Hibs 1 O’Neill
A MAN named Romanov in the early stages of a reign which would attract headlines across the world. A furious controversy over whether a Scottish Cup meeting of Hearts and Hibs should be played in Edinburgh or Glasgow. A ruling by the SFA being challenged in the law courts.
If that all sounds very familiar, then you might be surprised to learn those were the burning issues of the day 110 years ago when the Scottish Cup Final was staged at Logie Green. The occasion would not have captured the attention of Tsar Nicholas II of the Romanov dynasty, busying himself as he was with ruling the Russian Empire in an autocratic manner his distant descendant Vladimir appears intent on emulating at Hearts.
In many other ways, however, the clash of Hearts and Hibs on 14 March 1896 carries remarkable similarities with the clubs' eagerly anticipated semi-final showdown at Hampden this Sunday.
The match at Logie Green, a venue in the Powderhall district of Edinburgh long since lost to property development, was the first and remains the only Scottish Cup final to have taken place outside Glasgow. For those who believe this weekend's game should have been held at Murrayfield rather than Hampden, the decision of the SFA office-bearers in 1896 to hold the final in the capital will be viewed in hindsight as one of common sense.
Yet, ironically, at the time supporters of both Hearts and Hibs had expressed grave misgivings over the choice of Logie Green, then home to St Bernard's, a major third force in Edinburgh football who had won the Scottish Cup the previous year. Judging the capacities of football grounds was far from an exact science in the Victorian era and many correspondents in the local and national press warned of serious problems if the attendance reached a certain level.
As William Reid later recalled in his 1925 book The Story of The Hearts "it was accepted that the 22,001st man who entered the ground would stand an even-money chance of being crushed to death. The man in the street was in no hurry to die at one shilling admission."
There were calls from many supporters for the match to be switched to either Ibrox or Hampden but the SFA would not be budged. In the event, a crowd of just 16,034 turned up at Logie Green and were accommodated comfortably. Writing in the Edinburgh Athletic Times the following Monday, a reporter under the name of Philistine chided his newspaper colleagues for their part in the pre-match controversy.
With the glorious gift of hindsight, the writer boomed: "These fears, first given expression to by certain pressmen whose experience ought to have taught them better, did much to decrease the dimensions of the crowd, for thousands were prepared to make the trip to Glasgow rather than risk bruised bones and general discomfort. Had 24,000 instead of 16,000 sought admittance, there would still have been no very urgent need to close the gates."
Those Hibs supporters who did turn up at Logie Green were simply relieved their team had been allowed to take their place in the final. They did so on the word of Lord Low in the Edinburgh Court of Session who turned down a request from Renton, beaten 2-1 by Hibs in the semi- finals, for an interim interdict against the Leith club. Renton claimed that Hibs' full-back Alex Robertson was ineligible. Their protest was dismissed by the SFA whose judgment, happily for Hibs, was subsequently backed by the law lord.
Having finished third in the championship behind Celtic and Rangers, two points ahead of fourth-placed Hearts, it was Hibs who went into the cup final as slight favourites. The Edinburgh rivals had met seven times previously in the Scottish Cup since the tournament's inception 23 years earlier, although never at a more advanced stage than the third round, with Hibs emerging the victors on five occasions.
Spoils had been shared in the league fixtures between the teams that season, reigning Scottish champions Hearts winning 4-3 at Tynecastle in a match which saw Hibs striker John Kennedy unfortunate enough to score a hat-trick and end on the losing side before the Easter Road men turned the tables on their own patch with a 3-2 success. These, incidentally, were the first ever league games between the clubs as Hibs had previously been in the second division.
Hearts had enjoyed the smoother path to the cup final, romping to away victories against Blantyre (12-1), Ayr (5-1) and Arbroath (4-0) before centre forward Willie Michael scored the only goal of the semi-final against holders St Bernard's at Tynecastle three minutes from time. Hibs had to negotiate a far more awkward route, their 6-1 second round drubbing of Raith Rovers the only straightforward obstacle. The quarter-final against Rangers at Ibrox was an astonishing affair, the home team missing two penalties as Hibs edged a thriller 3-2.
They were assisted by a couple of blunders by Rangers goalkeeper John Bell who, after the match, dressed in silence and left the ground never to be seen or heard of by anyone at Ibrox again. Hibs' winning goal that afternoon was scored by 'Darlin' Willie Groves, the undisputed idol of the club's support. He was, according to one pundit of the time, "a bewildering dribbler with a puzzling swerve" who had first joined Hibs as a 16-year-old in 1885. Groves scored the winner in Hibs' only previous Scottish Cup final appearance, when they defeated Dumbarton 2-1 at Hampden in 1887. Subsequently lured to Celtic and then on to English football, where he was an FA Cup winner for West Bromwich Albion in 1892 and a championship winner with Aston Villa two years later, the Leith-born Groves had returned 'home' to Easter Road at the start of the 1895-96 campaign.
The centre-forward was viewed as a talisman by Hibs but on a dull but dry afternoon at Logie Green, Groves was forced to concede second best to a Hearts forward line who dominated the final from the start. The Gorgie men opened the scoring after just three minutes and never looked back. The goal came from the penalty spot, after the controversial figure of Robertson had handled, with Davie Baird finding the net. The Dalry-born player survived from the Hearts team which defeated Dumbarton 1-0 in the club's previous cup final appearance five years earlier and, uniquely, would also be in the side which lifted the trophy in 1901.
Despite the best efforts of Groves, Hibs were unable to break down a Hearts defence in which, according to The Scotsman's correspondent, full-back Bob McCartney was "in great form" while goalkeeper Jock Fairbairn defied the Easter Road forwards "in his usual masterly fashion". The game was effectively put beyond Hibs midway through the second half when Alex King made it 2-0 from a tight angle. Earlier that season, King had scored a hat-trick in a 5-0 league defeat of Celtic at Parkhead, the first Hearts player to achieve that feat against either of the Old Firm clubs. His prolific form saw him signed by Celtic not long after the cup final. When Willie Michael headed home Hearts' third, the trophy was heading for Tynecastle and a late goal from James O'Neill was mere consolation for a well beaten and dispirited Hibs.
Four years later, the clubs were paired again in the Scottish Cup, this time at the second round stage when Hearts won 2-1 in an Easter Road replay after a 1-1 draw at Tynecastle. The same scenario and scorelines were played out in the 1901 semi- finals, goals from Bill Porteous and the legendary Bobby Walker taking Hearts through to the Ibrox final where they thrillingly defeated Celtic 4-3 to win the cup for the third time.
As for Logie Green, the street names remain but the football ground's place in Scottish football history remains a one-off curiosity. It continued as a football ground, for St Bernard's and Leith Athletic, until being paved over to create a car park for the Powderhall athletics and greyhound stadium that has now also disappeared from the Edinburgh map, consumed by the insatiable appetite of property developers.
'Hats, sticks and handkerchiefs thrown wildly in the air'
THE match did not merit a souvenir pull-out, but the 1896 Scottish Cup final was able to command an impressive 800-word match report in The Scotsman.
"The weather in the forenoon was dull," we learn. "Hearts started the game against a slight breeze, which was neutralised by the fact that the Hibernians had what sun there was in their eyes."
Visibility was even worse for a brief spell after Hearts scored their third goal. "Hats, sticks, and handkerchiefs were thrown wildly in the air," reads the match report.
A summary appeared at the end of the report. "Heart of Mid-Lothian, three goals; Hibernians, one goal. The victory, it might be said, was popular in every sense of the word. Those who witnessed the demonstration following upon the third point will not readily forget it.
"Regarding the arrangements, it is satisfactory to note that everything passed off without a single hitch. The police arrangements were perfect, while mention must be made of the untiring efforts of Messrs. Lapsley, Anderson, Robertson, and Monteith."
HIBERNIAN'S first ever tie in the Scottish Cup came against Hearts on 29 September, 1877, and while the initial clash played at the East Meadows was a meek 0-0 draw, the replay was to light the touch-paper for years of bitter rivalry between the Edinburgh clubs. The clubs returned to the same venue and this time Hibs triumphed 2-1.
The Hibs website, hibernianfc.co.uk, explains: "The Hearts players and fans alike did not take defeat well against the Irish upstarts whom they regarded as inferior, and fighting broke out as the Irish celebrated their victory. This was the spark that for many years to come would result in Hearts taking every available opportunity to oppose Hibernian through the corridors of football power at both local and national level."
HEARTS and Hibs were to cross swords seven times in the Scottish Cup before the Logie Green cup final of 1896, Hibs having the upper hand with five victories to Hearts' two.
Hibs followed up the ill-tempered 1877 win with a 2-1 third round victory at Mayfield Park on 15 November 1879, then won 4-1 at Tynecastle on 20 October 1883, again in the third round.
Hibernian Park near Bothwell Street - the fore-runner to the present-day Easter Road - was the venue on 3 October 1885, when Hibs won a second round tie 2-1, and the same stadium hosted a 5-1 third-round triumph for the home team on 23 October 1886 - the year Hibs first won the Scottish Cup.
Hearts won 5-3 in the third round on 23 October 1880 at Powderhall, and 3-1 in a third-round replay on 22 October 1887 at Hibernian Park.
AFTER the disappointment of 1896, Hibs returned to the Scottish Cup final in 1902, this time against Celtic.
Rangers had been defeated 2-0 in the semi-final. As if those results alone were not impressive enough, Hibs achieved the Old Firm double in the most unlikely of circumstances: the semi-final against Rangers was played at Ibrox, and the final against Celtic was held at Parkhead.
The reason for this unlikely scenario is that semi-finals were not played at a neutral venue, and the final had to be played at Parkhead because two weeks after the semi-final Ibrox had suffered its first disaster, and Hampden was being rebuilt. A goal from Andy McGeechan gave Hibs a 1-0 victory. It was the sixth time in 16 years that the cup had resided in Edinburgh. And Hibs have never again won the cup.