Kevan Christie: Hibs aren’t just a Leith team – and here’s why

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I’ve been looking at an old photograph a friend posted on Facebook recently of my Leith Academy school football team dating back to 1984.

Of the 14 boys pictured, I reckon half supported Hibs with the other half being made up of Hearts and Rangers fans.

By 1902 ' when this team won the Scottish Cup ' Hibs had been playing at what is now their Easter Road home for ten years

By 1902 ' when this team won the Scottish Cup ' Hibs had been playing at what is now their Easter Road home for ten years

The reason I mention this is to generate discussion around a topic that has long been on my mind – namely the ­connection between Hibernian FC and Leith.

Having grown up a Hibs supporter through a hereditary Irish immigrant past I feel that the push towards fully integrating the team with Leith has been a fairly recent phenomenon.

Let me stress, I’m not trying to get into a serious Trainspotting-type argument here about the club’s history and I make no apologies for the Irvine Welsh reference so early in this piece, as he plays a huge part in all of this.

I like many others have spent too long in the pub trying to work out boundaries in Easter Road and digging out old maps – I am that sad. I’m no club historian but a quick internet search will tell anyone that the team was founded by Irishmen from the Cowgate area. They originally played in the Meadows, then Newington and Bonnington before moving to Hibernian Park in Bothwell Street, then on to Easter Road where they secured a lease in 1892, having folded for a year previous to that.

My point is that growing up a Hibby in Craigentinny, Portobello and later Leith in the 1970s and 80s, I never heard anyone go on about the club’s connections to Leith. If anything, the staunchest fans I knew came from Lochend and travelled to games on the legendary Torino pub bus. They were sworn enemies of guys from Leith, with the main equivalent from the old port being a Celtic bus that left from the Foot of the Walk.

Then Trainspotting came along and later the Proclaimers’ epic Sunshine on Leith was adopted by the fans and slowly but surely the great Leith backstory started to emerge. In the last 20 or so years the narrative around the club has changed and been embraced by a lazy media, people moving into the area, but most notably local fans adopting a rigid position.

Hibs have undergone a “Kult” like transition similar to what happened to FC St Pauli a traditional club from the dock area of Hamburg who became immersed in social activism and, let’s not beat about the bush here, are trendy.

I don’t have a huge problem with Hibs going down this route; Irvine Welsh was at the forefront of changing the dialogue and I like nothing more than to wind up Jambos by claiming to be both a warrior poet and a Renaissance man. It’s a good laugh but there are way too many Hibs fans who take all of this nonsense seriously. The anarchist Hibee yin to the “establishment” Hearts yang.

For a start, if we’re going to keep pursuing this bohemian, hipster schtick it might be a good idea to take the betting and alcohol companies’ names off the strip. In this respect it’s the “dour” unsexy Jambos who are the ones running about with Save the Children on their kit.

No, my gut feeling, and it’s just my opinion, is that the club’s real history – the one with the Cowgate and the Irish immigrants – has taken a back seat, as has the importance of Edinburgh to the club – most of the fans don’t hail from or live in Leith.

Hopefully, supporters of a certain vintage will get the thrust of my argument about the club’s origins – the younger ones have only known the cool version.