The “Spanish flu” pandemic that swept across the civilised world between 1918 and 1920 still ranks as the deadliest natural disaster in human history, claiming the lives of 100 million people worldwide – ten times that of the First World War.
No corner of the globe was left untouched by the deadly influenza strain. Around four percent of the world’s population at the time were wiped out, but Edinburgh found itself particularly badly hit as the death rate spiked in the first year of the outbreak.
Among the victims was Dan McMichael, the man who served as Hibs manager for 15 years in the early 20th century and figurehead of the legendary 1902 Scottish Cup winning campaign.
Arriving in the Capital from Ireland via Coatbridge in 1895, McMichael found himself drawn to the poverty-stricken slum in the Cowgate, known at the time as ‘Little Ireland’. There, he quickly became involved with the recently reformed Hibs acting as secretary, treasurer and team physiotherapist as the team was run by committee until 1903.
Despite this, McMichael was effectively the man in charge when the club claimed its second Scottish Cup in 1902, defeating Celtic 1-0 in the final at Celtic Park. A year later he delivered the league title for the first time, losing just once all season.
After initially departing Hibs at the end of the 1902/03 season, McMichael returned a year later to take charge after previous manager Phil Kelso left for Arsenal, guiding Hibs for over a decade before his death in 1919.
McMichael fought tooth and nail to keep Hibs afloat during the Great War. With many players off fighting in Europe and little money to compete with Celtic – who had since replaced Hibs as the most popular club in the Irish community – he became an expert at identifying and signing talented young players to the club.
“I don’t need money to bring stars to Easter Road,” he once said. “Hibs bring out their own stars.”
By the time the war had ended and the influenza virus had started to spread, Hibs were in ill-health on and off the pitch. McMichael had a history of heart and kidney problems which were exacerbated by a battle with pneumonia, but his desire to drag the club out of a slump which saw them rooted to the bottom of the First Division table prevented him from seeking the limited treatment available at the time.
On the journey back from a 1-1 draw with Falkirk at Brockville, McMichael collapsed and was rushed home to 247 Easter Road where he was bedridden, before passing away peacefully in his sleep five days later.
Like many victims of the pandemic, McMichael was buried in a mass, unmarked grave, hardly a fitting tribute to a man who had driven the club forward through some of the most turbulent periods in its history.
However in 2013, a group of dedicated Hibs fans researched the burial site from local records, funding a memorial gravestone to honour the former manager.
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