Gina Davidson: At the heart of city's footballing success

As the Gorgie side re-affirm their intention to move from Tynecastle, Gina Davidson looks at where it all started for football in the Capital

THE arguments have been well rehearsed. This, after all, is the third time that the owners of Heart of Midlothian football club have said they want to quit the Tynecastle site for somewhere bigger, better . . . and further out of town.

So those for and against the idea to shift the club to the green belt will know their reasons, well, off by heart.

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However, if it does come to pass that Hearts leave their traditional home for pastures new then, history shows, it might not be the best idea.

Back in the 19th century when football in Scotland was in its infancy, and basically involved groups of friends getting together to kick an inflated pig's bladder around, there was only one place in Edinburgh to go - the Meadows. The green lung in the heart of the city - and the flattest stretch of grass around - was home to the city's football clubs. All of them.

Heart of Midlothian, the 3rd Edinburgh Voluntary Rifles, Thistle, and all the other fledgling Edinburgh Football Association clubs, would turn up on Saturday mornings with their flags and stake their claim to the best piece of ground, marking out their pitch.

So did Hibernian FC, a club which had been refused entry to the EFA given that its first 11 were Irish, not Scottish. And so a footballing rivalry was born - a rivalry which is at the root of football's success in the city.

"Without the rivalry of Hearts and Hibs, and the knowledge that money could be generated from it, then football in Edinburgh might never really have taken off," says Hearts historian David Speed. "All the teams played at the Meadows, although sometimes there were games in Holyrood Park. But if you think about it, at that time the population centre was the Old Town, the Cowgate, the Southside and so the Meadows was the nearest place they could play football.

"The Irish population in Edinburgh mostly lived in the Cowgate and St Mary's Street while those who set up Hearts were more in the Canongate and Dumbiedykes area and the Southside. They lived cheek by jowl with each other, and would probably have known each other very well, all of which added to the rivalry on the football field."

The players in the first Hearts side took the name from the dance hall they frequented on the corner of Dumbiedykes Road and Holyrood Road, the Heart of Midlothian, which in turn had taken its name from the city's prison. According to legend, they were playing near the Tron Kirk when a policeman suggested they might be better off at the Meadows, and from there the first seeds of the club were sown.

The precise date of the club's formation is unknown, but it was in 1874 that it adopted Football Association rules, so that is the date Hearts were formally established. The club was based at Anderson's Tavern in West Crosscauseway and it was there they would change into their strips - white with a maroon heart on the left breast - before heading to East Meadows to play.

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Meanwhile, in the Cowgate at St Patrick's church, the Catholic Young Men's Society had decided to launch its own football team. So in August 1875 Hibernian FC came into being, and although it was refused recognition by both the SFA and the EFA, it sought out opponents. Finally Hearts broke ranks and agreed to play on Christmas Day the same year.

As Hibs historian Alan Lugton says, the good deed of Hearts in breaking the embargo on Hibs was soon forgotten by the latter's supporters. "There were a number of recorded incidents of rioting which would make the modern day football hooligan look like a choirboy," he writes.

Speed agrees: "Unfortunately at that time there was a lot of antipathy towards the Irish community, so Hearts were already being seen as the Edinburgh team, while Hibs were the Irish team. But there was a recognition that this rivalry could earn money.

"And as the sides continued to play each other there would be large crowds on the Meadows to watch - up to 2000 or so. Of course, that meant there were public order problems. Ultimately to make more money from people paying to see the games, and to have a more secure area where the games could be held, both teams started to look for other places to play."

For Hearts it meant a move to Powburn at the foot of Causewayside, near West Savile Terrace, while Hibs moved to a piece of land in Mayfield, near Newington Station. But while both could now charge admission money, the move did not bode well.

Speed says: "The problem was that the supporters couldn't get there. They needed a horse-drawn tram to get there from the Old Town, so numbers started to dwindle, which wasn't good news for the clubs. They weren't there very long when first Hibs, then Hearts moved to Powderhall, which was more central for people then."

Other teams had also sprouted, and moved out from the Meadows. The 3rd Rifles moved to Stockbridge Park where Hanover and St Bernard's also played, before it moved to the Gymnasium Ground at Fettes. Leith Athletic played in the Easter Road area, but also in Portobello while Edina played close by in Leith's Elgin Street. Edinburgh University also had its own team, which played at the Meadows before moving to Meggetland.

After Powderhall, Hibs moved to Easter Road, first near Bothwell Street, and then later to the present-day site.

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Seven years after Hearts were established, they moved to Gorgie, a place on the up and up, with distilleries and a rubber factory offering a lot of employment - and, importantly, good rail links for travelling supporters.

The pitch was originally on the opposite side of Gorgie Road from today's Tynecastle. The club crossed the street in 1886 to the spot where they still play. But for how much longer? Speed says: "The reasons football clubs have moved in Edinburgh has always been space, and it's the same today. However, Hearts should think very carefully about where they move. Most of the support is in the west of the town, but as history has shown, there needs to be good transport links to the stadium, otherwise people will be reluctant to go. And given petrol prices these days, not everyone will want to drive way out of the city.

"In my opinion, in an ideal world, Hearts and Hibs should have shared a pitch again, on the site of the old Royal Infirmary, so close to where they both really originated. Hearts moving from Gorgie is a big risk. It could be Powburn all over again."