Recently, the Hibernian Historical Trust had an Open Day at Easter Road. The Trust opened the ground to hundreds of us as part of the Leith Festival, laying on exhibits and trails and all sorts. I have done the tour before – it was a Christmas present a couple of years ago – but I never like to pass up a trip to Easter Road, especially since it’s still the close season and I am starved of football, or at least football played the Hibs way. I had been humming and hawing about making the trip, especially on a Sunday when normally I can’t be bothered to venture far. But still I did and when I reached Albion Place and turned towards the West Stand where the tour started, the queue was almost up to the Ticket Office. Soon, though, I was inside and going up the stairs into the stadium. The queue didn’t let up pretty much the whole way around the West Stand and the Players’ Lounge was absolutely stowed out with people. There was a danger of getting overwhelmed for most of the time I was there and so I took my time going around the exhibits as the crowds slowly faded away. This was particularly helpful when I reached the Gallery and I read the panels about the early days of the club. There is a guy who has been making Lego models of most of the football grounds in the UK – he’s on Twitter at @brickstand if you care to look. Anyway, he has made one of Easter Road, which the Club had on display, and it was fantastic, with lots of details that made me marvel about how dedicated people can be. Or absolutely bonkers, depending on your view.
A later part of the route led me into the Boardroom, which has some interesting exhibits including a new display about the Scottish Cup Final. I didn’t get much chance to look as it was still mobbed and I decided to take full advantage of the next stop being the Director’s Box and take a breather. On the way I took particular delight in spotting the heavy tartan blankets gathered carefully in a basket by the door. Those of us who slum it in the East Stand don’t get those, that’s for sure. The Director’s Box is right in the centre of the West Stand and their posteriors are treated well there, not only with blankets but soft black leather seats. I sat for a while at the edge of the Director’s Box and looked across the stadium, watching the steady line of people pass along the touchline. I also just liked being at the ground again. It’s not even been two months but when a very consistent part of life isn’t there for a while, it’s hard. Being able to just sit there, look out and catch my breath was immensely enriching and valuable, to keep myself enjoying my day and to be in one of my favourite places.
The Hibernian Historical Trust do very good work. I drew on some of it for the recent post Hibstory. They have worked closely with the club to make the very modern Easter Road more steeped in the club’s history. The press room has a display about the Hands Off Hibs campaign, when Hibs nearly merged with Hearts back in 1990. Each of the other rooms in the West Stand is stuffed full of Hibs memorabilia and they made an extra special effort for the Open Day, including my personal favourite artefact, the Persevered banner that bedecked the open top bus the day after the Cup Final, signed by the full squad. This I saw on the way to the dressing room, which is quite cosy and basic, then to the TV interview room with one of those lovely ad boards where I got a selfie. Then out the tunnel to the dugout to get a good look from the player’s point of view to the hallowed turf. Ever more people were around me but I still managed to get to be on my own to get photos of the stadium from different angles. I love architecture and once I wanted to design football stadiums. That’s not what I want to do as a grown up now but I retain an interest.
If Easter Road has a fault, it is a very boxy ground, with the stands pretty much identical. Aside from where I sit and possibly the upper section of the Famous Five Stand, there isn’t much of a view. From the back of the East Stand, though, the top of Arthur’s Seat soon came into view and even with the heat of the day, there were still loads of people climbing up the hill. I walked up the East Stand and it was there that I felt like at last I was at home. Later in the day I went to Prestongrange, where I used to work, and I had the same feeling of utter contentment of being in the right place as I did being back in the East. I sit in the middle of the East so I don’t normally see the bits of the concourse at either end. There is an elaborate drawing of the club’s badge, with the harp and castle, at the southern end, and also some prints of the programmes of important Hibs games around the walls. In the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, the East concourse is being used to host a play called A Field Of Our Own, about the early days of Hibs, produced by Strange Town in conjunction with the GameChanger Public Support Partnership. It is a massive space and I look forward to going along to see how it’s used to its best effect for the play, as well as to enjoy the play itself.
From there I went along into the Famous Five Stand and through the concourse into the club shop. Along the way there was another great queue for folk to get photographs with the Championship trophy as well as those recently won by the Hibs Ladies team.
For many people, football stadiums aren’t fun places to spend a Sunday afternoon. Fair enough. It is the people who make a place. I was thinking earlier about how I have become more of a Hibs fan since I moved to Glasgow. It is a deep link to my identity, to my roots as a person, to my family and places I don’t visit all that often any more. It’s why the other day when the fixture list for the upcoming season came out, within minutes I had my diary marked up and annual leave booked and the whole works, the next year of my life planned by the whim of the SPFL computer. It’s why I went to Edinburgh on a Sunday and went around a football ground in the close season, because it’s Easter Road and it’s Hibs and that’s just what had to be.