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  • We are Hibernian FC - Part Three

    Installment number 3 takes us on towards the 1880/1881 season where Hearts tried to have Hibs expelled from the league.....

    The success of both first and second Hibernian XI’s served to feed the fever of football support in Little Ireland and more and more kids could be seen kicking a ball and shouting “Goal for the Hibernians” This prompted Michael Whelahan to suggest that further Hibernian teams be set up to cater for the demand and the first of those was “Young Ireland” formed in 1879. Can this be an early forerunner to Clubs having a Football Academy and, if so, does it constitute another first for Hibernian?

    As mentioned earlier, Hibernian had built a fine reputation for charitable deeds and the success of the football teams ensured a healthy bank balance for the CYMS which was then able to help the needy. Both Catholic and non-Catholic organisations benefited from the financial help and this ‘concern for all men’ is best illustrated by Alan Lugton in the Making of Hibernian when he relays the following tale.

    Hibernian had become the best team in the East of Scotland and their exploits on the park reached the ears of a hospital administrator in Ayrshire who arranged that Hibernian travel through to meet Kilmarnock Athletic in a challenge match with the proceeds going to the hospital fund. Hibernian travelled at their own expense so as to maximise the income gained by the hospital fund from the encounter and after the game the innovative administrator declared “We were not sure if Irish Catholics would accept such an invitation” to which Michael Whelahan replied “We were both surprised and delighted to be asked and can assure you that neither race nor religion were ever a consideration of Hibernian or the CYMS to help such a worthy cause”

    This exchange surely sums up the Irishmen who founded Hibernian. They arrived here not through choice but through the necessity to care for their families and they were not made welcome in any way shape or form by the Edinburgh establishment who allowed them to live and die in squalid conditions. In trying to better themselves and create an organisation that helped develop and improve the individual they founded a football club which had to struggle frantically just to receive recognition by the EFA and SFA and even then a number of decisions in crucial matches seemed to go against not just them but the rules by which all club’s were obliged to abide. Despite all of that the Irish found it in their hearts to perform charitable acts which helped people regardless of religion or race and much of the credit for that whole philosophy must go to the founding fathers of Hibernian Football Club, Father Hannan and Michael Whelahan.

    Season 1879/80 was to see Hibernian leave Powderhall and after a few matches on rented grounds such as Mayfield they found a new home at the foot of Bothwell Street which lies off Easter Road. Prior to going there, however, the matches played elsewhere saw Hibernian progress in both the EFA and Scottish Cup’s, the latter following yet another fiasco of a tie with Heart of Midlothian when the men from Gorgie failed to turn up twice but were allowed to remain in the competition by the SFA. Not for long, however, as Hibernian dumped them out by two goals to one in front of a hysterical crowd at Mayfield. The next round took Hibernian to Glasgow where they fought out a high scoring draw with Parkgrove, in front of thousands of hysterically keen Irishmen who had settled in the West and whom had formed a liking for the Edinburgh Irishmen in green and white. Another draw resulted in both teams progressing through and Hibernian next defeated Mauchline in Ayrshire. Sadly the Cup run was to come to an end in the following round when a two goal lead over a very strong Dumbarton side stung the Sons of the Rock into action and they scored five without further reply.

    The Edinburgh based Irishmen were winning many admirers on their travels and as will be seen later, were responsible for an upsurge in interest in the game of football in many parts of Scotland. For example, the Irish who settled in Dundee were so taken with this game that they held a gala at Springfield Park and organised a game of football between two schools that were in attendance. Such was the influence of Hibernian’s heroics on the park that one school called itself Hibernian and the other Harp for this challenge match. Two Clubs emerged out of that humble beginning, Dundee Hibernian and Dundee Harp, the latter lasting until around the end of that century whilst the former drifted in and out of existence before getting its act together and joining the SFA in 1909. Around fifteen years later Dundee Hibernian decided to change its name to Dundee United and that is the Club which plays at Tannadice Park in the SPL today.

    The achievements of Hibernian in the EFA Cup made them favourites in that season’s tournament and after a couple of close calls the men in green and white eventually arrived at the semi final stage where they were to meet old rivals Heart of Midlothian, at Powderhall. A massive crowd exceeding 4000 in number, most supporting the Irishmen, turned out and watched in horror as Hibernian went in at half time trailing by two goals but a pep talk from their Captain Paddy Cavenagh, Michael Whelahan having retired from playing to assist Father Hannan in running the Club, had the desired effect and the greens hammered five past Hearts to reach the Final yet again. The Final, against Dunfermline, had to be replayed after Hibernian turned a three goal deficit into a six – three win and their fans invaded the park, allowing the Fifers to protest the result. That protest did them no good, however, as Hibernian scored five in the replay whilst keeping a clean sheet.

    Since retiring from the playing side, Michael Whelahan had spent a lot of his time helping Father Hannan find a new and permanent home for the Club and was delighted when he heard that on a visit to a Catholic teaching order in the area, Father Hannan spotted a piece of land which looked as though it may just fit the bill. The land lay just off Easter Road and so was within easy walking distance of Little Ireland. Whelahan went with Father Hannan and Club Secretary Tom O’Reilly to view the land and all agreed it was an ideal location for Hibernian to set up home. Sadly the land could not be purchased outright and so the Club had to settle for taking a lease from Trinity Hospital.

    At that time most of the area around the land was quite rural and Easter Road itself was little more than a track as the main thoroughfare was Leith Walk but the setting was idyllic and thanks to a huge amount of hard work by willing members of the CYMS, Hibernian Park was formally opened in February 1880, hosting a game against local side Hanover, which Hibernian won five – nil. Up until that day, Hibernian had played in strips consisting of green and white hoops, similar to that worn nowadays by Glasgow Celtic, but to mark the opening of their new home they were presented with strips consisting of all green jerseys, although the green in question was not the emerald shade we have all come to love over the years but more of a bottle green colour to match the green in the hoops of their older outfit.

    In Little Ireland and, increasingly, Leith where more and more of the Irish had moved to find work and accommodation, there was a clamour amongst the young men to become part of this ever improving Hibernian Football Club and so a number of feeder teams were established to join Young Ireland which had been running for some time. Clubs such as Emerald Harp and Shamrock ensured a procession of talented young football players were available to Hibernian as the Irishmen sought to elevate their standing in the game both locally and nationally.

    On 28 February 1880 an event of some significance took place at Hibernian Park when the Irishmen welcomed Glasgow Rangers for a friendly match which the visitors, a strong outfit even then, won by four goals to one. Interestingly, a fair few of the Rangers players were Catholics and that was not found to be odd in any way at all. It was only later in their history that Glasgow Rangers adopted a policy of not signing players of the Catholic faith and thankfully that policy was smashed when Graeme Souness became their Manager and adopted the view that if a player was good enough to play for Rangers his faith was not an issue.

    In those days there were a few teams considered amongst the very strongest in the land and Hibernian was determined to work hard to achieve the standards set by the likes of Queens Park, Dumbarton, Vale of Leven and Glasgow Rangers. One of the ways the Club tried to measure its progress in that regard was to challenge these strong sides to friendly matches and an early encounter at Hibernian Park saw Vale of Leven being held to a one – one draw. Father Hannan was delighted as the Club was moving onwards and upwards without forgetting its roots and the reasons it was formed, to provide social activity whether as a player or spectator for the Irish immigrants who had settled in and around Edinburgh.

    As the 1879/80 season closed Father Hannan, Michael Whelahan, his close friend Malachy Byrne and Club Secretary Tom O’Reilly met to discuss the progress achieved so far and to plan for the coming season. They had much to be pleased about, Hibernian’s first and second teams having won trophies; a new home; new strips and perhaps most important of all, new friends across the land, won by the Club’s sheer willingness to travel and support a variety of charitable events, set up to help the sick and needy.

    Other worthy charitable acts included a donation of funds to the Irish community in Bathgate so that they could form their own football club, Bathgate Shamrock, which went on to gain membership of the EFA.

    The new season was fast approaching and a meeting of the governing association was called, with Michael Whelahan and Tom O’Reilly in attendance representing Hibernian. Imagine their utter shock when the representatives of Heart of Midlothian tabled a motion seeking to have the greens expelled from the association on the grounds that their fans were unruly and their play brutal by nature. Uproar ensued as the Irish called for support from the other team representatives present and it was a very disappointed and embarrassed Hearts contingent which saw its motion heavily defeated as they left with their tales very much between their legs.

    It was not just Hearts, however, that harboured jealous thoughts at the achievements of these upstart Irishmen and although the Hearts motion had been defeated an incredible ten votes went against Hibernian whilst five other Clubs abstained. Given that the vast majority of those Clubs had benefited financially due to the large crowds of supporters Hibernian took with them to each venue it can only have been either jealousy at their success or some deep rooted continuing resentment of the fact that a bunch of Irish immigrants had managed to organise themselves so well and so successfully in a City where they had been made to feel less than welcome.

    Thankfully, Clubs outside the Edinburgh area were quicker to realise that Hibernian was a force to be reckoned with on the field of play and when Father Hannan invited the mighty Queens Park to play in a friendly and they accepted without reservation there was much rejoicing in Little Ireland. Queens Park were the team in Scotland in those days and the fact that they agreed to come and face the fledgling Hibernian was a sure sign that on the football park they were being taken seriously, despite the continual knocks off the park from those Clubs hell bent on making life as difficult as possible for the Irish upstarts. The fact that Hibernian lost only narrowly in that game was a measure for Father Hannan and Michael Whelahan that things were moving in the right direction.

    Soon the Cup competitions began again and bearing in mind that there was no recognised League competition at this stage in the game, it was the Cups which offered the only real competitive matches for the Club. Sadly the Scottish Cup once again eluded the greens as Hearts knocked them out in the third round. The EFA Cup offered some solace with respective 11 – 0 and 15 – 0 wins against Caledonian and Burntisland in the first and second rounds before an enormous crowd of 7,000 fans turned out for the third round encounter with Hearts at Powderhall where they witnessed Hearts score one goal and Hibernian score four, only two of which were allowed to stand. Once again Hearts had fallen victim to Hibernian in a Cup competition and once again they were none too happy about it and decided to lodge a protest with the EFA. Such was the regularity of such actions by Hearts it would be no surprise if they had the protest written out before the game, just in case! The protest was futile and Hibernian marched on.

    The next round saw Rovers lose 9 – 0 to the greens and in the semi final train loads of Hibernian fans travelled to Union Park Corstorphine to watch their favourites beat Edinburgh University 6 – 1. No wonder Hearts were so envious because here again were the Irish upstarts in the Final of the EFA Cup and the Irishmen had double cause for celebration on St. Patrick’s Day, which fell two days before the Final when Hibernian would play St. Bernard’s, a strong and undefeated in that season outfit.

    It was to be a game talked about for years to come in Edinburgh football circles with the greens going into the half time break trailing by four goals to nil after a very one sided first half. The second period of play was to be the day upon which the Hibernians showed their true fighting spirit as they scored four, the last coming with virtually the final kick of the ball. The Hibernian fans went wild in celebration and the noise from these enthusiastic Irishmen could be heard for miles around.

    Whilst the first team were revelling in all this attention, the Second XI were quietly going about the business of winning their own EFA Cup for the third year in a row, defeating Hearts amongst others on the way. The first team had the chance to emulate that feat, having also won the EFA Cup in the previous two years and emulate it they did with a fine 1 – 0 win in the replay over St. Bernard’s. The EFA decided that such a feat deserved recognition and presented both Cups to Hibernian to retain forever and it was a very proud Michael Whelahan who attended the ceremony, together with his great friends Father Hannan and Malachy Byrne. The Cups were taken back to St. Patrick’s Church in the Cowgate amidst wild street celebrations by the people of Little Ireland and there they remain until this day.

    With Hibernian being awarded permanent ownership of the EFA Cup, a new trophy was commissioned and became known as the East of Scotland Shield, played for to this day although most recently by the youth or reserve sides of both Clubs.

    Ever the innovators in football, Hibernian then decided to go on a tour and played three games in England Blackburn Rovers (2 – 4), Bolton Wanderers (4 – 3) and Blackburn Olympic (0 – 2). Little did the founding fathers of Hibernian know that playing on ‘foreign soil’ was to become something that the Club would repeat on many occasions in the years ahead.

    A successful season then although the yearned for prize of the Scottish Cup had eluded them again. Winning the EFA Cups at first and second team level was quite some consolation, however, especially in beating Hearts at both levels along the way!

    Easter Road was still open to the elements for the start of the following season but plans were well advanced for the building of a grandstand along one side of the pitch. One of the most notable episodes in the Club history actually unfolded at the start of this season when Malachy Byrne, out for a stroll in Holyrood Park, stopped to watch a well organised game in which a team named Anchor were playing. Byrne was taken with one of the Anchor’s young defender’s and approached him after the game, persuading him to come along to Hibernian Park for a trial. The lad turned up, did extremely well and was immediately signed. His name was Owen Brannigan and he was to remain with Hibernian for a further sixty five years as player, office worker and Director.

    With only the Cups to play for Hibernian had quite a few Saturday’s where they had no organised game and so used those to play friendlies, many of which resulted in the funds from gate money being split evenly between the Club and deserving charities. Father Hannan was determined to run the Club as an organisation which didn’t just take from the community but gave something back in return. Worthy causes such as Edinburgh Corporation’s Poor Children Fund and the Little Sisters of the Poor were amongst those who benefited and there is a certain irony in the Corporation receiving money from a Club which was founded by the self same Irish immigrants the City had shunned for years. Charitable acts were to become a way of life for Hibernian Football Club for years to come and recently there have been signs that the Club is returning to that way of thinking in that there is a will to give back to the community rather than simply to take from it.

    That part of the gate money retained by the Club was being accumulated with a view to improving Hibernian Park and soon permission was granted for the building of a stand. From the humble beginnings of playing at the Meadows and then having a bit of a nomadic existence, Hibernian was finally being accepted into Edinburgh life.

    Another meeting with Hearts was always just around the corner and on this particular occasion the match took place at Tynecastle, but not the stadium currently occupied by the Club, rather a ground which lay on the other side of Gorgie Road from the present stadium. Six thousand fans witnessed Hearts losing 4 – 2 to the Irishmen and once again the Hearts side were far from gallant in defeat with a number of their players guilty of throwing punches at the Hibernians as they left the field.

    Soon after that game Hibernian opened their new stand by playing a Scottish Cup tie against St. Bernard’s whom they defeated 2 – 1. Starring in the Hibernian side that day was Frank Rourke who, along with three of his team mates was invited to play for an Edinburgh Select against an Ayrshire Select in Kilmarnock. Father Hannan, Michael Whelahan and Malachy Byrne travelled with the players and met old friends from the Ayrshire League who tipped them off about a number of promising football players in the Lugar Boswell side.

    Whelahan and Byrne had a look for themselves and agreed that there were indeed a number of players who looked capable of improving the present Hibernian side and soon they invited the Lugar side to Hibernian Park for a friendly. As a result, some five Boswell players were closely watched by Hibernian and who, in time, would go on to play their own part in the fine history of the Club. McGhee, McGinn, Lafferty, Lundy and McLaren all became stalwarts of Hibernian but not before a ruling of the EFA had been overcome. That ruling, a restrictive practise in modern day parlance, required that Clubs in Edinburgh only sign players who resided in Edinburgh. Until that rule could be challenged and overturned, however, Hibernian had to play on with the resources in hand and did so to great effect by cruising into the fifth round of the Scottish Cup where they met a very strong and much fancied Dumbarton and came a cropper in losing 6 – 2.

    After the Cup Tie was over Hibernian discovered that Dumbarton had played an ineligible player and lodged a protest with the SFA and there was much surprise when the protest was upheld, it being the first time the Irishmen had enjoyed such an outcome. Some Clubs were unhappy about this and there was talk of a protest being lodged about the decision. Thankfully that did not come to pass and a replay was ordered and Dumbarton won again in a match described as a “rough and tumble game with the men from the west of Scotland resorting to foul play at every opportunity.”

    The next game saw Hibernian defeat Heart of Midlothian 3 – 2 and once again the men from Gorgie were outraged at losing to this ‘ragamuffin band of immigrants’ but surely by this time they were getting used to it. Progress was being made in the new Edinburgh FA Shield competition and soon Hibernian was back in the Final where they met St. Bernard’s at Tynecastle in front of 8,000 very excited spectators. Being the replacement for the Edinburgh FA Cup, now held permanently by Hibernian, both sides were anxious to be the first to have their names engraved upon it and a 4 – 2 victory for the greens ensured that the first to appear was the name of Hibernian.
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