Trust Curator Tom Wright details the club’s previous homes and the development of Easter Road Stadium.
Hibernian Football Club’s first recorded game took place on the East Meadows, a large patch of open ground on the south of the city on Christmas Day 1875 against a team that was destined to be their greatest rivals, Heart of Midlothian. It is believed that the game took place near Archers Hall, approximately where the tennis courts are situated today.
Very soon, the Meadows would become overpopulated with a large number of new teams springing up in the city and some of the more ambitious sides would be forced to look elsewhere. Hibs would play several games at a pitch at Mayfield near the present Cameron Toll, with the playing area surrounded by a nine-hole golf course.
After the expiry of the short lease at Mayfield, Hibs would temporarily move to Powderhall, a site now occupied by the present Council Waste Incinerator. Opened in 1870 as a dedicated athletics ground, it was at Powderhall on 11th November 1878 that Hibs faced an Edinburgh Select in what was one of the first ever floodlit games to take place in this country.
Played in a blizzard of blinding snow and watched by only a few hundred hardy souls, the three electric generators illuminating the proceedings would gradually all fail to function, the game finishing in almost virtual darkness. Quite obviously, the experiment was not considered a success but when floodlit football did eventually become a reality in Scotland over 70 years later, Hibs would be among the pioneers of the medium.
After a very brief return to Mayfield, in 1880 Hibs would move to what would become their first permanent home at the first Easter Road, the site now partly occupied by the Hibernian Supporters Club. The first game at the new ground, which could be reached along a path leading from the main thoroughfare, was a 5-0 defeat of Hanover in a challenge match on 14th February that same year.
It was while playing at the first Easter Road ground that Hibs would become the first side from the east of the country to win the coveted Scottish Cup in the 1887 final at Hampden, and the ‘unofficial’ World Championship a few months later when defeating the famous English side Preston North End.
However, in 1891 the club would temporary be forced out of business due to a combination of circumstances including the loss of the ground when the land was required for housing and the side severely weakened after losing several players to the newly formed Celtic. The club would eventually be reformed in 1893 just in time to take its place in the recently inaugurated Scottish Second Division, where they would be forced to win the championship in the first two seasons before eventually gaining promotion to the top league.
By now, Hibs would be playing at the present Easter Road, which was just a few hundred yards from the original ground. Situated on land previously used as a cricket ground and adjacent to a shooting range, soon a pitch would be laid out surrounded by basic terracing complete with a flimsy grandstand, all the entrances on the north side of the ground along a path that led from the then cul-de-sac at Albion Road to Hawkhill.
However, shortly after winning the Scottish Cup for a second time in 1902 and the League Championship the following year, once again difficulties would arise regarding the lease and in 1905 it was decided to move to a brand new ground at Piershill just over a mile away. Although a pitch would be laid out complete with a running track and unusual for that time a straight sprint track, both overlooked by a small grandstand, Hibs would never play a game at the new ground which for several years would be used only for minor games, athletics and dog racing.
During the First World War, the area would be acquired by the Royal Scots for the training of new recruits but after lying derelict for several years the ground would eventually be demolished sometime in the 1930s and today is partly covered by the Mountcastle housing estate and an extension to Piershill Cemetery.
Now deciding to remain at Easter Road, in 1912 a new director’s box and changing rooms were erected adjacent to the existing stand, both structures at that time situated on the east side of the ground, and a more substantial banked earthen terracing created. By the early 1920s, it was decided to completely dismantle the existing buildings, move the pitch several yards to the east while partly levelling the substantial slope at the same time, whilst erecting a new main stand on the west side of the ground.
The official opening of the newly developed stadium was a 2-0 victory against Queens Park on 13th September 1924.
Several minor modifications would take place during the next few years to increase the capacity of the ground and improve the comfort for the supporters, including the introduction of a loudspeaker system for the first time.
The intervention of the Second World War would obviously limit any further improvements to the ground but in the immediate post war years several ambitious developments would take place. During the 1949/50 season, the east terracing would be extended to increase the capacity of the ground to just under 70,000, and on 2nd January 1950, 65,840 spectators, which is still the highest attendance for a game of football in Edinburgh to this day, watched the game against rivals Hearts in the traditional New Year holiday fixture.
At that time, plans had also been in place to increase the capacity of the ground to around 90,000 in the near future to cater for the huge number of fans then attending games at Easter Road and partly cover the huge terracing. Thankfully, with the post war crowd boom soon to be a thing of the past, the plans would never come to fruition. Only a few months after the opening of the extended terracing, Hibs would become one of the very few British clubs to have their own railway station with the opening of the Easter Road Halt that was situated immediately behind the east terracing.
The Halt would not only allow ‘football special’ trains from other parts of the country to make their way directly to the stadium but also the substantial number of home supporters from many of the local stations that were then dotted around the city. With only the single platform however, the return journey would have to be made from Waverley, Abbeyhill or Leith stations, or by other means.
The original 1924 earthen terracing around the ground would be replaced by concrete before the 1959/60 season but it would be several years before any other major improvements would be made to the stadium. However, in 1963 the city was notified that Edinburgh would host the 1970 Commonwealth games.
With no public arena in the city then capable of holding the event, the Hibs chairman Harry Swan, never slow to anticipate anything that could be of advantage to the club, suggested that the city fathers could purchase Easter Road, turn the pitch 90 degrees and completely rebuild and cover the entire stadium. Easter Road could then be rented back to the club on a specific number of days each year. Unfortunately the innovative offer would be refused and the ‘white elephant’ that was Meadowbank built instead.
A covered enclosure behind the goals at the north end of the ground was officially opened before a game against Hearts on 1st January 1966. Shortly to be nicknamed ‘The Shed’ by the fans, the area would soon become a magnet for troublesome rival fans and in 1972 seats would be installed and the area fenced off.
By the start of the 1970s, hooliganism had become a serious problem in the game and in 1974 Hibs became the first Scottish club to erect a security fence around the entire perimeter of the pitch to prevent fans from entering the field of play.
In yet another first, in 1980 Hibs became the very first Scottish football side to install under soil heating that would go some way in preventing the perennial problem of games being cancelled owing to bad weather, and it is now a pre-requisite for all clubs playing in the Premier League.
With attendances now often well under 10,000 in a stadium capable of holding nearly 70,000, in 1982 the huge east terracing was reduced almost to its pre war state, the remainder completely covered three years later. It was also around this time that the ill-fated electronic scoreboard was erected on top of the ‘Shed’. However, it rarely worked and would soon be removed.
In the late 1980s, hospitality boxes were installed in the main enclosure but by that time plans were already in place to completely renovate the stadium.
During the 1995/96 season, both ends of the ground were levelled and the North and South stands erected. In 2000, the famous Easter Road slope was levelled to comply with UEFA regulations. The following year the West or Main Stand replaced the 1924 structure and a training centre at Ormiston opened in 2007.
The modern redevelopment of the ground was finally completed with the erection of the East Stand in 2010 to create the finest football stadium outside Glasgow and one that we are all proud of today.
Written by Tom Wright