How Hands Off Hibs helped Sunshine on Leith become an Easter Road anthem

How famous love song became a renowned terrace anthem

Certain songs and football clubs are inextricably linked, but none more so than Sunshine on Leith and Hibs, forever synonymous after the battle to save the football club from probable extinction.

The song, which reached only 41 in the UK charts as the title track of The Proclaimers’ second album, saw a remarkable transformation to becoming one of the world’s favourite stadium anthems, with the composition now permanently married in the minds of the public with visions of tens of thousands of passionate Hibs fans holding scarves aloft and amplifying every word.

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How campaign founders kept Wallace Mercer's 'Hands Off Hibs'
The Proclaimers song Sunshine on Leith was adopted as a Hibs anthem during the Hands Off Hibs campaign.The Proclaimers song Sunshine on Leith was adopted as a Hibs anthem during the Hands Off Hibs campaign.
The Proclaimers song Sunshine on Leith was adopted as a Hibs anthem during the Hands Off Hibs campaign.
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During the fight to block the takeover of Hibs by then-Hearts owner Willie Mercer in 1990, the supporters club rallied together to find ways of getting the Hands Off Hibs message out.

Life-long supporter Willie McEwan, 68, a former Hibs Kids volunteer who remains active with the club as treasurer of the former players’ association, was tasked with handling public awareness.

As well as creating T-shirts, badges, petitions and leaflets, he was in charge of organising what would turn out to be packed rallies at Easter Road and the Usher Hall.

Featuring a host of well-known names and prominent footballers, the rally at the Usher Hall was headlined by The Proclaimers.

The Auchtermuchty twins were involved in the campaign right from the very first meeting at Sunnyside and offered to help out at key moments, recalls Kenny McLean, son of campaign leader Kenny McLean senior.

He said: “Charlie Reid came over to me and my dad and said, ‘Listen, this rally at Easter Road, we’ll provide all the amplification, we’ll provide a marquee for the guests and we’ll also help you with anything you need at the Usher Hall’.”

One Proclaimers track that was particularly well received at the Usher Hall was Sunshine on Leith. Willie McEwan believes this was the moment the song crossed over to become the club’s very personalised answer to You’ll Never Walk Alone that it is today.

He said: “It was a love song that became a terrace anthem. It was at this time [1990] the song really started to resonate with the Hibs fans.

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“It was always looked upon to me as the song that helped defeat Mercer. It was then the song took on extra meaning.

In recent years, and boosted by a movie and musical, Sunshine on Leith’s stock has soared to new heights and the song embraced by the wider Leith community as a whole. In March, video footage emerged of ‘Banana Flats’ residents singing the song together while in lockdown.

Margaret Alcorn, wife of the late Bill Alcorn who was the Hibs Supporters Club general secretary, said the song soon took on huge significance.

She said: “When there was the meeting at Easter Road, the fans, almost without guidance, started singing Sunshine on Leith. It was a hugely emotional moment, because, at that stage, it seemed very unlikely that Hibs could fight off this challenge.”

After Mercer dropped the bid, the supporters club released a Hands Off Hibs record, featuring, of course, Sunshine on Leith.

The song has since taken on a life on its own and in 2018, it was voted the best football song in BBC Radio 6’s “Football Anthems World Cup” organised by Steve Lemacq.

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