Hibs celebrate survival spirit

BEDECKED in green and white, the Usher Hall played host to a celebration of survival as Hibs fans turned back the clock to recall how close the club came to extinction.

A roll call of club legends as well as present-day stars, politicians and Hibs-mad musicians including ex-Marillion frontman Fish and headline act The Proclaimers took centre stage last night as thousands of supporters marked the 20th anniversary of the famous "Hands off Hibs" campaign.

Compere Grant Stott narrated a four-part journey through Hibs' fortunes over the last two decades, interspersed with nostalgic big-screen TV footage of on-field triumphs and live entertainment.

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The evening was a buoyant celebration of the 1990 Hands off Hibs campaign, a support-led revolt launched in resistance to a perceived "hostile takeover" bid by then Hearts chairman Wallace Mercer. Hibs fans had feared the proposed merger of the two Edinburgh sides would see the cash-strapped Leith club go under and united to preserve its identity.

Hibs majority shareholder Sir Tom Farmer, the former Kwik-Fit owner credited with masterminding the club's revival since buying a controlling interest in 1990, took a standing ovation from the 2,300-strong audience and spoke of investing in the club to promote "change for the better".

He added that the passion of the late Kenny McLean Senior, a fan who spearheaded the Hands off Hibs campaign, had encouraged him to invest.

Rod Petrie, chief executive at Easter Road, thanked fans for "standing up when it counted" and said in Sir Tom Farmer they had a "dedicated loyal supporter" who had "saved the club" in partnership with the fans.

Former player Murdo MacLeod was one of around 50 playing staff from past and present to join the celebrations, many of whom joined The Proclaimers on stage at the concert finale.

Speaking to the News, he explained how important the occasion was to the Hibs fraternity, and said: "It's something we have to celebrate. This is not something often seen in Scottish football where fans go the full road for their football club to help save it from going under."

He added: "It's fantastic seeing all the old faces, players and staff but most important are the fans. That's why we're all here tonight.

"It's a thank you to the fans. They deserve a lot of the credit and that's why so many of the players have come out to support them tonight."

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Sir Tom said the evening was "a display of tremendous community spirit".

Leith-based band The Bum-Clocks and rock legend Fish warmed up the crowd for The Proclaimers, who generated a carnival atmosphere with their song, and Hibs anthem, Sunshine on Leith.

Alzheimer's Scotland and the Former Players' Association will benefit from collections taken on the night.