Leith’s motto might be “Persevere”, but for Hibs historian Tom Wright the mantra is “In Perpetuity” as he seeks to ensure the 138 years of the Easter Road club are saved for generations to come.
As curator of the Hibernian Historical Trust, Wright is custodian to literally thousands of artefacts chronicling the life and times of the Capital club since its humble beginnings in 1875.
The Trust’s work has been evident in a series of exhibitions which have graced the mezzanine level above the reception area in the stadium’s main stand, the latest of which will be thrown open to the public on Sunday as part of the Leith Festival.
But as eye-catching as it might be, Wright confesses, the current display gives but the briefest of glimpses into the club’s history, the rest crammed into a cluttered storeroom nearby where, he admits, he can regularly lose a day as he sifts through the ever-growing collection of match day programmes, jerseys, boots, photographs, trophies, medals, paintings and so on.
A registered Scottish charity and totally independent from the football club – but with the full backing of chairman Rod Petrie and his fellow directors – the Trust has, over the past nine years, raised some £80,000, all of which goes towards activities of historical significance to Hibs.
While the football club itself donated all the artefacts and memorabilia it had for safe-keeping, Wright revealed he and his fellow volunteers are constantly on the look-out for virtually anything with a Hibs connection, a never-ending search which occasionally throws up a real surprise.
Wright said: “We’ve got people doing all sorts of stuff. There’s guys concentrating on getting every programme, for home games at least, since the War and another who checks on the internet for auctions.”
As such, the hunt for memorabilia has gone world-wide, with some surprising results. Pointing to a “travelling kit” presented to Hibs legend Gordon Smith as a member of the Scottish League team which played the League of Ireland in 1947, Wright said: “We thought we’d get it fairly cheaply, after all who would be interested in it? But the bidding became very brisk and we ended up paying maybe three times more than we thought.
“But it was such a unique item – something totally different to boots, strips and balls – we were keen to get it. I asked afterwards who we’d been bidding against and was told a museum in South America. I can only assume it was somewhere in Brazil given Hibs had gone to Rio in 1953, played three games in the Maracana and afterwards one of their clubs tried to buy both Gordon Smith and Bobby Johnstone.
“There was also the pennant Hibs gave to Juventus when they played them in 1974 which turned up in an auction in Germany. How it ended up in Germany I don’t know.”
While the internet and the plethora of auction-based television shows has heightened the public’s awareness of the value of seemingly worthless items, Wright revealed there are also drawbacks for an organisation such as the Trust. He said: “People are far more aware, but it also increases the price.
“A few years ago you might have been simply given stuff, but now people know the value of what they have. For example, only last week there was someone giving us a pile of programmes but in it was one from a European game which, when he checked, got him £50 when we were going to get it for nothing.”
Despite that heightened awareness of the possible significance of historical artefacts, Wright admits there are still stories of what might have been, items he’d love to have got his hands on but which, unfortunately, ended up in a skip.
He said: “A few years ago when we were first talking of setting up the Trust I went to see an old woman in Davidson’s Mains who gave me a couple of pictures of her father playing in the Scottish Cup final of 1896.
“Then she told me it was a pity I hadn’t come a couple of years earlier as she had his Scottish League jersey from the same year but because it was so old and threadbare, she’d thrown it in the bucket. I just about collapsed. That’s the scary thing, once stuff like that is thrown away it’s gone forever, we can never get it back. If we can’t get our hands on it then it will most likely disappear.
“It’s all about keeping the history of the club alive, to make sure everything is here in perpetuity for the youngsters who are coming after us.”
There is, however, a balance to be struck in trying to appeal to all generations as Wright, the author of two books covering the golden years of Hibs, from the Famous Five through Joe Baker to Turnbull’s Tornadoes, readily agrees.
He said: “We do school tours but a lot of the stuff we have is at least 30 or more years old so it means nothing to children of nine or ten. We are actively trying to appeal to them but to me going to a museum isn’t about learning everything there and then but about whetting your appetite so you go away and learn more – that’s what keeps history going.”
Such is the vast array of items within that “Aladdin’s Cave” of his, that Wright openly admits he couldn’t put a precise figure on just how many there might be although the laboriouslaborious task of drawing up an inventory is underway. He said: “So far we’ve listed about 500, but that doesn’t even scratch the surface.
“We’ve got hundreds and hundreds of photographs alone, we’ll have more than 100 jerseys, there’s international caps, boots, medals, trophies, gifts presented to the club from other clubs and quirky things like Gordon Smith’s travelling kit and, with him being a keen golfer, his putter.
“It sounds daft, but one thing that excites me is that when the old east terracing was being knocked down to make way for the new East Stand we found some of the wooden slats that used to form the terracing back in the 1920s. We’ve also got the Edinburgh Association Cup of 1879, the first major trophy won by Hibs, We’ve got photographs, not originals, but good quality of the 1896 Scottish Cup final, a set of 40 or 50 photographs of players from the 1930s which are difficult to get hold of and so on.
“I’ve often come down to our storage room and found myself losing a day. I couldn’t say how many individual items we have but sometimes I come across something new or something I’ve forgotten we have, but it’s a labour of love.”
Sunday’s open day runs from 1pm-4pm and as well as the exhibition area will include guided tours of the boardroom, players’ lounge, press room, dressing rooms and trackside. Admission is free but children of primary school age should be accompanied by an adult.