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  • We are Hibernian FC - Part Seven

    Part seven deals with the painful period in time that almost caused the death of our wonderful club thanks to the actions of some heartless Glasgow businessmen.

    The year 1888 held a number of notable historic events including the deaths of five London women at the hands of ‘Jack the Ripper. Inventor John Logie Baird was born that year and Vincent Van Gogh painted ‘Sunflowers’ while Keir Hardie founded the Scottish Labour Party. Whilst all of that was going on a significant number of players on the books of Hibernians were approached by John Glass and his associates and offered financial inducements to join Glasgow Celtic.

    Those rumours, dismissed as unbelievable by the Hibernians Committee turned out to be true. Six players left Hibernians to join Celtic, including Willie Groves, James McLaren and Mick Dunbar whilst four others, including the Maley brothers, that had verbally agreed to join Hibs now signed instead for Celtic.

    This was callous behaviour in the extreme from Glass and his associates. They knew that Hibernians was run on an amateur basis and that all their gate monies after deduction of expenses were donated to charity. Hibernians could not compete financially with Celtic, something that has persisted through to the present day. The effect on Hibernians was devastating and it would be an enduring effect because the west of Scotland had always been an area Hibs could sign players from but now those same players were likely to be attracted to Celtic.

    As you might expect of the founding fathers of Hibernian Football Club they expressed their horror and concerns to those who ran Celtic but refused to do so publicly, choosing instead to conduct the business in private. It goes without saying that their concerns fell on deaf ears.

    Ironically, Hibernians had agreed to play a match against the newly formed Glasgow Celtic to open the new season and many supporters of the Edinburgh club felt the promise should not be honoured given the unscrupulous way in which their club had been treated in this affair. The Hibernians Committee was not prepared to refuse to play the game, suggesting that to do so would appear to the anti Irish brigade, still alive and well in Scottish football, as though a rift had occurred in the Irish community in Scotland. It is to their eternal credit that the Hibernians Committee was prepared to stick to its principles when clearly many of those involved with the Glasgow Celtic Committee were prepared to sacrifice anything for greed.

    Needless to say, even though Hibernians preferred to keep the whole affair a private matter between them and Celtic the newspapers were soon carrying stories regarding the defection of so many Hibs stalwarts. Initially there was bewilderment in the local press whilst in Glasgow it was reported that the newly formed club seemed to be in the position that rather than having to start at the bottom of the ladder they would instead start at the top as they had a side composed of players who for the most part had already made their way in the game of football. What a massive understatement that was! The Glasgow report went on to name the Celtic eleven that would face Hibernians on 4 August 1888 and there were no fewer than seven of those named that had Hibs connections. By contrast the Hibernians eleven was hastily brought together, making use of the various nursery teams and when they ran out that day they were greeted with a standing ovation. Even when they took the lead they received a huge cheer as the ‘home’ fans had not yet formed any bond with Celtic and many still held deep affection for Hibernians. The hosts soon equalised with Willie Groves of all people getting the goal. Into the second half and stalwart James McGhee was badly injured and had to leave the field but ten man Hibernians scored again to more cheers. Celtic gradually made the extra man advantage pay and ex Hibernians man John Coleman equalised before Groves scored the winner for the home side.

    A report on that game can be summarised as follows:

    The game might not have been played as many Hibs fans had suggested a boycott
    Allowing Hibs players to guest in early Celtic games had been overly generous
    There was an unwritten agreement that Celtic would not take any players from Hibs
    A number of Hibs players were encouraged to defect
    Defection was hard to understand from a football sense
    Inducement to defect must have been the case
    The weakened visitors carried the bulk of the support in the crowd
    Hibernians still had many friends in Glasgow

    As if losing the bulk of their players was not a big enough setback to Hibernians there would be further bad news reaching Canon Hannan regarding the Catholic Young Men’s Society. President of the CYMS, Michael Flannigan had presided at public meetings where that thorny subject had been discussed and this prompted a letter from Archbishop Smith instructing that Flannigan be removed immediately from his post. Bearing in mind the strong links between the CYMS and Hibernians the aftershock of this instruction had a major effect on the football club. Many of the CYMS Committee was also on the Hibernians Committee and a number of them resigned in support of Michael Flannigan and in protest at the church meddling in politics.

    There was a strong feeling amongst the Irish Roman Catholic immigrant population that the politics of Ireland had nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church and that the Church had no right to decree that its members could not attend or take part in rally’s and meetings regarding Home Rule. Indeed most interpreted the meaning of the Papal Rescript in an altogether different way than Archbishop Smith and felt that his interpretation was out of line with the vast majority of Archbishops in the UK. The ill feeling caused by Archbishop Smith created a situation where Hibernians was being directly affected but it did not stop many Hibernians from attending an open air meeting in support of the imprisoned Home Rule MP John Dillon when they were in Dundee to play a friendly match.

    Whilst all this turmoil was unfolding Glasgow Celtic applied for and was granted membership of the Glasgow FA and shortly after that they also applied for and were granted membership of the SFA. Not for them the rejection suffered by Hibernians when application to the SFA met with a response suggesting the league was for Scotsmen and not the Irish. Everything went incredibly smoothly for Celtic with John Glass and his associates cleverly playing the Irish Catholic card in order to attract support from the huge immigrant population. They played that card and yet they wanted nothing to do with the Home Rule debate and went out of their way to distance themselves from it. Nor would they play games for the benefit of charities as there was money to be made and they certainly had no intention of sharing the gate receipts with anyone. Fans of Hibernian have a healthy and understandable dislike for Heart of Midlothian Football Club. After all the Hearts had put up obstacle after obstacle to hinder the progress of Hibernians but as I have said before at least their actions were up front whereas the despicable businessmen who formed Celtic Football Club had no concern whatsoever for the effect their actions would have upon Hibernians. If Hearts deserve scorn there are no words to describe what Celtic deserve.

    Away from the politics of Irish Home Rule and the ill feeling caused by the forced resignation of Michael Flannigan, meetings were being held to try and protect the future of Hibernians. Cash raising ventures were discussed and a number of members agreed to pay for a ticket which would allow them access to all home games. There was ill feeling expressed at some of those meetings with some criticism aimed at the Hibernians Committee for not taking Celtic to task for poaching their players and for not maintaining a strong second team from which replacement players could be drawn. Unfairly, John McFadden was singled out and that was really a shocking way to behave towards such a loyal club man who put in endless hours running the club and seeking out new talent.

    Hibernians was now a shadow of its former self on the park and soon found itself out of the Scottish Cup and minus another of its star players when Dan Doyle left to join Grimsby Town as a professional. Later, Doyle would return to Scotland and to Celtic where he enjoyed a long career as a player and latterly in a variety of non playing roles. Results were poor on the field and on a couple of occasions Hibernians had trouble raising a team. Things were so bad that even the Hearts Chairman voiced concern, presumably realising that the gates Hibs had attracted were becoming a thing of the past.

    In October 1888 a return match with Celtic had been arranged and once more there was some talk of the club boycotting the game in protest at the way Celtic had treated Hibernians but the Committee would hear nothing of that and stated that they would not be part of anything that indicated the Irish of Scotland had fallen out with each other. A remarkable statement when Celtic’s underhand actions are taken into consideration.

    When the game took place there was a hostile atmosphere inside Hibernian Park with abuse hurled at the former Hibs men now wearing Celtic colours. To make matters worse Celtic raced into a three goal lead with the scorers being ex Hibernians Coleman and Dunbar. The anger of the home fans boiled over and there was a pitch invasion which caused the home players to have to surround the visitors to protect them. Eventually order was restored and there were no more goals scored.

    It was setback after setback for Hibernians and the next major shock came when John McFadden resigned as Secretary of the club so that he could take up the full time position of Secretary of the CYMS. His last contribution as Secretary of Hibernians was to seek a renewal of the lease the club had on the ground where Hibernian Park sat. It was only a short term deal as the owners had other plans for the site and so McFadden told his replacement he had better start searching for a new location for the club.

    Proof of the innocence Brother Walfrid and his associates on the Glasgow Celtic committee arrived when it became known that those on the Committee who remained loyal to Hibernians were totally disillusioned with the way Celtic was being run. They had been told Celtic would be modelled on Hibernians and were disgusted that nothing could be further from the truth. That discontent would rumble on for some considerable time but it did nothing to help the plight of Hibernians. Yet another player departed Hibernian Park when long serving full back Paddy McVey headed south to join Lincoln City but new Secretary Tom Nolan softened the blow by calling up Sandy McMahon from a Hibernians junior side. McMahon had been playing at full back but Nolan stuck him in the forward line and whether by accident or design that proved to be a master stroke as McMahon soon became a prolific goalscorer.

    Early in 1889 the CYMS met and amongst the business discussed was the plight of Hibernians. It was decided to form a three man Committee that would focus solely on returning the club to its former glory. Unsurprisingly the lead role was taken by Michael Whelahan and he was joined by club captain James McGhee and former club secretary John McFadden. Things were so bad that the club withdrew from the Rosebery Charity Cup as it could not field a strong enough side.

    Those Hibernians sympathisers within the Glasgow Celtic Committee persuaded the others in that group to stage a home match with Hibernians with the whole of the gate receipts going to the cash strapped Edinburgh side. A stirring match finished 5-4 to the hosts and Hibernians were given quite a handsome sum of money as the game was well attended. Soon after that John McFadden made a sudden and unexpected move when he emigrated to America and it was only after he had gone that it was discovered monies were missing from the coffers of the CYMS. To this day no-one knows why such a respected figure would do such a thing but the bottom line was that the monies left the CYMS and by default Hibernians in an even more dire position.

    In such disarray the club was the subject of all sorts of rumours with some saying it would fold for good and others suggesting that moves were afoot to relocate to Glasgow under the name of Glasgow Hibernians. The former rumour almost came to be but having gone bust Hibernians would arise from the ashes. The latter rumour was not without foundation as we shall hear in due course.
    Many Hibs fans today believe that Celtic’s initial poaching of our best players was a one off but that is not true. A struggling Hibernians had unearthed a gem of a full back by the name of Willie McCallum but when he didn’t turn up for a game one Saturday it became known that Celtic had enticed him into their fold. The significant voices on the Celtic Committee once again displayed that they had no scruples and were intent only on making money.

    Those rumours of a shift to Glasgow were growing ever stronger and so it was felt that the club should respond publicly. As revealed by Alan Lugton in his Making of Hibernian Volume One a meeting was called and Michael Whelahan told a packed hall “Hibernian are the Edinburgh Irishmen and will carry on as the Edinburgh Irishman. There will be no move to Glasgow or anywhere else.” This was met with wild applause for the Edinburgh Irish were fiercely proud of their club and were determined it would remain where it was. Sadly Tom Nolan could no longer continue as Secretary and a new man, Richard Payne, was appointed in his place.

    When word of Michael Whelahan’s speech reached Glasgow, those on the Celtic Committee who were unhappy with the way the club was being run decided to take matters into their own hands. Despite the controversial nature of Celtic’s creation they were now attracting large crowds to their games and were slowly winning the Irish Catholic immigrants in the west away from Hibernians. Glasgow Celtic had reached the Scottish Cup Final at its first attempt and its success was all the more ironic given the number of ex Hibernians in the side.

    The disgruntled Committee men had seen Brother Walfrid’s wishes totally ignored by John Glass, Pat Walsh and others with that group of businessmen using money to lure players to the club by paying them. That was contrary to Brother Walfrid’s whole ethos but he was powerless to do anything about it. Eventually some of the Committee broke away from Celtic and on 6 August 1889 started its own club called Glasgow Hibernian and found its own playing area which it named Hibernian Park.

    Meanwhile the ‘true’ Hibernians faced a tough season having lost almost a complete team and things started off badly with a 6-4 home defeat which had the disgruntled fans leaving early in disgust. The Hibernians fans were used to watching a fine team and it would take some time for it to sink in that the formation of Glasgow Celtic very nearly caused the demise of the club. Indeed had it not been for the strong wills and minds of the Hibernians Committee the club might well have not survived being pillaged by the money grabbing businessmen behind Celtic.

    As well as keeping Hibernians going the Committee was still working hard to keep the nursery teams in business also as it was becoming clear that local players might be the source in future with Celtic claiming most from the west coast that had been a rich source of players for the Edinburgh club up until that time. In time players would emerge from the nursery sides but even they would end up joining Celtic when Hibernians fell on hard times.

    Nursery teams like Erin Athletic, Harp Athletic, Leith Harp and St. Anthony continued to play as did the Hibernians second eleven but times were so bad that some of those teams were expelled from the Edinburgh FA for non payment of fees.

    The first round of the Scottish Cup served to highlight the desperate plight of those clubs now struggling following the formation of Celtic. Hibernians travelled to Armadale and won in front of a couple of thousand fans whilst Glasgow Hibernians attracted a just a few hundred but Celtic had more than 17,000 watch them defeat a very strong Queens Park eleven. At that time an ex Hibernian was starring in the Carfin Shamrock team and was their mainstay but he was enticed to Celtic with promises of financial reward and Carfin were a shadow of their former selves without him. Yet another case of Glasgow Celtic plundering other teams regardless of the consequences and that was a pattern that would persist for many, many years to come.

    Despite being weakened Hibernians made progress in both the Scottish Cup and East of Scotland Shield although a shock third round defeat at home to Leith Athletic emphasised just how fragile the weakened Hibernians was.

    Astonishingly, given the way they had been treated by them the Hibernians invited Celtic to come and play a friendly at Easter Road and their reasons for doing so were that they did not like the way the Irish living in Scotland were being set against each other when they should really unite in their new chosen home. Unsurprisingly, John Glass and his cronies were loathe to set foot in Edinburgh and said they would only agree to such a friendly if it was played in Glasgow. As Hibernians had suggested the game in order to raise monies for charity they reluctantly agreed rather than have the intended recipients of the gate money lose out. With ten ex Hibernians in their side it was hardly surprising that they walloped a weakened Hibernians by seven goals to one.

    A second eleven match at the end of November against Niddry Bluebell Clyde marked the first ever appearance in a Hibernians jersey of one James Blessington who would go on to enjoy a glittering career in the game but sadly not with the Easter Road outfit. Blessington had risen through the ranks of Harp Athletic and marked his first game for the greens by starring in an 8-0 victory.

    The Scottish Cup run came to an end in round six when Hibernians met Abercorn in Paisley and lost a thrilling match 6-3with their two best players, James McGhee and Sandy McMahon getting the goals.
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