Joy as Hearts and Hibs serve up Christmas Day fayre play

Gary Locke with volunteers and guests at Hearts Christmas lunch. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Gary Locke with volunteers and guests at Hearts Christmas lunch. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Tommorrow evening, they will be on opposite sides as they resume the capital’s most enduring sporting rivalry.

But on a sodden Christmas Day, Hearts and Hibs put the fight for Edinburgh’s bragging rights to one side as they threw open the doors of their respective stadiums to offer a sanctuary for some of the city’s most vulnerable citizens on a “symbolic” day for the two clubs.

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Volunteers came from far and wide to participate in the campaign bringing fans of both sides together to provide a hot meal and companionship on what can often be the loneliest day of the year.

And there was plenty of Christmas Cheer to be had at both ends of the city as around 200 people from the local community and beyond created a family atmosphere with traditional festive fayre, gift wrapped presents and christmas music.

At Easter Road, families recently arrived in the city from Syria joined lifelong fans of the club in tucking into Christmas lunch, while at Tynecastle, guests sitting down amongst almost a hundred other diners ranged in age from nine-days-old up to 87.

One diner at Easter Road, who asked not to be named, said she was “very anxious” about attending the dinner, however described a “wonderful atmosphere” during the afternoon.

She added: “I always have a difficult time at Christmas and I was a bit nervous about coming here today. But I am glad that I did in the end, there is a wonderful atmosphere here.

“It reminds me of a big family Christmas, everyone seems to be enjoying the company and that is so important at this time of year.”

At Tynecastle, another guest said: “It is difficult to be a parent at Christmas when you don’t quite have the same support there that others do, so to have something like this right on our doorstep is just fantastic.”

“We are just so grateful to Hearts, to all the staff at Tynecastle and to all the volunteers for putting this on. They are making a real difference at a time when so many people need it.”

The dinner was the culmination of the Evening News’ month-long Christmas Cheer campaign in partnership with NHS Lothian and others, encouraging readers to spread festive joy across the capital by donating their time and effort to local organisations and performing good deeds over the holiday season.

We asked readers to sign up to our Christmas Cheer pledge, featuring everything from saying ‘Wesolych Swiat’ to a Polish neighbour to helping keep those sleeping on the streets warm at night by handing out blankets and sleeping bags.

And they responded in their droves, with dozens of volunteers from Tesco giving up their Christmas Day to cook and prepare food also kindly donated by the supermarket, while drivers from Central Taxis and City Cabs offered free rides to and from both stadiums for all of those attending.

In the pouring rain, volunteers travelled from different areas of the city and beyond, with some driving through from Fife, Glasgow and Ayrshire to give back to those in need.

Hearts fan Craig Robertson, 38, admitted he “didn’t know what to expect” when arriving at the stadium in the morning.

However he admitted it was a “great decision”, adding: “I saw online that both clubs were putting this on and being a Hearts fan I thought it would be good to get involved.”

He continued: “We have had a good number of people who turned up to help out and more importantly we have a good number of people who have turned out to get help and benefit from it.”

“Today is not about football. It is about communities of all social backgrounds coming together to help one another through the Christmas period and beyond.”

At Easter Road, Fergus Lockhart, 23, was similarly apprehensive about his first volunteering experience.

But he described the number of volunteers arriving in the morning as “incredible,” adding: “This isn’t something I thought I would ever do. It is the first Christmas Day I have ever given up and I thought this would be a good way to mark it.”

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“It is really heartening to see this many people turning up to support those in need. It is a good feeling to know we are helping them.”

Thomas Johnston, 29, said: “People are not just alone at Christmas time, it is all year round.”

“If we can give them something today, a day to remember, then we should absolutely be doing that. I’ve never volunteered before, but I’m glad I could come down today and donate my time to try and help someone else have a better Christmas.”

As part of the campaign Hearts and Hibs agreed to put aside their historic rivalry and supported a number of events throughout December in an effort to harness the power of football to help create a kinder city.

Former players from both sides made special appearances at local Tesco stores, and to local charities. It inspired countless others to do the same, as local groups organised everything from open-top buses packed with carol singers driving around the city to the delivery of hundreds of Christmas cards to vulnerable older residents around the city, while leading stores including the likes of Jenners handed out surprise gifts to shoppers.

On Christmas Day, guests at Tynecastle and Easter Road were joined by Hearts’ principal ambassador Gary Locke and Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster.

The afternoon ended with Santa making a special stop off at both stadiums, handing out gifts to all attendees, ensuring everyone who benefited from the dinner had something to unwrap on Christmas Day.

Volunteer Kerry Watson, who works with the Cyrenians charity said: “ Some of these people don’t have Christmas, what better way to spend it than by making the day a little bit brighter for them.

“It is bringing the community stronger together.

“For the two clubs to be doing something like this in the local community, it makes a massive impact.”

She added: “Hopefully everyone who leaves the stadium today will do so with some great memories and with a much bigger social network.”

Neil Dickson, 66, added: “Giving something back on a day like today, where people are lonely or isolated is just so important.”

“It is an opportunity for them to come into a warm environment and have a substantial meal which might actually be there only meal for today and even tomorrow.

“That background chatter that gets louder and louder is excellent. They are making new friends , creating new social groups. It is bringing communities on both sides of the city together.”

The Evening News’ Christmas Cheer campaign was supported by Hearts, Hibs and NHS Lothian with the support of the Scottish Government, Tesco, Central Taxis and City Cabs.

l We thank our readers and Hearts and Hibs fans who gave up their time to make this and other events possible.