Just over a year ago, in the lead up to the Scottish Cup Final, I took myself off one Tuesday afternoon on a tour of the then two places where my team Hibernian had won the Scottish Cup, beginning at the ground where the Final was to take place the following Saturday, Hampden, then over the hill to the old Hampden, Cathkin Park, and to Celtic Park where Dan McMichael’s men lifted the trophy in 1902. On 21st May 2016, Hibs won the Cup after 114 years with a 3-2 win over The Rangers. A couple of days before the first anniversary of that magnificent day, I visited St. Patrick’s Church on the Cowgate in Edinburgh. It was in the church’s rooms that Canon Edward Hannan and Michael Whelahan formed what was to become Hibernian Football Club in October 1875, an occasion marked by a plaque in the church put up by the St. Patrick’s branch of the Hibernian Supporters Association. I had never been to the church before but thought when I was in the capital that day I would go take a look. It was a peaceful and pleasant place and I was glad I went, even for the wee fix of Hibs to help me through the close season currently in progress. Then I thought about the first anniversary of the Cup Final and I started to plan out a special historical walk in search of Hibs. Beginning at St. Patrick’s Church, the plan was to walk up to the Meadows, where Hibs played the first Edinburgh derby on Christmas Day 1875, then to the Grange Cemetery and the grave of Canon Edward Hannan. From there the plan was to follow the parade route of 22nd May 2016 when 150,000 folk lined the streets from Parliament Square to Leith Links, finally finishing with a detour to Easter Road itself. It felt the best way to mark Sir David Gray Day, and it was better as the train neared Edinburgh and the sun started to come out.
It felt only right to start at St. Patrick’s Church, given its place in the history of Hibs. The Cowgate was known as Little Ireland, where the Irish community of Edinburgh settled in the later part of the nineteenth century. One of them was James Connolly, better known for his part in the Irish Home Rule movement and particularly for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising. He was born in the capital and it is said he was a Hibs fan in his youth, even a ball-boy at some of the club’s games. There is a plaque to Connolly’s memory, short and factual about his role in Ireland, under George IV Bridge. Interestingly, just after I stopped, a guy in a Hearts jacket and his mate stopped too. We must do our bit to guide those less enlightened.
I walked up Candlemaker Row amidst various tour groups, on foot and on buses, though none of them was on a tour quite like mine. When I reached the Meadows, cricket and football games were in progress while other folks were just sitting on the grass. It was quite a muggy day but windy too, as is hardly atypical of the capital all year round.
The Grange Cemetery is in a very prim and proper part of the city. I walked through Marchmont to get there and with every step I felt the property prices going up. Impressively the Grange Association and the City of Edinburgh Council keep the cemetery well-tended with a leaflet box and a sign marking the notable people buried there, including the Labour politician Robin Cook and theologians Thomas Chalmers and Thomas Guthrie. Very swiftly, inevitably, I got lost and realised I was going the wrong way. Soon enough, duly corrected, I ended up in front of the Celtic cross that marks the grave of Canon Edward Hannan, the priest who was the first manager of Hibs as well as other virtues. His gravestone talked of his clerical but also his public service as a good citizen. I stood there for a few minutes and thanked him for his part in this story that led from Little Ireland to Hampden Park and beyond, to one of the best days of my life as well as some that might not have been as great.
As ever when I am in a cemetery, I thought as I walked about the frailty of life and how it should be cherished each day. A powerful reminder of this was when I came across the grave of a child only a few months old, which featured the heartbreaking line about how this poor boy was a ‘star who shone too bright’.
Back on the Meadows, I read of that first Edinburgh derby, where boys kept the best of the pitches for the game and tape was used to mark the goals. The game finished 1-0 to Hearts – not an outcome that has happened in a while, admittedly, since Hibs have been unbeaten in eight derbies. Hibs changed in a nearby school while Hearts donned their kit in a pub. I like that distinction but wouldn’t dream of remarking further. When I reached Parliament Square, just a little bit before 3, I found out that Hearts had failed to stop Celtic finishing the Premiership season unbeaten. Parliament Square was where the victory parade started after a civic reception. I decided to wait there until 3, about 15 minutes away and exactly a year from when the game began. It started to rain then but it didn’t last long and I sat in front of St. Giles watching a tour group and lots of others pass by. The High Street was the usual mass of humanity as I walked slowly down through the crowds. Unusually I stopped a moment to enjoy some of the street entertainment, in the form of three fiddlers who were whirling up a storm. On North Bridge, it was just after 3 when I stopped and smiled as I realised that a year ago to the moment Anthony Stokes had just scored the first goal.
As I reached Leith, though, the game would have been 1-1. It was being shown as if live in the Harp and Castle as well as at least one other pub in the area. At the Harp and Castle, there was a list outside showing the football matches being shown in the pub that week, ending with the Final, with the words of the title of the DVD and the banner held across the North Stand at Hampden as the game began: Time For Heroes. On a nearby lamppost was a sticker of the James Connolly Hibs Supporters Club, based in Dublin, a link to the club’s past as our future forms ever more. I was beginning to tire as I reached the foot of Leith Walk and looked back up towards Edinburgh. I stood under Queen Victoria’s statue and imagined 150,000 people there a year ago, some still drunk from the night before, others drunk on sense of occasion. I only saw the start and finish of the parade, at Parliament Square and Leith Links, and it was to the Links that I proceeded to collapse on the hill looking to where the bus parked and that great Cup was paraded.
A year later, I still can’t believe that Hibs won the Scottish Cup. I was at the game. I’ve held the trophy. I even have the winning goal on the mug I drink out of. Every time I see the highlights, particularly the winning header from Sir David Gray, my arms are aloft. It never fails to cheer me up. There’s things you think you’ll never see. Green and white ribbons on that trophy, after 114 years, after all those great teams who tried but didn’t succeed, that’s something. I am proud that I was there. Hibs are a major part of my identity, even while I now live at the wrong end of the country, and I can’t imagine my life without them, without that day in May.
As I walked down Albion Road, there was birdsong. Only moments before I passed a pub where loud singing about the Rangers player Andy Halliday emanated forth. It was only 4.20 and at the time the game was 2-1. It was therefore a little premature to look to the side of the Famous Five Stand and see the mural that depicts David Gray and Lewis Stevenson above the word ‘Persevered’. Two goals were still to come but it was a valuable reminder that it really did happen. There was one stop before I headed for the train, Bothwell Street, now normally the route home for away crowds but once where our ground was, Hibernian Park. Drum Park became our ground following the club’s return from the brink of oblivion in 1893 and it became Easter Road, even though it isn’t actually on the street that bears that name. Bothwell Street is now houses on both sides, grey tenements on one side and new flats on the other nearer the old railway.
On London Road as I rested my aching feet it was 2-2. All day I had memories of where I was and what I was doing the previous year. In Marchmont I thought about my journey to Hampden, standing outside the South Stand before heading through the turnstile. At 2-2, I remember my auntie, who put me onto Hibs when I was a kid, saying she couldn’t watch. I could, though, but the nerves came back. As I reached the corner of London Road and Royal Terrace, I looked up into the sunshine and realised a year ago to the moment David Gray headed that ball Liam Henderson delivered right into Wes Foderingham’s net. By the Playhouse it was exactly a year since Steven McLean blew the full-time whistle and 114 years were no more. A year had passed since that incredible moment. It only felt right to spend the first anniversary learning more about the club that gave us that day, to walk back into history and go on a journey back to a time when the men of the parish needed a distraction and a way to integrate into a city and when their descendants lifted a trophy that ended a hoodoo and started us off on another pursuit, back into the Premiership and to write another story.
Sources and further reading:
Hibernian Historical Trust – http://www.hibshistoricaltrust.org.uk/heritage/
Grange Association – http://gaedin.co.uk/wp/new-history/cemetery
Lusk, Kirsty and Maley, Willy, Scotland and the Easter Rising: Fresh Perspectives on 1916, 2016, Edinburgh: Luath Press – stocked by Glasgow Libraries, Renfrewshire Libraries, Edinburgh Libraries and Dundee Libraries.
St. Patrick’s RC Church leaflet, Our Story, available from St. Patrick’s RC Church, South Gray’s Close, 40 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1TQ – http://www.stpatricksparish.co.uk/st-patricks-home-of-the-hibs/
Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Road
Since I wrote this post, I have started a new blog about all things Hibs, which is called Easter Road West. Have a read.