THE match laboured under an air of gloom, an all-green clash marred by tragedy a week earlier and a game which one witness would go on to describe as “the poorest final on record, for the most part dull and dreary”.
On the pitch, the 1902 Scottish Cup final between Hibs and Celtic offered little to get excited about – a wind-swept Parkhead where 22 players in green and white slogged it out, neither side creating much of a flap among a subdued crowd who gave fresh meaning to the word listless.
Even when Hibs broke the deadlock and scored, setting them up for their second Scottish Cup victory, the crowd barely roused itself from its slump.
Never mind, though. For if Hibs’ last Scottish Cup win offered little for football historians to get too excited about, at least the victory parade back home ended up being something quite spectacular.
Of course, no doubt today’s long- suffering Hibs fans will settle for a match that ticks the “job done” box tomorrow, just so long as the scoreline results in the chance to dance and sing in the streets like their great grandparents did in 1902, the last time the cup sat in the trophy cabinet at Easter Road. And sing, dance, tip their hats, wave their handkerchiefs they certainly did.
Hibs had made the final despite a disappointing league campaign that offered little to suggest they would become a deadly force in the Scottish Cup. Sixth in the ten-team First Division, just three away wins to their credit and the misery of having watched their Gorgie rivals scoop the cup the previous year meant few were tipping the “Edinburgh Irishmen” to take the season’s top honour. They were wrong.
The road to the final was littered with goals – Hibs had scored 16 and lost just two, booking their place with a 2-0 triumph over Rangers. The scene, then, was set for a thrilling chance for an Edinburgh side to scoop the honours for a second year in a row.
Except that the countdown to the kick-off would be marred in the worst possible manner. The cup final was to be held at Ibrox. Seven days earlier, however, Scotland had played England at the ground before a crowd of 80,000. Tragically, the game had just kicked off when a part of the flimsy wooden terracing collapsed, 25 fans were killed and more than 500 were injured.
It was a sobering and painful chapter in Scotland’s football history. The cup final was rearranged for a couple of weeks later at Parkhead but the heart had been sucked out of the event, filtering through to the players on the pitch.
Certainly newspaper reports of the game scraped new depths when it came to finding words to describe how lacklustre it all was. “Dull and spiritless,” shrugged The Leith Observer report. Like a “charity club season final” groaned the Evening Dispatch.
Part of the problem was a gale force wind, spoiling any chance of a footballing spectacle for the 16,000 supporters, many of whom had shied away from taking up position on the wooden terraces, mindful of events a week earlier.
Just like now, Hibs had an Irishman at the helm. Dan McMichael was of Ulster stock and had arrived in Scotland in the 1880s. By the following decade he was living in Edinburgh and, possibly down to the influence of his brother-in-law James Murphy who played for Hibs, joined the side in 1899. He was elected as secretary the following year and for the next two decades held various positions at Easter Road.
For the 1902 match, he was to all intents and purposes the manager, even if the team – almost all Scots, some of Irish descent, none from Edinburgh or Leith – would have been picked by committee. Not that it really mattered who was playing, for almost everyone on the park found silky football an impossibility.
Eventually the “quiet and hum drum crowd” were given something to shout about when a corner from Paddy Callaghan found Andy McGeachan who backheeled it beyond Celtic’s stranded keeper. It was the cue for the real fun to begin.
Hibs received the silverware at a “social function” at Glasgow’s Alexandra Hotel and by the time they’d reached Queen Street station for the train journey home, the platforms were a sea of excited supporters.
“For half an hour the platform had been tenanted by a crowd who proclaimed their loyalty to Easter Road by voice and by advertisement, the latter in the shape of a green card displayed prominently from the hat or coat,” said the Evening News.
When the victorious squad alighted at Haymarket, crowds were lining the streets, Newhaven Brass Band struck up a rendition of Handel’s See the Conquering Hero Comes and four grey horses were tethered to a large brake – a horse-drawn bus – which carried the elated team and club officials on a victory parade.
“From there to Princes Street they were followed by a boisterous crowd which was being swelled at every moment,” said the Dispatch.
“A more enthusiastic and delighted assemblage it would be impossible to find.”
The cheers drowned out the band and brought traffic to a standstill, growing even more as the group made its way along Leith Street, on to London Road, Easter Road and finally Abbeyhill. While the fans shouted “Good for Hibs!” and waved white handkerchiefs in the air, leading the singing was the team’s captain, “trying his utmost to make himself heard with a parody of Dolly Grey which went something like ‘Goodbye Celtic, I must leave you’,” reported the Dispatch.
It was a moment to savour. But as he held the cup aloft and belted out his song, no-one could possibly have suspected precisely how special that snapshot in time was – that they, in their unleashed joy, were witnessing something that generations to come would only dream of.
A trip down memory lane
In 1902, the Second Boer War was raging in South Africa.
It was also the year another kind of football history was made – a small club in Manchester was formed and given the name Manchester United while, in Spain, Real Madrid was founded.
In France, a new car speed record was made – a wing mirror-snapping 74mph.
There was time for royal celebration, too, when Edward VII, the present Queen’s great grandfather, was crowned king.
In Edinburgh, a family celebrated the birth of a son called Eric Liddell.