Founder member of Scottish Division Two 1893
1876-1879 a b q
1879-1889 a b o p
1889-1891 c o q
1893-1895 b o p q
1902 b o p
1903-1907 b o p q
1909-1915 b o p q
1945-1957 e f q
1972-1974 n q
1974-1977 e n q
1977-1980 b f g
early 1977-78 alt q
late 1977-1980 q
1980-1981 g n
1982-1984 g n
1994-1996 i h
1998-2000 l m
2003-2004 j k
2004-2005 j k
2005-2006 j k
Oct 2007 only c
In the mid 1870s, Edinburgh hosted an Irish community of 25,000 living in conditions of appalling poverty in the Cowgate district or “Little Ireland”. As association football grew in popularity, the committee of the Catholic Young Men’s Society (CYMS) decided to form their own club to be called “Hibernian” (from the Latin Hibernia = Ireland); their emblem would the harp and their motto Erin Go Brach (Ireland Forever). According to John Mackay's history, "members were required to furnish at their own expense caps, white guernsey (jersey) with harp on left breast, also white trousers with green stripes". Father Hannan, the priest of St Patrick’s Church was elected manager.
The Edinburgh FA banned its members from playing against, or even having contact with these upstart Irishmen but on Christmas Day 1875 the Heart of Midlothian club broke the embargo. Hibernian were grudgingly admitted to the Edinburgh FA and then the Scottish FA in 1876.
In 1877 Hibs were allowed to enter the Scottish FA Cup, defeating Hearts in a replay after which fighting broke out between rival fans. At the end of the season the clubs met again in the Edinburgh Cup final, which was finally settled in favour of Hearts after four replays, marked by more disorder and sharp rebukes from the pulpit by Father Hannan. Relations between the two clubs remained bitter for years to come.
After the deduction of running costs, profits from Hibs games went to charitable projects. Their competitive potential was limited by the Edinburgh FA’s rule that clubs only recruit players from their local neighbourhood, a rule that meant Hibs were unable to defend the Edinburgh Shield in 1882 because they could not field eleven fit players. The following season Hibs included three Irish-Scots players from Ayrshire, bringing them into conflict with authority once more, Hearts going so far as to urge that Hibs be banned from all competition. When a meeting to decide the issue was called, the Hibs and CYMS chairman, Michael Whelahan noticed the Hearts delegation and their supporters slip out for a dram. He moved for an immediate vote and the eligibility rule was dropped.
By 1885 Hibernian could claim to be one of Scotland’s elite clubs after beating Rangers, Renton and most notably Queen’s Park. In 1887 they won the Scottish FA Cup, which was proudly displayed in St Patrick’s Church in the heart of Little Ireland.
Irish communities throughout Scotland were by now forming their own "Hibernian" teams. In Glasgow, home to 250,000 Irish people, a priest, Father Walfrid set about forming what would become Glasgow Celtic. While he shared Hibernian’s founding principles - to raise money to relieve poverty – his supporters were more interested in commercial potential, a fact that would have catastrophic consequences for the Edinburgh club.
During 1888 Celtic first borrowed and then signed Hibs’ best players, having offered them (illegal) financial inducements. The Hibernian club went into rapid decline and were ignored when the Scottish League was formed in 1890. When the lease on their ground expired in January 1891, they were without a home, fixtures or players. In May 1891 Father (now Canon) Hannon died at the age of 55, leaving the club bereft of its guiding founder. Within months Hibernian FC was effectively wound up.
Over the next 18 months former officials and supporters set about reforming the club, which this time would be open to people of all faiths and be run as a business rather than a charity. In 1892 a lease was taken out on Drum Park (now Easter Road) and strenuous efforts made to raise funds to build a new ground. On 4 February 1893, the new Hibernian played their first fixture against Clyde FC, losing 3-4 with a makeshift team.
Hibernian joined the campaign for expansion of the Scottish League and were rewarded with a place in the new Second Division when this was formed in 1893. After winning the championship at the first time of asking the club campaigned optimistically for election to the First Division (this was before automatic promotion and relegation) only to be rejected in favour of Clyde (who had finished in third place). Both Hearts and Celtic voted against Hibs. When they won the Second Division for the second time the following season, however, they could no longer be denied and took their place in the elite for the 1895-96 season. They finished third and reached the Scottish Cup final, only three years after coming back from the brink.
In 1902 Hibs won the Scottish Cup for the second (and so far the last) time and a year they were Scottish League champions.
After the Second World War the “Hi-Bees” enjoyed their greatest period of success. Having adopted white sleeves to emulate the great Arsenal side in 1938, they were Scottish Champions in 1948, 1951 and 1952. In 1955 Hibernian were the first British club to take part in European competition, playing in the inaugural European Champions Cup. To date (2006-07) the club have qualified for Europe sixteen times.
Success in the League Cup came in 1972 followed by the Dryborough Cup in 1973 and 1974. In 1977 Hibs became the first British club to wear sponsored shirts, featuring the Bukta logo. The television companies refused to broadcast sponsored shirts at the time so Hibs were obliged to introduce an alternative kit to be worn when the cameras were present. The first of these was in purple and white although a green and white version was introduced before the end of the season.
The 1980s were a lean spell, with the club failing to qualify for Europe between 1979 and 1989. In 1990 Hearts chairman, Wallace Mercer, attempted to buy out Hibernian with the intention of closing the club down but he was foiled when Sir Tom Farmer CBE bought the club instead.
A resurgent team won the Skol League Cup in 1991, reached the final again in 1993 and finished third in 1994 but in 1998 they were bottom of the premiership and suffered relegation for only the third time in their history. As often happens when one of Scotland’s big clubs is relegated, they romped back to the top the following season rejuvenated, finishing in third place in 2001 and reaching the Scottish Cup final once more.
With their reputation for inconsistency, Hibs have come close to success on many occasions but rarely have they been able to deliver the trophies their devoted fans crave. Geography rather than sectarian history now determines loyalties, with the Hi-Bees drawing their support from East Edinburgh.
This article draws heavily on the excellent “Origins of Hibernian” series available on Hibs Official site.
- (a) Brian McColl
- (b) The Hibees (John Mackay 1986) provided by Fraser Pettigrew
- (c) Hibernian Official Site
- (d) Historic Saints of Edinburgh (George Campbell 1983) provided by Stuart Swan.
- (e) London Hearts
- (f) Riccardo Bertani
- (g) From Argentina to (Benny) Brazil history and cuttings from 1978 to 1989
- (h) Hibslog - Fraser Pettigrew's fine site lots of information on the 1980s and 1990s
- (i) Pete's Picture Palace
- (j) Colours of Football
- (k) The Scotsman
- (l) Groundhopping
- (m) The Bairn in Holland
- (n) Brian McEwan
- (o) Alan Lugton - author of "The Making of Hibernian," the defnitive three volume history of the club between 1875 and 1946.
- (p) James Barclay
- (q) Alick Milne