strong Hibernian outfit drew a sizeable crowd to a match organised by the Marist Priest, Brother Walfrid whose poor children’s fund received an enormous boost courtesy of the takings at the gate. The Priest was not slow to recognise once again that the crowd was made up almost entirely of Glasgow based Irishmen and the seed of an idea began to grow whereby he considered forming his own team of Irishmen to be based in the west.

    The thought of forming a football team, inspired by the mighty Hibernian, was a common one of that time and many clubs sprang up, not just in Edinburgh but throughout Scotland sporting the name of Hibernian in their title. From Aberdeen to Alloa and from Dundee to Dumfries the clubs were formed and held the mighty Hibernian as the standard to which they aspired. There were even Hibernian inspired Clubs in such places as Govan and Larkhall – I wonder whatever became of them!

    On the competitive front the Hibs soon disposed of Durhamtown Rangers in the first round of the Scottish Cup with Groves bagging a hat trick. In between fulfilling Cup Tie commitments the greens continued to help out in any way they could any cause which merited assistance and they made a donation to the striking Loanhead mining community after Hearts had refused to play Hibs in a benefit match to raise funds for the starving families in that area. Many ancestors of those striking miners still live in that community and many have grown up supporting Hearts whilst their allegiances might well have lain elsewhere had they known the truth of how their forefathers survived a strike.

    Vale of Midlothian fell to the Hibs in the first round of the EFA Shield before the greens travelled west to share a draw with Mossend Swifts in the second round of the Scottish Cup. Prior to the replay Hibernian lifted the impressively named Glasgow International Exhibition Cup defeating a very strong Third Lanark side in the Final thanks to the wizardry of Willie Groves who supplied the passes for Phil Clarke and Paddy Lafferty to score the goals in a 2 – 1 win.

    The following week a replay in the Scottish against Mossend Swifts at Easter Road saw the home side win 3 – 0 setting up a third round tie against bitter rivals Hearts. Some 7,000 fans packed into the Holy Ground to see their heroes humiliate hapless Hearts in a crushing 5 – 1 victory the highlight of which was Willie Groves running riot and scoring two great goals.

    After securing a bye in the second round of the EFA Shield the greens visited Bo’ness and came home the victors by 3 – 1. The people of Little Ireland and now many of the surrounding areas were rightly proud of their football team which played with flair and skill, mixed with steel when required and the excited supporters began to ask themselves whether this might be the year their heroes lifted the Scottish Cup. Certainly things were going well on that front, with local rivals Hearts already having fallen to the Irishmen.

    Next up in that competition was Queen of the South Wanderers who came to Edinburgh full of hope but were sent packing after the Easter Road men turned on the style in defeating them seven goals to three in a pulsating match. Running parallel with the Scottish was the progress being made in the EFA Shield and home advantage failed to save West Calder who took an early lead but lost the game 3 – 1.

    The sixth round – quarter final - of the Scottish Cup pitched Hibernian up against the mighty Third Lanark at Cathkin Park and following a number of weeks without a game due to the weather these sides squared up to each other on Christmas Day of 1886. The date did not deter a huge Hibernian support from travelling not just from Edinburgh but from many other parts of Central Scotland to see the Irishmen play. Despite enormous pressure from the Thirds players the Hibernian men scored twice and went on to win the game 2 – 1 with the following support having a Christmas Day they would never forget.

    The Scottish Cup Semi Final loomed and there was more than a few anxious Hibernians when it was learned that the opponents would be former winners Vale of Leven. The Vale had been a very successful side and many outside the Hibernian support thought that they would be too strong for the Edinburgh side. Messrs Hannan, Whelahan, McFadden and Byrne had other ideas however and they spent every possible moment talking to the players and convincing them they were every bit a match for the strong Vale outfit.

    The game took place at Easter Road and the big crowd was silenced early when Vale took the lead but soon Willie Groves got into the action as he began to torment the big Vale defenders. In one blistering spell of play Groves tore open the visiting defence and slotted home a great equaliser, setting the ground alight in the process. Try as they might the Vale defenders could not stop the Darlin of the Hibs support and Groves added a second after the interval before laying on a third for Montgomery. They had done it! The encouragement, commitment and devotion of Messrs Hannan, Whelahan, McFadden and Byrne, mixed with the skill of the players and the support of the fans had taken Hibernian into the Scottish Cup Final.

    Little Ireland celebrated big style and the partying went on for days with the support little realising that behind the scenes the Vale Management team had lodged a protest, claiming that their tormentor in chief, Willie Groves, was receiving illegal payment from Hibernian. Although he knew this not to be true, Canon Hannan was a very worried man because he had sampled and witnessed the judgements of the games ruling body before. With this shadow hanging over them Hibernian next faced St. Bernard’s in the semi final of the EFA Shield and easily disposed of them 4 – 1 at Easter Road. The celebrations at reaching another Final were somewhat overshadowed however by the fact that the Vale of Leven protest was still not resolved and the build up to the Final of the Country’s National Cup Final competition was a little muted around Easter Road way.

    Of course the Club’s fathers knew there was no case to answer but were aware that great resentment at the success of Hibernian was still very prevalent amongst many of the Clubs, not least of which near neighbours Heart of Midlothian who continued to play second fiddle on the field of play to the Irishmen.

    In the week before the Final, John McFadden the Club Manager and Secretary faced the SFA Committee investigating the claims made by Vale of Leven in their protest. Outrageously, McFadden was not given any advance notice of the detail of the protest or of the so called evidence produced at the meeting by their representatives but he was a clever man and argued that the protesting Club must give a full written report of their charges together with details of the evidence they claimed they had and that this must be produced before Hibernian were required to answer such charges. The SFA further determined that the Final should go ahead despite the fact that they had not ruled on the protest – yet another bizarre decision by the men who ruled the game in Scotland.

    Back in Little Ireland the news of this reprieve, coupled with the revelation that the Final would go ahead led to huge celebration and planning of how the massive support might journey to Glasgow to see their heroes take on the might of Dumbarton at Hampden Park. Money was tight but this did not deter thousands of Hibernian fans making the journey and a very large number of them actually set off days earlier so as to walk to Hampden such was their devotion to the Hibs. Once there, most had no money for entry and so stormed the gates to gain access. The official attendance was something like 5,000 short of the number who actually attended and the press at the time reported that the Dumbarton fans were outnumbered five to one in the stadium.

    Knowing the importance of the event and in celebration of his charges reaching the Final after having been in existence just short of twelve years, John McFadden arranged that his men arrived at the Stadium in Club colours and carrying a green flag with a Gold Harp in recognition of the many Irishmen who had made the long journey to support their team. Many of the fans also wore green and carried the Irish flag, with fans having arrived in large numbers from the Old Country to support the Edinburgh Irishmen.

    All the pieces were in place to ensure that Saturday 12 February 1887 would go down in the short history of the Club as its greatest day ever. Nerves played a part in ensuring that both teams found it hard to establish any domination but the huge crowd of Hibernian fans was stunned into silence on the hour mark when slack defending allowed Dumbarton to snatch the lead. The men from Edinburgh would not be denied, however and after a mazy run from Darlin Willie Groves a shot from Phil Clarke was fumbled by the Dumbarton keeper and James Montgomery hammered home the equaliser from close range.

    The Hibs were now in full flow and won the game with typical attacking flair when they played the ball out of defence to the unstoppable Groves who dribbled his way past several defenders before slotting home the winner from sixteen yards. Hampden was awash with colour and noise as the Hibernian fans went wild with delight and on the final whistle they stormed onto the park to carry their heroes off shoulder high. The fact that Hibernian, born in the slums of Little Ireland and opposed at every opportunity when trying to advance their cause in the Scottish game had defeated mighty Dumbarton and won the Scottish Cup was to send shockwaves around the country. The Hibs had arrived and they were rightly proud of what they had achieved. Sitting in the stands that day and close to tears as he witnessed this astonishing feat was Canon Hannon, the man who had done more than most to make this dream come true.

    It is vital not to forget the efforts of the good Canon and his loyal friends and supporters Michael Whelahan, Malachy Byrne and latterly John McFadden. Praise must also go to stalwarts the likes of Philip and John Farmer whose ancestor would, in the course of time, mean so much to the continued existence of Hibernian Football Club.

    Unlike in modern day times, the immediate after match celebrations took place in Glasgow with food, drink, speeches and song ensuring that the win was truly celebrated in style. Lavish praise was heaped upon the Glasgow Irish who had supported the Edinburgh men with great enthusiasm and few more so than the Club’s old friend Brother Walfrid the Marist priest who had called the greens into service on many occasions to help alleviate the poverty rife in Glasgow’s East End.

    Legend has it that Brother Walfrid and a number of his followers were at the Cup Final and decided that day to try and emulate the success of Hibernian by forming their own Club in the East End of Glasgow. Whether that story is true or not it was soon to happen that the Glasgow Irish would form their Club to be known as Glasgow Celtic and that once they became established the effect on the Club which inspired them would be cataclysmic in proportion.

    When the Hibernian players and officials finally arrived back in Edinburgh that Saturday evening of 12 February 1887, they found Waverly Station was packed with celebrating Irish folk intent on welcoming their heroes back to their adopted City in style. The party was escorted back to Little Ireland with music from Irish flute bands and much singing and back slapping from the thousands who lined the streets.

    A reception had been laid on in the St. Mary’s Street Hall which was packed to the rafters as speech after speech was offered in congratulations to the victorious Hibernian men. Manager/Secretary John McFadden, in typically modest fashion, deflected the much deserved praise aimed at him and chose instead to highlight the marvellous achievement of the players, his back room staff, Canon Hannon, Michael Whelahan, Malachy Byrne and last but not least the supporters of the Club itself. This speech caused applause and cheering which raised the roof and a great night went on until the small hours of the next morning.

    Reality would be a long time returning for the devout supporters of Hibernian but it was never far from the mind of John McFadden who had not forgotten that Vale of Leven’s protest was still ‘live’ and awaiting another meeting of the SFA to judge its competence. The actual winning of the trophy had served to increase the amount of resentment still harboured by a number of Clubs and they were trying very hard to have the victory snatched away from Hibernian when, despite hearing empirical evidence to prove that Vale’s appeal had no basis it still took the casting vote of the SFA Chairman to get the Edinburgh Irishmen off the hook. All this served to do was remind the Hibs that they still had many jealous enemies within the game and it came as no surprise when Vale’s request to appeal the appeal decision was allowed.

    Poor John McFadden had that worry on his mind when he reported back to Canon Hannan and after discussion with the others in the guiding committee they decided not to burden the players with knowledge of the appeal because they had a very important Edinburgh FA Shield Final ahead of them. Even at this early stage in its history the ‘Board’ of Hibernian FC realised that it is not always either necessary or constructive to make public all that is discussed in the boardroom.

    Prior to the Shield Final, which would be held on 12 March 1887 against none other than Heart of Midlothian, John McFadden and James McGhee travelled once more to the SFA HQ in Glasgow, resolved to fight the second Vale appeal as strongly as they had the first and so were astonished to hear, upon arriving, that Vale had fully withdrawn their appeal and that Hibernian FC was now rightly and justly considered worthy winners of the Scottish Cup. What better way to celebrate than by thrashing Hearts 3 – 0 at Powderhall to add yet another trophy to the haul for that season.

    There followed a flurry of games as the season drew to a close, including a twice replayed Rosebery Charity Cup Semi Final with the eventual 6 – 1 win taking Hibernian through and a notable four goal contribution by James McGhee as the Hibs defeated Hearts easily by 5 – 2 at Easter Road. Just a couple of weeks later Hibernian crushed Hearts 7 – 1 at Powderhall to win the Rosebery Charity Cup and the local press reported at the time on the fact that leading by 6 – 0 at half time it was as well the greens let up in the second half otherwise double figures may well have been achieved.

    A glorious season then with three trophies in the bag and at long last the Scottish Cup was amongst them. Loved throughout the whole of Scotland by the Irish Catholics spread around the country they drew huge crowds wherever they played. The 25,000 Irish in Edinburgh and Leith supported the Club in every way they could and when the Hibs travelled to the likes of Glasgow or Lanarkshire they had a pool of Irish immigrant Catholics numbering some 250,000 and 30,000 respectively from which to draw their support. Surely things could only get better for Hibernian? Sadly the following season was to be the one which very nearly killed the Club off because of events taking place some forty odd miles away in the east end of Glasgow.
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