HIBERNIAN will finally realise their vision of a 'complete' Easter Road Stadium by demolishing their existing East Terrace to make way for a new one-tier structure which will increase the capacity of the ground from 17,400 to 20,250.
• An artist's impression of the New East Stand
The East Terrace will be torn down after Saturday's SPL home match against St Johnstone, and in its place will be built a new 6,400-seater East Stand, due for completion early next season.
Fans with season tickets for the East will be temporarily rehoused predominantly in the South Stand, creating a knock-on effect in terms of the ticket allocation available to away supporters during the construction process.
The multi-million pound contract has been awarded to Durham-based Hall Construction Services, and by starting work in March, the firm plans to have the project well under way before the end of the 2009/10 campaign, minimising the impact on the playing season.
For the worthies of the East Terrace, Saturday will be an emotional day. Aesthetically pleasing the structure may not be, but it is the epicentre of the atmosphere that emanates from the old ground.
• How Hibs ground Easter Road has evolved since Waugh sent in bulldozers in 1983
In their current surroundings, fans are frustratingly forced to play dodge-the-steel-pillar as they watch the action, and when Hibs' famous sloping pitch was levelled to comply with Uefa requirements in the 90s, it left the terrace noticeably lop-sided, with fans at the south end of the East enclosure seated far higher from ground level than those at the south.
Not that many fans in the East Terrace choose to sit. While the club has always fully co-operated with safety demands and has provided an all-seated stadium, it has been common practice in the East – particularly under the television gantry – for fans to stand and watch the action. Those laissez-faire days will come to an end after Saturday. Hibs insist it is a essential change for the better.
"Saturday's match against St Johnstone will be an emotional day for many supporters and all of us at the club, as we say goodbye to the old East Terrace," said Hibs chairman Rod Petrie yesterday. "Despite its shortcomings, thousands of supporters have a deep affection for the East Terrace. I am sure that the new East Stand will soon find a place in their hearts as its essential characteristics were debated and agreed with supporters at fans forums."
Work on the project actually started yesterday as contractors began to clear the waste ground at the rear of the existing East Terrace, in preparation for its full demolition next month.
Petrie added: "Today marks an exciting milestone in the club's history – the start of construction of a new East Stand, and the completion of Easter Road Stadium. Once the new stand is finished, Hibernian will have one of the finest football stadiums in Scotland and the largest, fully covered Uefa-compliant football stadium outside Glasgow. The fact the club is able to build a new stand during a very challenging time for football and the economy, is testament to the rock-solid financial footing of the club."
The new structure, in all likelihood, will be the final incarnation for a structure which has taken on various guises over the decades. The vast space on the original sprawling terracing helped generate the club's record attendance for a match on 2 January, 1950, when 65,860 packed into the ground to watch the Edinburgh derby against Hearts, and the old steps were crammed for many glorious European nights, including wins over Barcelona, Sporting Lisbon and Napoli.
In July 1983, with attendances on the wane and the physical appearance of the cavernous ground deteriorating fast, chairman Kenny Waugh took the decision to effectively cut the terracing in half, removing the top tier at a cost of 120,000.
Waugh may have presided over a grim and unsuccessful chapter in the club's history, but he said at the time: "If I achieve nothing else, however, I want to see Easter Road all covered. I don't know how many more hundreds of spectators we would attract if people knew they were going to be under cover when it comes to that decision-making time around 2.30pm on a Saturday."
Waugh's board delivered, as promised, a roof for the East Terrace, built during the 1985-86 season at a time when safety in football grounds was on the agenda at Downing Street. It opened for the last batch of home games in that campaign, a season of little cheer in the league at Easter Road, other than the wild scenes of jubilation that greeted news of Albert Kidd's last-gasp double for Dundee that scuppered Hearts' title charge. A crowd of 3,000 attended that game at Easter Road, a 2-1 defeat to Dundee United, but on many other occasions it was packed to the rafters.
The new, covered terracing, was perhaps at its busiest for the visit of Rangers on the opening day of the 1986-87 season, when a crowd of 24,576 watched Hibs win 2-1 in a raucous match which gained notoriety after a 20-man brawl and a red card for the visitors' player-manager Graeme Souness on his debut.
There has never been a bigger attendance for a match at the Leith stadium since that day, although it was crammed full, with thousands more locked out, on the night Hibs brought home the Skol League Cup to the stadium in 1991.
Green bucket seats significantly reduced the capacity when they were added in the mid-1990s, but it has nevertheless retained its reputation as the noisiest, most atmospheric stand in the ground.
The new East Stand will once again allow Hibs to attract crowds in excess of 20,000, and once the residents of the existing Terrace have said their emotional goodbyes on Saturday, they will soon face the challenge of matching or bettering the decibel levels they have created in Easter Road's noisiest stand.
FAN'S VIEW: 'SAD, BUT FOR THE BEST'
Diane Reid, 36, a season-ticket holder in the East Terrace, laments the passing of one era but looks forward to the start of another.
"It will be a sad day watching a game from the old East Stand for the last time, but I think it is probably for the best. We need the new stand to finish the ground off, and the stadium will look great when it is finished. I do have reservations about the capacity being 20,000 – it's maybe asking too much at the moment, but the most important thing is that the atmosphere stays the same, and none of it is lost. The single tier should be good and I'm at least looking forward to better facilities for the supporters.
"The East has always been special for atmosphere. I think it is because you are closer to the action, and that it attracts a real mix of people. Most of the noise and songs from the stadium start always start in the East, and the players have always responded to the backing they have got from there.
"There have been many special days and nights for me in the East, but the ones that stick in the memory are the AEK Athens game in the Uefa Cup (2001] and the 6-2 win over Hearts (in 2000]. I was also in there for the Hands Off Hibs rally when we fought and beat Wallace Mercer's takeover attempt, so it's going to be sad to say goodbye to the place.
"I just hope we can go out with a win on Saturday."