DCSIMG

Stand and watch march of progress at Hibs

It may have taken only six short months to rip down the old East Terracing and replace it with a new stand seating 6400, one which, with its opening on Sunday when SPL champions Rangers arrive in the east end of Edinburgh, will see Hibs boast one of Scotland's most modern grounds.

But, while many will see the new East Stand as completing the work to redevelop the stadium which began in the mid-Nineties, it will, in essence, simply be the lastest makeover in more than 100 years to the changing face of Easter Road.

Completing such a massive project in such a short space of time, particularly given the current economic climate, is a remarkable achievement, one which raises the capacity of Hibs home to some 20,250, a far cry from the day Hibs moved to their present location in 1893.

Since then it has been a story of evolution, a tale which is being retold in an exhibition organised by the Hibernian Historical Trust, photographs, maps, drawings and items of interest chronicling the various eras.

The sight of the new stand, which follows the opening of the Famous Five and South Stands in 1995 and the Main Stand in 2001, will, undoubtedly, bring more than a whiff of nostalgia, not least among those fans who inhabited the East Terracing, the more raucous element of the Hibs support, who were oblivious to the medieval facilities on offer.

Tom Wright, curator of the Historical Trust, admits he was one of the thousands who regretted watching the bulldozers move in that morning back in February, but today he's thrilled at the spectacle Easter Road has become.

He said: "I think every football fan has their own favourite spot at their club's ground, a place where if you came in late your knew you could meet up with your mates.

"In those days before segregation you could change ends at half-time or, if the game wasn't up to much, you could simply walk about a bit and bump into people you knew.

"I was regretting the old terracing being knocked down because there were so many memories there but, when you see what has been put in its place, with the facilities on offer, you can't complain.

"It's maybe taken a wee while to get the stadium completely finished but it was never just all going to happen at once. There's not many clubs the way things are financially at the moment who could have built at this time and now we must have one of the best grounds in the country."

The completion of the club's 5 million training centre means the infrastructure is now in place for the foreseeable future, a fact many fans hope will now see even greater investment made on the squad although, of course, the challenge will now be to fill all four stands as often as possible.

Even if that were to be achieved, Easter Road's new capacity, while greater than before, will still fall a long way short of those halcyon days of the Famous Five, captured in the newly released book "The Golden Years," written by Wright, when a record 65,860 crammed into the ground for the Edinburgh derby of 2 January , 1950.

Away back then, of course, the East Terracing soared skywards, two huge bankings with, Wright revealed, plans at one time to increase the ground's capacity to just short of 100,000.

He said: "The post-war crowd boom was just starting to disappear so it's perhaps a good job they didn't go ahead with it. I don't think too many people are aware, but Easter Road even had its own railway halt behind the East Terracing at one time so the football specials could stop right beside the ground."

The draw, of course, was the Famous Five of Gordon Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond, days recalled in meticulous detail by Wright who spent some eight years researching and writing his book.

He said: "I'd imagine the vast majority of people going to football these days will be aged 30 or under but they'll be aware of the Famous Five.

"It was an exciting period following the end of the Second World War, the crowds at football matches were incredible.

"I only saw Gordon Smith towards the end of his career but while if you were to ask 100 fans at other clubs who their favourite player was ten would say this one, 15 another if you asked 100 Hibs supporters of that time, 99 would say Gordon.

"He must have been something really special. But the book isn't simply about the Famous Five, the three League championships. It wasn't all fun and games, there were some bad defeats and a lot more to it.

"There was the vision and enterprise of Harry Swan, the chairman, the introduction of floodlit football, Europe, television and so on. I've spent countless hours, days, weeks sitting in libraries, reading voraciously, speaking to many people. I've actually written almost up to the present day but I felt there was just too much for one book."

As a spin-off from Wright's research has come an innovative move from the Historical Trust in league with the Jewel and Esk Valley College, a video library recalling the memories and careers of a host of Easter Road stars.

Wright said: "We're all getting on a bit so we intend to get through as many former players as we can, interviewing them and getting it all into a library of DVDs which will be there for future generations to learn all they can about the proud history of their club."

As part of the changes made at Easter Road the famous slope disappeared almost a decade ago and, while the ground may have a much smaller capacity than in the past, Wright has no doubt the atmosphere will be just as electrifying.

He said: "Fans still refer to us kicking down the slope when we're attacking the goals at the Famous Five Stand end, even although it's long gone.

"I don't know whether it actually helped the players but it seemed to be a psychological thing, it was exciting when we were kicking that way.

"Even if the team wasn't doing too well, you'd say 'at least we are kicking down the slope' in the second half.

"There's been so many great games, the first European Cup semi-final against Stade Reims, coming back from 4-1 down to beat Napoli 5-0 and more recently the AEK Athens UEFA Cup match when people who had been going to Easter Road said they'd never experienced an atmosphere like it.

"I think having these four big stands will add to that atmosphere as, to my mind, they throw the noise back out onto the pitch.

"I remember when Rangers extended the main stand at Ibrox and going through there. I'd been many times with big, big crowds but the noise, not because of the extra people, was incredible.

"I'd imagine the players will enjoy their new surroundings, the new stand almost seems to topple over on to the pitch, it certainly seems to pull the whole ground in on itself. It's looking fantastic and I'm really looking forward to Sunday."

The Historical Trust's exhibition, in the West Stand, is open from 2.30 pm to 4.30 pm on Saturday, admission free.

&#149 The Golden Years, Hibernian in the Days of the Famous Five by Tom Wright. Published by DB Publishing, 16.99

 
 
 

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