When Hibs sailed to Denmark in 1921 for the club's first overseas tour

Throughout the course of the club’s near 150-year history, Hibs have often been at the forefront of innovation.

Thursday, 27th May 2021, 7:30 pm
Updated Friday, 28th May 2021, 10:23 am
The Hibs squad of 1920/21, many of whom travelled to Denmark for an end-of-season tour in May 1921
The Hibs squad of 1920/21, many of whom travelled to Denmark for an end-of-season tour in May 1921

The first British team in European competition, the first east coast club to win a major trophy, and the first club in Scotland to wear sponsored jerseys to name a few firsts.

But when Hibs sent a team to Denmark in the spring of 1921, they were not the first team to embark on a tour of another country; not by a long shot – although it was the club’s first overseas visit.

Queen’s Park had travelled to Scandinavia as early as 1898 when the Spiders were invited to participate in the Copenhagen Carnival of Sports and Gymnastics by playing two exhibition matches in the Danish capital in front of King Christian X and other members of the Danish royal family.

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Indeed, the amateurs made several trips to Denmark in the early 20th century while Hearts undertook their own tour of Denmark in May 1912 and returned for two more games in 1914.

In March 1921, newspapers reckoned that Queen’s Park, Rangers, and at least two other Glasgow clubs as well as Hibs would be sailing for the Nordic country after the culmination of the season.

Reward at the end of an eventful season

Hibs had finished 13th out of 22 teams following the end of the 1920/21 season; an improvement on the previous campaign’s 18th place, and the 15-day tour of Denmark was organised as a reward for the players.

It had been an eventful season, with the club attempting to convince the Trinity Hospital Committee to sell Hibs the land containing Easter Road only to be brushed off with a long-term lease of 30 years, while away from football Leith had just been incorporated into Edinburgh’s boundaries, against the wishes of a majority of locals.

With the Little Ireland community in the Cowgate bursting at the seams and buildings starting to be demolished many Irish immigrants moved away, with some heading for Leith.

The docks and numerous warehouses offered countless job opportunities while the port was close enough to allow them to continue supporting Hibs.

Setting sail

Just 11 players made the trip, accompanied by manager Alec Maley who had only been in position a matter of weeks after succeeding Davy Gordon, and seven other members of staff including directors Owen Brannigan, a former player turned club official; John Farmer, grandfather of former owner Sir Tom Farmer, and Barney Lester, all of whom had been involved with Hibs since the 1880s or 1890s.

The playing staff comprised goalkeeper Willie Harper; Willie Dornan, Willie McGinnigle, Matty Paterson, Hugh Shaw, Harry Ritchie, Johnny Walker, Bobby Templeton, Johnny Halligan, Jimmy Dunn, and Willie Smith.

Leith’s links to the wider world through trade made passage to Denmark straightforward, and Hibs were scheduled to leave on the evening of May 12 with the first game scheduled for May 16.

However, the steamer Weimar that was due to carry Hibs to Copenhagen was unable to leave as intended as a result of the ship stewards’ strike.

Members of the National Union of Ships’ Stewards, Cooks, Butchers, and Bakers had refused to accept a reduction in wages on offer by the Shipping Federation, causing mayhem in the shipping industry.

Fortunately for Hibs, arrangements were made to get the journey under way on Friday. A report in The Scotsman of Saturday, May 14 read: “The Leith steamer Weimar, which was unable to sail for Copenhagen on Thursday evening owing to the ship stewards’ dispute, last night proceeded to sea, suitable arrangements having been made by the owners in the course of the day.

"The members of the Hibernians Football Club who are among the passengers will therefore be able to fulfil their football engagements in Copenhagen on Monday.”

Arrival in Denmark

Hibs duly arrived in Denmark in time for their first match, a game against a Copenhagen select on Monday, May 16. The Hibees were decked out in brand new bottle-green jerseys with white v-neck collars

Hibs ran out 3-2 winners and somewhat eerily their next trip to Denmark, for an Inter-Cities Fairs Cup tie in October 1962 against KB Copenhagen, also resulted in a 3-2 win for Hibs.

Two days later the Capital side took on an Aarhus select, with both teams impressing in a 1-1 draw.

Aarhus, known today as AGF, had finished runners-up in the Danish championship of 1920/21 so were no slouches.

Hibs wrapped up the tour the following day with a rematch against the Copenhagen select with the Danes exacting revenge for the previous defeat by winning 1-0.

While the trip was considered a resounding success, with the Hibs players impressed by the quality of their opponents and the scenic Denmark, there was one downside as recently-signed inside-left Johnny Halligan suffered a broken collarbone in an accidental clash with an opponent.

Return to Edinburgh – and the future

The team headed back to Scotland on the MV Coblenz and while on board met up with the Queen’s Park team, who were returning from their own tour of Denmark.

The Easter Road side enjoyed relative success in the 1920s, reaching the Scottish Cup final in 1923 and again in 1924, although they lost both to Celtic and Airdrieonians respectively.

Several of those on the tour would stay with Hibs for several years while Shaw, of course, returned to Hibs as trainer under Willie McCartney before taking charge of the team from 1948 until 1961 following McCartney’s death and Halligan would play on until the 1933/34 season before retiring on medical advice.

He later worked as a coach and scout for Hibs before a brief spell as caretaker manager after Bobby Templeton’s 11-year reign came to an end.

Hibs continued to take part in overseas tours throughout the first half of the 20th century, including a trip to Brazil in 1953 for a precursor to the World Club Championship.

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