Hibs in 50 objects: No.20 – the story of Harry Swan

Harry Swan
Harry Swan
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Harry Swan was not only Hibs’ guiding light for 30 years, but one of Scottish football’s greatest thinkers and innovators, a legislator and a visionary far ahead of his time.

Among the many predictions he would make before they ultimately came to pass were competitive European football, shirt sponsorship, the introduction of floodlights, all-seated stadiums and reconstruction of the leagues.

Pic Greg Macvean - 19/12/2014 - Hibernian / Hibs 100 items from the Historical Trust.  David Hardie has full list of items - 40

Pic Greg Macvean - 19/12/2014 - Hibernian / Hibs 100 items from the Historical Trust. David Hardie has full list of items - 40

Never afraid to speak his mind, Swan resigned less than a year after being elected to the board of directors at a time when there were genuine concerns regarding Hibs’ very survival, accusing his fellow directors of failing to match his ambitions for the club.

However, the following year he was again elected to the board, but this time as chairman, inheriting a team that was in the doldrums, narrowly avoiding relegation into the Second Division but in typical style making what was thought to be both a bold and rash statement: “Give me ten years and I’ll make Hibs great.”

The Second World War meant his prediction was out by a few years, but Hibs did burst into the forefront of Scottish football in the golden post war years, managed by Willie McCartney, the former Hearts manager who was persuaded to move to Easter Road.

Led by the Famous Five, Hibs would win three League Championships in a five year period and become Britain’s first entrants into competitive European football in 1955.

Unsurprisingly, Swan held various offices within the game and was president of the SFA from 1954-56, his badge accompanied here by his SFA committee medal (1940), East of Scotland committee badge and a brooch presented to directors’ wives after Hibs League triumph of 1947-48.

Swan had also been the owner of Littlejohns, a well-known bakery in the city centre, and among his footballing memorabilia is a medal awarded for “best gateaux” in 1923.

But for a man of such vision it seemed incredible he should fail to see the short-term implications of selling prolific striker Joe Baker to Torino in instead of granting the modest wage increase that would have kept him at Easter Road.

In 1963 Swan sold his shares to William Harrower, a local bookmaker, but remained a lifelong director of the club in recognition of the service he had given Hibs. He died in 1965.