Torn-down East terrace tears at Lawrie Reilly's heart strings

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AS a Hibernian supporter, player and then a supporter again, Lawrie Reilly has been going to matches at Easter Road for around 70 years. He was there yesterday too, to watch the demolition of the East Terrace, the last section of the ground which evoked the old days for him.

While looking forward to the building of the East Stand and the completion of the new-look Easter Road, Reilly admitted to a touch of sadness at the removal of the terracing, the last tangible link with his past as a member of the Famous Five. "There's nothing now," he said. "Not even the slope, because they've taken that away as well. The atmosphere will never be the same. You'll never see attendances like I saw again."

Reilly played in the Edinburgh derby when a record attendance for the ground of 65,860 was set. That was on 2 January 1950, but his memories stretch back much further.

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"One early memory that sticks out was when we beat the Rangers 8-1 and I was sitting in the stand," he recalled of one wartime match. "But before that I was on the terracing. I remember another Hibs-Rangers game when a bloke threw a bottle and it hit Jerry Dawson, their goalkeeper, on the head, split his head. It had been a good game, a tight game, 0-0 up to then, but it just went dead. It finished 0-0 and there was no interest. The fans all pointed him out. The police just came and grabbed him."

As a boy, Reilly would take a bus to Easter Road with other members of his family from a part of town where supporters of Edinburgh's other club were far more numerous. "I stayed very close to Hearts' ground, at the top of Ardmillan Terrace," he said.

"But my family had been Hibs supporters – my dad, my grandad – and we only went to one stadium, Easter Road.

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"I got lifted over the turnstile and I'd sit on the wall. But when you sat on the wall the police came round and said 'Come on, son, get your legs over'.

"That was in case you got hit by the ball. So you had to sit on the wall looking over your shoulder at the game. I used to sit on the wall at the top end. My family always stood there and you always met the same folk. Standing was enjoyable because you could move about a bit.

"And at half-time you changed ends. And if Hibs were playing the Rangers there were 20,000 going that way and 20,000 coming this way. But there was never any bother – it wasn't as if there was any trouble when they were passing each other."

Besides the football, the big treat on match days was being bought a snack from one of the vendors who would patrol round the pitch. "Duncan's hazelnut chocolate – your dad always got you that."

Born in 1928, Reilly joined Hibs at the end of the war and stayed with the club until his retirement in 1958. In all that time, he cannot ever recall deviating from his normal practice of going to the ground by public transport.

• Hibs legend Lawrie Reilly was at Easter Road for the demolition

"I can't mind of driving a car to come down to play. Always on the bus. It was the No1 bus from Corstorphine to Easter Road. That was the two terminuses.

"I was standing at the bus-stop to come down and play a floodlit game, a friendly. A bloke came along with a newspaper in his hand and said 'I see you've been picked to play for Scotland'.

"It was there in the stop press and it was the first time I'd been picked to play for Scotland. I thought 'What do I do here? Do I run home and tell my mum and dad or do I wait for the bus?'

"We were playing Manchester United. I thought I better stay and wait for the bus.

"So all the way down folk were saying 'Congratulations'. First I'd heard of being picked for Scotland."

While construction workers got on with the business of clearing away the East Stand, groundsmen were out on the pitch, doing their best to poke a bit of life back into turf that has become very threadbare in places.

"Anything that's an improvement is what you want to see and is going to be enjoyable," Reilly said of the planned new stand. "I just hope they can get to work on the playing surface as well, because that's not as good as it could be."