THE enduring appeal of the Edinburgh derby will be sharply illustrated at Easter Road tomorrow night when a sell-out crowd gather for the first Scottish Cup replay between the great rivals since 1933.
It is also perhaps the most significant rematch of Hearts and Hibernian since they clashed in a then record-breaking Scottish Cup semi-final replay in 1901.
It was a tie in which Bobby Walker, the most prolific performer in the history of the fixture, provided the decisive moment in a two-act drama which seized the imagination of the Edinburgh public.
Neutral venues were not yet deemed a necessity at the semi-final stage of the tournament in which Hearts secured home advantage when the draw was made.
On 9 March, 1901 a crowd of 23,000 crammed into Tynecastle, paying record gate money for the ground of £480, to watch a tensely contested 1-1 draw as Mark Bell’s first-half opener for the hosts was cancelled out by Pat Murray’s late equaliser for Hibs.
The attendance was also a new Scottish record for a match held outside of Glasgow and it was clear interest in the replay at Easter Road two weeks’ later would be intense.
It was a hugely lucrative affair for both clubs but they were spared the cynicism which was prevalent among newspaper reporters and supporters alike at the time over the amount of money-spinning replays which occurred between Rangers and Celtic and earned the Glasgow giants their “Old Firm” monicker.
One report of the Tynecastle semi-final stated: “There was no suggestion of a ‘Rangers-Celtic draw’ about the game. The Edinburgh rivals have not learned the fine art yet.”
As it turned out, Easter Road comfortably held a crowd of around 18,000 for a replay which most football correspondents found hard to call. “We hope that victory may incline to the better side and that neither trickery or coarseness will occur to mar the game,” was the diplomatic verdict of the Edinburgh Evening News preview, although they did regard Hibs as “slight favourites” to reach the final.
But it was the peerless Walker who won it for Hearts. Leading 1-0 at half-time through a Bill Porteous goal, the crucial moment arrived when Walker pounced on a fine save by Hibs’ goalkeeper Harry Rennie to “cutely send the ball into the net” according to The Scotsman’s reporter.
Hamilton Handling converted a late penalty for Hibs, but Hearts comfortably held on to their 2-1 advantage to claim a place in the final against Celtic.
They went on to lift the trophy in what became known as “The Walker Final”, owing to his exceptional performance in the 4-3 win at Ibrox.
With his “habitual inclination of the head” and “apparent stiffness”, Walker did not necessarily convey an instant impression of his brilliance as a footballer.
But his “colossal skill”, another of the descriptions attributed to Walker by the celebrated football writer Brian Glanville in his 1978 book celebrating the greatest players of all time, was soon apparent to fans and opponents.
The legendary Hearts and Scotland inside forward was a genuine superstar of the British game in the late Victorian and early Edwardian era, a status finally afforded due modern-day recognition with his belated induction to the Scottish Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
While his achievements for club and country were manifold, Walker’s record in the Edinburgh derby was remarkable. He scored 33 goals against Hibs, 31 of them in senior competitive fixtures.
His first came on a disappointing day for Hearts, in only his seventh first-team appearance, when he notched their consolation in a 5-1 East of Scotland League defeat at Easter Road when he was just 18 years old.
It was the first of 17 goals Walker scored against Hibs at Easter Road, a record for the fixture which stands to this day. John Robertson comes closest, with 15 of his 27 derby goals scored on opposition soil. Lawrie Reilly, Hibs’ leading scorer on that list, scored just seven against Hearts at Easter Road.
Walker went on to make a staggering total of 92 appearances against Hibs, including games in competitions such as the Inter-City League, East of Scotland Shield and Rosebery Charity Cup which all attracted big crowds and were contested by the clubs’ first teams.
In the Scottish League and Scottish Cup, Walker faced Hibs 33 times and scored 15 times. The 1901 semi-final replay winner was his only Scottish Cup goal at Easter Road.
Appropriately enough, Walker’s last goal for Hearts came at the same venue in 1913 when he scored in a 3-0 league victory before his retirement at the age of 34.
As the latest page of the Edinburgh derby story is turned tomorrow night, it remains unlikely anyone will write his name across it as enduringly as Bobby Walker.