At the beginning of the last century it was not unusual for football matches to be played on Christmas Day, but Hibs’ game against Partick Thistle at Firhill in 1909 was to have a tragic consequence, the death of the Edinburgh club’s James Main.
Sadly, it was a match, Hibs’ first at the Glasgow ground, which should never have taken place. Many of the players believed it should have been cancelled, the heavily sanded pitch ice-bound and treacherous.
Main himself was reportedly overheard telling trainer Dan McMichael: “You are risking life and limb asking anyone to play out there.”
But with several thousand already in the ground the directors of both sides, rather than the referee, decided it was playable.
Main’s warning was to prove prophetic, the Hibs highly-regarded right-back clashing with Partick’s Frank Branscombe, the outside left said to have slipped before the two clashed, the Hibs player taking his opponent’s boot in the groin.
He was unable to continue but appeared to have recovered afterwards in the dressing room and took tea with the rest of his team-mates before taking the train back to West Calder, even walking the half-mile or so from the station to his home at 45 Front Street, Mossend.
Twice that night local doctors were call, both of whom diagnosed severe bruising, but the next morning he was rushed to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary where he underwent an operation to repair his ruptured bowel. He never recovered and died on Wednesday, December 29.
On the day of his funeral, Hibs were due to play Morton at Easter Road at 11am, a common arrangement when both Edinburgh sides were at home, giving players and staff time to attend at West Calder Cemetery.
But Morton arrived late and the game didn’t kick-off until shortly before noon, directors, players and fans barely arriving in time for the service held in Main’s home. In addition to those from Hibs, representatives from most of Scotland’s leading clubs, including Partick, were present to see him laid to rest.
Main was only 23, but had developed into one of the best defenders in the league, winning the first of what would surely have been many more caps in Scotland’s 5-0 defeat of Ireland in March 1908 while Hibs had turned down a bid from Newcastle United for him. Today a slightly weather-beaten but still impressive nine-foot granite memorial in West Calder Cemetery marks his grave, the solitary pillar which remains of the small enclosure which originally surrounded it bearing the legend: “This enclosure was subscribed for by a few friends and supporters of the Hibernian Football Club as a token of respect to the late Jimmy Main.”
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