Northfield: The ghost stadium built for Hibs but never used

Most Hibs fans will be aware of the club’s formative years spent playing matches on the East Meadows, before a somewhat nomadic existence as they played at no fewer than four grounds before finally settling on Easter Road.

Wednesday, 4th November 2020, 7:30 pm
A map showing the location of the Northfield ground on a present-day map. Easter Road can be seen in the top left corner

In the club's infancy Hibs played various matches at Powburn on Mayfield Road and Powderhall in Bonnington between 1877 and 1879. Their first home of note was Hibernian Park; a ground sited on the present-day Bothwell Street.

After a decade or so, the club failed to secure the lease on the ground. House-builders moved in, and Hibs were left to seek out another venue. After failed attempts to negotiate a lease at Powderhall and Logie Green Hibs agreed to move to nearby Hawkhill, home of Leith Athletic at various times beween 1887 and 1900 but after one game – a 1-1 draw with Mossend Swifts – a dispute resulted in them seeking a home elsewhere.

A lease on Drum Park – on the site of the current Easter Road stadium – was secured in 1892 with the first home game played in 1893. But history repeated itself and Edinburgh city planners earmarked the space for future development leaving Hibs facing the prospect of losing another ground.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Plans for the new ground as shown in the Evening News in 1906. A is the pitch; B the quarter-mile track; C the sprint track, D the grand stands, and E the ground reserved for NBR sidings

Granite City Hibs

By the early 1900s the club was seriously exploring the viability of relocating to Aberdeen or taking over Motherwell’s Fir Park stadium as a result of the fledgling North Lanarkshire club’s poor home gates, but there was more substance in talk over a move to the north east.

Hibs were, at that time, enjoying considerable success. They had won the Scottish Cup seven months earlier and would go on to win the league in 1903.

But things were a little less comfortable off the pitch. Land was hard to come by in Edinburgh, particularly in the areas closest to the club's supporter base.

For the second time in a matter of years, Hibs mulled over the possibility of relocating to the north east and taking advantage of the Granite City’s lack of a top-flight representative.

In November 1902, the board of the original Aberdeen FC rebuffed an approach from Hibs.

A note in the Aberdeen Daily Journal of November 12 1902 read: "Hibernian Football Club is at present negotiating with a view to the transference of their headquarters from Easter Road to Aberdeen.

"It is now reported that a valuator has gone over Pittodrie Park, or is about to go over it, with a view to its purchase by the Edinburgh club.

"It is well known that this same club made overtures in this direction some years ago."

The move sparked urgent talks between Aberdeen and local sides Orion and Victoria United, with an amalgamation agreement reached by March 1903 to form the present-day Aberdeen FC and all but scupper any lingering hopes Hibs may have had of relocating.

So Hibs looked closer to home and construction started on a new stadium at Northfield, next to the present-day Piershill Cemetery.

‘Very reasonable rent’

The Evening News of April 28 1905 carried an extensive report on the plans: “The [five acre] ground is at present laid down in corn, the Hibernians probably taking possession after the crop is up in the coming autumn, and the ground to be ready for opening as a football enclosure in the autumn of next year.

“It is intended to lay down a first-class cinder track round the pitch, to build an up-to-date pavilion and accessories, and to provide practically unlimited accommodation for spectators.

“The lease is long, and the rent is understood to be very reasonable.”

By September 1906, work was nearing completion on the ground. A 250-yard sprint track; grandstands seating 3,300 persons; a central, covered area with room for 1,000 and space for a further 225 patrons in the pavilion had been created. The total capacity was said to be as much as 50,000.

It was virtually assumed that the NBR would proceed with building a dedicated station after constructing a bridge over the railway to allow access from Fishwives’ Causeway to the stadium, even with Piershill Station a mere ten-minute walk from the ground.

No Hibs – but rabbit coursing

Hibs were still to move to the stadium by the end of 1907 but the venue was still referred to as the club's ground. It seemed a matter of time before they relocated – even without the new station.

In 1909 a court order gave the NBR the go-ahead to build sidings very close to the northeastern end of the pitch. Somewhat in limbo, Hibs remained tenants at Easter Road but it wasn’t until more than a decade later that the club’s future was settled at the same ground and they began redeveloping the arena.

As for Northfield, the “ghost stadium” remained in situ until the late 1930s. No sidings were ever built, and Hibs hadn't kicked a ball there.

All manner of events had taken place there since its completion: athletics, amateur football, cycling, dog racing – even rabbit coursing, which caused Hibs to terminate the lease to the sub-tenant responsible.

Hibs remained lessees of the stadium well into the Twenties – “saddled with two grounds”, according to the Evening News – but the link gradually faded until the pitch was given over to cemetery expansion by the time World War II broke out.

The southwestern end of the pitch was given over to housing, but it is still possible to walk up Fishwives’ Causeway, cross the railway line, and walk along the north eastern end, imagining the vast arena that once sat there for more than three decades, waiting patiently for a team that never arrived.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.If you haven't already, please consider supporting our sports coverage with a digital sports subscription.