Who writes these scripts? Within two months in 2015-16, Hibernian lost the Scottish League Cup final to Ross County, lost a promotion play-off to Falkirk but won a dramatic and turbulent Scottish Cup final against Rangers – each match decided by a last-gasp goal.
The Scottish Cup win, of course, will live long in the memory, club captain David Gray sealing a first trophy in 114 years for Hibs with a bullet header in stoppage time. The old-school pitch invasion afterwards was unfortunate – the open-top parade in front of 100,000 fans, from Edinburgh’s City Chambers down to Leith Walk, was a long-awaited tonic.
Affection for the revered Leith-based club far outstrips the value of the relatively scant silverware in the trophy cabinet. Four league titles, three won in the immediate post-war period, two Victorian-era Scottish Cups and three League Cups were the sum total of 140 years of football – until that sunny day at Hampden in May 2016.
Hibernian (‘Hibs’ or ‘Hibees’) were founded by Irish immigrants in 1875 and have played in green ever since. Winning a first Scottish Cup in 1887, the club entered the Scottish League in 1893, making Easter Road a permanent home.
With Celtic gaining domination, attracting the best players from the Irish community to Glasgow, Hibs bucked the trend with a 1-0 cup final win at Celtic Park in 1902. Wily captain Bobby Atherton and inventive goalkeeper Harry Rennie followed it with ever-present roles in the first title win of 1903.
It was another half-century before Hibs came good again. A team featuring wingers Gordon Smith and Willie Ormond, with forward Eddie Turnbull, won the league in 1948. A year later, this trio became a quintet when striker Lawrie Reilly broke through, along with inside-forward Bobby Johnstone. First combined against Queen of the South in October 1949, they became The Famous Five.
Though Hibs lost out to Rangers by one point that season, they scored 86 goals. A year later, they won the league by ten points, then won it again in 1952. Only one goal saw Rangers wrest back the title in 1953. By 1955, Johnstone went south, to Manchester City.
Forty years after his departure, the legendary Famous Five were honoured by having the North Stand at Easter Road named after them. A last hurrah came in the inaugural European Cup of 1956, arranged by invitation only. Turnbull, Reilly and Ormond were the scorers in the club’s European debut, a 4-0 win over Rot-Weiss Essen, but Hibs’ bookended their only appearance so far in Europe’s premier trophy by a 3-0 aggregate defeat in the semi-final against Stade de Reims. Goals would soon come from Anglo-Scot centre-forward Joe Baker, whose prolific performances in the Fairs’ Cup run of 1961 against Barcelona and Roma saw him picked up by Torino.
In 1964, manager Jock Stein led Hibs to a famous win over Real Madrid in an exhibition game –within a year, in an echo of the 1890s, Celtic had poached him. Two years later, Celtic were European champions.
Under former Famous Five forward Eddie Turnbull, Hibs gained revenge of sorts by beating Celtic 2-1 in the League Cup final of 1972-73, the team featuring stalwarts Arthur Duncan and Pat Stanton. Duncan later scored the own goal that settled the twice-replayed Scottish Cup final of 1979, a cruel defeat for Hibs.
Though the Hibees would go on to win two more League Cups, in 1991 and 2007, success was fleeting. George Best was briefly hired on a pay-per-play basis, in 1978-79, keeping Edinburgh’s landlords in clover. Hearts almost took control of their city rivals in the late 1980s while ambitious managers left for more moneyed clubs, Alex McLeish in 2001 for Rangers and Tony Mowbray in 2006 for WBA.
Each nurtured key players, Franck Sauzée under McLeish, Garry O’Connor and Derek Riordan under Mowbray, and Hibs twice finished top three for the first time since the 1970s. In Europe, though, they failed to shine.
Two play-off defeats, one on penalties, saw Hibs drop down to the Championship – and stay there. In May 2016, Hibernian succumbed to the curse of McHugh, the Falkirk forward scoring two crucial late goals to knock the Leith club out of the two-leg semi-final promotion play-off.
The drama continued into 2016-17 when Brøndby beat Hibs on penalties in the Europa League – though five straight wins to open the Championship campaign bodes well for a potential return to the top tier.
Opened in 1893, Easter Road saw its record crowds in the immediate post-war days of the Famous Five, when nearly 66,000 squeezed in for the derby with Hearts in 1950.
As safety become more of an issue after the Ibrox disaster of 1971, so capacity shrank to 30,000 but facilities remained basic. Improvements and the creation of executive boxes in the 1980s had devastating financial consequences, and Hibs came close to selling up and leaving Easter Road altogether.
Rejecting these moves in the mid 1990s, the club set about modernising the ground stand by stand, slowly bringing capacity up to 20,000, after dipping to 13,500 a decade before. The impressive new East Stand was opened in 2010, steep and single-tiered, opposite the West Stand and its executive boxes. The home end is the Famous Five, North, Stand while away fans enter via Albion Road to the lower tier of the South Stand.
From Waverley Station, it’s either a 20-minute walk – along Princes Street, up Leith Street then right down London Road to Easter Road, then left – or take Lothian bus No.1 (every 15min, Sun 30min) from stop PN on Princes Street to Easter Road. There you either need Before Brunswick Road or the stop after, Near Albert Street, journey time 10min. The No.35 (same frequency) also runs up Easter Road, from Edinburgh Airport, via the National Museum, the Royal Mile and the Scottish Parliament, a 15min journey from the city centre.
Tickets are distributed through the stadium office (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat 10am-3pm/match days until 30min after final whistle) on Albion Place behind the Famous Five Stand and online. There’s a simple pricing policy of £22 across the board (no online fees), £12 reductions and under-17s. For the visit of Rangers, it’s £28/£14.
Also on Albion Place behind the Famous Five Stand, the club shop (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat 10am-3pm/match days until 30min after final whistle) stocks green gnomes in kilts, green cutlery and retro kits.
Near the ground at 5 Albion Road is an irresistible emporium that deals in vintage Scottish football memorabilia. Almondvale Programmes – though it’s not only programmes – opens on match days until 15min before kick-off, for obvious reasons. Other opening times are Tue, Wed, Fri 10am-3.30pm, Thur 10am-3pm and Sat 10am-1pm but do phone ahead (0131 652 1444).
Leith Walk is lined with pubs and restaurants. The large, friendly Harp & Castle at No.298 provides home-made food while the on the corner with Iona Street Robbie’s is revered for its real ales, testing pub quizzes and poker nights – a plethora of football-focused TV screens offset the retro ads on display. The management is opening another spot, Leith Depot, at what was the Meridian Bar No.138-140.
Between Leith Walk and Easter Road, The Office (180 Albert Street) is still finding its feet after taking over from The Nip – they also seem to be employing Ricky Gervais lookalikes to stand outside in a casual fashion. On Easter Road itself, the standard Four In Hand (No.215) is popular pre-match while traditional Middletons at No.69 welcomes away fans. Proclaimed by the Proclaimers, mahogany-lined The Persevere celebrates Leith in tiled muralled form, close to the golf course where the game’s oldest surviving rules were drawn up. ‘The Percy’ also specialises in decent local seafood and game.