Lost in…Edinburgh (Hibernian)

Hibernian v Dumbarton

Easter Road / Scottish Championship / 21st February 2015

So how on earth do you follow Celtic Park and THAT Celtic v Inter game – possibly the best night ever on my football travels thus far (and the most viewed blog and most shared blog in the history of Lost Boyos by quite some distance)? It was going to be a tough ask for any club to follow it up with and probably impossible. The tough task fell to another famous green and white Scottish club: Hibernian FC.

My Celtic trip was sorted out a while ago, but I took a bit of time getting around to sorting out accommodation and rail travel back and forth to Scotland. Then one night I arrived home slightly inebriated and talked myself into extending my Scottish trip to a couple of days in Edinburgh. A fairly obvious idea really, since I had visited Glasgow before but I was yet to venture to the nation’s capital. With nothing but glowing reviews for the city from my peers, Edinburgh it was to be and, of course, Hibs v Dumbarton too.

So, unsurprisingly, I woke up the Friday morning following Celtic’s European show slightly groggy, but after a quick call in to Starbucks I was right as rain again and on board the train to Edinburgh shortly before 11am.

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Walking from the castle to the Royal Mile on Friday night.

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Me in the pub with my new Inter Milan friends. Forza Inter!

I arrived into the city before midday and soon started to explore its many attractions (and pubs). I did discover some brilliant drinking holes with the wonderfully alliterative Dirty Dick’s being a particular favourite of mine with its incredible orange citrus lager, St. Mungo’s; this pint did set me back £4.90 though – possibly the most I’ve ever spent on a pint on these shores (I resisted the ultra rare lager for £9 in York a week previous).

I dropped my stuff off at my hostel near Edinburgh Castle and spent the rest of the night exploring the very popular and lively Royal Mile, as well as befriending some friendly Inter Milan fans, before heading back home in the early hours of the morning. I had already concluded that Edinburgh is an absolutely stunning city – but I think I still preferred the slightly more offbeat and lively Glasgow.

I woke up the next morning more than ready for exploring some more of Edinburgh and taking a visit to one of Edinburgh’s two big football clubs. Hibs currently play in the Scottish Championship, after suffering relegation from the Premier last season; they lost their place to Hamilton who defeated them in the Scottish League play-off. In fact, Scotland’s capital is now devoid of top flight representation as Hibs’ big rivals, Hearts, also got relegated alongside them last season.

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A morning stroll down the Royal Mile.

I started heading towards the Leith area in the northern part of the city, where you’ll find Hibernian FC. I pitstopped in Wetherspoons en route, where I got in contact with my tour guide for the day. Days before, Owain had contacted me on Twitter saying he was happy to show me what Hibs are all about and I obviously accepted such an offer. We arranged to meet in The Brunswick at the top of Leith Walk so I headed there around 11am.

I had been in the pub just ten minutes watching Soccer AM (featuring friend of Lost Boyos Frank Sinclair on this morning’s show) before Owain came through the pub door of the slightly dingy Brunswick. immediately, I began trying to place Owain’s mish-mash of an accent (coming from me with the Mancunian-Welsh accent), before he began to explain that he was born in Edinburgh, but then moved to Oxford for a long time and then Cardiff. Sadly, this meant he did have a fondness for Cardiff City, but I decided to forgive him that. Hibs was very much his team.

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After the Brunswick, we headed onwards to Robbie’s, a sizable, traditional boozer located on one of the street corners of Leith. The place was great with many beers on tap, a nice traditional, slightly rough around the edges, feel, as well as a big screen showing the early kick-off between Middlesbrough and Leeds. Plus, there was a large Welsh flag on one of the walls which is always a welcome sight. Me and Owain traded a few footy stories and he filled me in on all things about Hibernian FC and their current team. Then off we went to carry on our Leith Walk crawl.

Next stop was the Harp and Castle – the first real Hibs pub we had been in so far. The place was covered in Hibs mementoes and was full of folk wearing the green and white of the famous club. Another pint was sunk here and then back out onto the streets of Leith we went.

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The Harp and Castle.

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In the Hibs-covered back room of the Four in Hand.

The backdrop of the streets was starting to fill with the presence of Hibernian’s home, Easter Road, and it had slightly caught me off guard quite how big it looked. But we were still not heading there quite yet and now with the streets and pubs really starting to fill up with Hibs fans, we headed into The Four In Hand. We ventured into the back room of here and inside was a treasure trove of Hibs memorabilia with my particular favourite being the large picture of The Proclaimers playing on stage wearing their Hibs shirts; the Reid brothers of Proclaimers fame were born in Leith and thus really had no choice in becoming Hibs fans.

Kick-off wasn’t too far away and so we soon worked our way through the streets of Leith and towards Easter Road just a short distance away. En route, I purchased myself a Hibernian FC scarf to add to my collection and I was now ready for the game. The presence of Easter Road loomed overhead.

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Easter Road creeps up overhead.

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Easter Road awaits.

The club itself were formed in 1875 by Irish immigrants with the name ‘Hibernian’ being a derivation of the Roman word Hibernia which means ‘Ireland’. Despite some early qualms about an Irish-orientated club participating in Scottish football, Hibs went on to establish themselves as a force in the 1880s by winning the Scottish Cup. They were even unofficially the greatest club side in the world for a period, as following their Scottish Cup win they defeated 1887 FA Cup winners Preston North End in a game dubbed Association Football Championship of the World Decider.

Hibs originally called home the Meadows before they moved to Leith in 1880, but to play at Hibernian Park – a ground located between the old port end the Irish community. After some financial issues, Hibs would eventually move into the newly built Easter Road in 1893 – a ground famous for its prominent slope at one side, which lasted until 2000 when the ground was redeveloped. Since Edinburgh council owned the ground, Hibs flirted with moving elsewhere, even to Aberdeen at one point, but in 1922 the club secured a 25 year lease on the ground securing the club’s long-term future in Leith. This made the club opt to develop the ground a lot more with the capacity of it increasing through the 20th century (there were even ambitious plans for a 100,000 capacity stadium at one point, but those plans never flourished). However, like almost all British grounds, the Taylor Report led to the ground being redeveloped further through the 90s and ultimately its capacity dropped.

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The East Stand.

There were several plans from the 1990s onwards to move the club to a new stadium in Straiton with the possibility of sharing with their neighbours Hearts, but despite some of board’s backing, the idea never took off and instead Easter Road underwent more redevelopment through the 90s, right up until 2010 when the new East Stand was built. The stadium now holds 20,421 fans.

We headed around to the East Stand, the newest part of the ground, and headed into Easter Road. The concourse was fairly busy, but thanks to the stupid ‘dry’ football ground rule which now applies to Scottish football, there was to be no quick prematch drink. So instead I opted to indulge in another favourite pastime of mine, a pie. Of course, being north of the border I had to go for something a bit special and so I headed up to the stand with a Minced Beef Scotch pie. A thing of immense beauty and one of my favourite matchday foods of the season so far. Superb.

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On the concourse.

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My view from the East Stand for the day.

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About to get underway.

We headed up into the East Stand, where there was an unreserved seating system going on since the East Stand was scattered with empty seats (as was most of the ground in fairness). Sunshine on Leith as the Proclaimers famously sung and there definitely was sunshine today with the sun gleaming through the large perspex strip below the roof of the opposite West Stand. The whole ground consists of four individual stands with all four corners of the ground being largely open: the East Stand, which we were in today, is a single-tiered 6,500 seater stand and is fairly steep, meaning that even towards the back of the stand I felt fairly close to the action; opposite is the aforementioned West Stand, a tidy-looking two-tiered stand; also two-tiered are the stands behind the goal, which look practically identical to each other with one side of each stand sloping slightly downwards, giving each of them a quite unique look.

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The Dumbarton support.

I felt quite bad on Dumbarton being in the Hibs home end, after the Sons had treated me so brilliantly when I visited them last season. There was a small contingent of hardy away fans in the South Stand, but as the teams came out on the pitch they didn’t realise it would be a long afternoon for them.

On that cold, rainy afternoon in Dumbarton I witnessed a player performance who I awarded 3rd Best Player Performance of the Season on my annual Lost Boyos season review – my very own best and worst of my football travels (check out last season’s here). The man who’s performance saw him finish behind Wilfried Bony and Phillip Lahm for that prestigious award was Dumbarton’s Northern Irishman Chris “He once played in the Champions League you know? Turner. I was outraged to find that Turner was placed on the bench for DUmbarton today. Absolutely scandalous from Dumbarton there (not that I have any idea if he’s been any good since I saw him 16 months before).

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Match action.

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Match action.

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Match action.

The game was as one-sided as I’ve been to in a while. From the very first kick of the game, it was totally dominated by the home team. Apparently, Hibs’ domination of fellow Championship teams is becoming a familiar story with the club now unbeaten in 11; however, Owain suggested that this is perhaps having an adverse impact on the atmosphere within Easter Road, as many fans are turning up with an expectancy of Hibs rolling over their opponents. Admittedly, it was very quiet in the stadium during the first half.

Amazingly, despite all their possession, it would take Hibs until the 29th minute for them to score and to give the fans something to shout about, as Franck Dja Djedje controlled a cross from the right, before firing home comfortably.

Moments later it was 2-0 to Hibs, as Dominique Malonga, much-loved by Owain, scored with a header. There really should have been a lot more goals as Hibs couldn’t quite add a finishing touch to a whole host of chances. I blamed Dumbarton’s poor showing on a lack of Chris Turner.

Half-time: Hibernian 2 – 0 Dumbarton.

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Sunshine on Leith.

I headed down to the concourse to check the half-time scores from south of the border and to double-check that the Swans were still holding Manchester United 1-1 at home, before remembering that there was no alcohol served and heading back up into the stand. I was greeted by joyous news.

The Lost Boyos legend Chris Turner was coming on! THE Chris Turner! Dumbarton’s Irish Zidane fame (I may be exaggerating slightly now). Owain could clearly see the joy on my face and I think it even inspired him to become a little bit excited for the emergence of Turner, who admittedly did look slightly ’rounder’ since I last saw him play.

Atmosphere-wise, the second half was far better with a crowd of fans, complete with a drummer, congregating down the front of the East Stand in front of us. I particularly enjoyed singing the name of Hibs manager and former Everton and Celtic centre back Alan Stubbs. “STUUUBBBSSSYYY! STUUUUBBBSSSYY!”

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Match action.

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Match action.

It took Hibs until the 56th minute to add to their tally with Malonga once again netting. Malonga was played in by Scott Robertson and the striker’s shot went up into the net after deflecting off Dumbarton defender Scott Taggart. More exciting for me though was the news that Swansea had taken the lead at the Liberty against United. I bounced around the East Stand shouting “YESSS!” much to the bemusement of the fans around me.

Sadly, Chris Turner was not quite as dominating as the last time I saw him play – far from him it actually. Hibs continued to pummel the away team with fine saves by the Sons’ keeper and goal line clearances denying Hibs further goals.

Full-time: Hibernian 3 – 0 Dumbarton. The score certainly didn’t do the home team justice as they battered Dumbarton from the first moment to the last. I should also add here that Swansea did hold on to beat United for a double over them this season if you are at all interested (I don’t care if you are really, I just like writing it).

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Thumbs up for Hibs – Owain and me.

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Leaving Easter Road.

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Leaving Easter Road.

We headed out of Easter Road and back towards the city centre, as my train back to Manchester was at 7pm. En route I received an excitable phone call from Crawley fan Craig (Crawley had actually won a 2nd game in a row it seemed), before we arrived at the Sports Bar – conveniently opposite the entrance to Edinburgh Waverley train station. A few final beers were enjoyed in the Sports Bar (complete with individual TVs in seating booths showing the evening game between Manchester City and Newcastle) until I headed into Edinburgh station and said my goodbyes to Owain, who had been a superb guide for the day.

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A bit of mature Hibs/Hearts banter on one of the computer screens in the Sports Bar.

The train home involved a lot of Leeds United fans (strangely likable ones) singing a variety of popular songs following their victory at Middlesbrough and me getting a can of Marks and Spencer’s Belgian Lager taken off me by the train security as apparently it was a ‘dry train – something that wasn’t really advertised anywhere; I even began debating whether the security guy just wanted a sneaky beer. A strange way to finish my Edinburgh adventure.

Edinburgh is a great city with plenty for tourist-y types to marvel at and plenty of great bars and pubs for those looking for a night out. As for Hibs and Easter Road – well, I really liked it. It was just a bit of a shame that it was a bit of a flat atmosphere there. It would be cool to visit again one day when they are back in the top flight and for a more ‘lively’ game. Also, once again big thanks to Owain for looking after me for the day. Top lad.

See you soon Scotland.

Highlights: Edinburgh is a superb city, ground is near the city centre, plenty of good pubs near ground, nice ground, Scotch pie, seeing Dumbarton’s Chris Turner play again.

Low Points: quiet atmosphere at Easter Road today, no alcohol in ground, game was a bit too much like a training match at times.

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