Easter Road

Ground No. 205
Visited - Saturday 6th February 2010
Result - Hibernian 5-1 Montrose
Competition - The Active Nation Scottish Cup, 5th Round
Attendance - 9068

Once upon a time before the madness of going around the country to see random matches started, Saturday morning 2:45am might have seemed a reasonable time to be going to bed after a late night out, so to find yourself waking up at that time instead, it might leave you with genuine questions over your sanity, but then on the other hand, who doesn’t relish the prospect of a 700 mile round trip to watch a Scottish non-league game!?!

Thanks to a cheap train fare of £31 return to Edinburgh and back, with Wolves not playing until the Sunday, then I’d decided to head north of the border, having both Hibs and Edinburgh City at home to choose from, settling on the latter due to the famous Meadowbank Stadium’s future looking threatened by developers.

Setting off just after 3:30am, then I had to walk up to town before catching a bus to Birmingham as it was so early that the trains hadn’t started to run yet! To be fair, it was possible to catch later ones that even got in at roughly the same time, but the prospect of paying twice as much meant this was a winner, even if it didn’t feel like it, shivering in the cold at Wolverhampton bus station, awaiting the 4am 79, but it came eventually, and with the sun still a long way from rising then I got into Brum with no problems before starting off on the second stage of the journey, arriving into Edinburgh just before 11am.

Having visited the city in May, then I’d found it to be a fantastic place, full of the historic architecture and sights that brings tourists flooding to it in their thousands, however a bright day in early summer is quite a different prospect to a full blown Scottish winter, and it was a rather miserable scene that presented itself after leaving Waverley station with howling winds, swirling rain and freezing temperatures contrasting starkly to the previous trips glorious sunshine. Still, despite the weather, then I spent the time before the game looking around, prior to heading off up London Road in anticipation of ticking a new ground. Meadowbank is situated barely half a mile away from Easter Road, and it was a bit strange to walk past fans and pubs full of supporters wearing different colours whilst heading to a different game, but I found my way easily enough, having resisted the temptation to change tack and cross off another one of the 42, carrying on past the turning for Hibernian FC on up the main road.

In the weeks running up to the match, there had been endless postponements throughout the country, even at the highest levels, yet despite the miserable conditions, it had seemed to be getting better over the past few days, and there didn’t seem to be any suggestion of this game getting called off, yet arriving at the stadium, it was evident that something wasn’t quite right, with no one inside the ground, and only a couple of equally bemused people hanging around the closed turnstiles. It didn’t take long before news came through that the game was definitely off, no mention made around the ground except in the adjacent sports centre where a message had been left with the receptionist, so with the time having just gone 2:15pm, then there was little question of what to do, heading quickly back the way I’d come, relieved that both Hibs were at home, and that the grounds were so close to each other.

When it comes to the politics of Scottish football, everyone knows the story behind Celtic and their Irish influence, yet less well known is that it was actually Hibs who they based themselves on, the Edinburgh side having been founded by Irish immigrants thirteen years previously in 1875 (Hibernia being the Roman name for Ireland). Despite their roots though, Hibs have managed to forge a history without the sectarian and exploitive nonsense that has blighted Glaswegian football ever since Celtic were formed, so shamefully screwing over their Edinburgh ‘friends’ in the process, who had done so much to help them get started (further reading). Whilst this might not have led to quite so many honours, the club can still boast a number of proud facts, including being the first ‘World Champions’, after beating Preston North End in 1887 as the two Cup holders from each country went head to head in a game billed by both the English and Scottish FA’s as “The Association Football Championship of the World Decider”.

They moved to Easter Road in 1893 after the club had been reformed in the previous year. The new ground wasn’t too far from their previous site ‘Hibernian Park’ which had hosted the famous 2-1 victory over Preston, plus the first ever Scotland international in the nations capital (1888, a 5-1 win over Wales). Ironically, despite its name, the ground doesn’t actually stand on Easter Road itself, being some distance off it down the unfortunately titled ‘Albion Place’. In fact, Hibernian Park was closer, but the name has stuck and despite the only access path to it in early years being through a cemetery, then it has lived on! The future of the ground might not have seemed secure when they moved there though, and with no long term lease obtained until the 1920s then it consisted of little more than banking and a small stand, but despite thoughts of moving elsewhere, then its future was assured in 1922 when it was developed with the West Stand built and terracing laid down, the East side being extended to huge proportions in 1949 thanks to the post-war success the club enjoyed, which led to establishing their record attendance in 1950 when 65,860 crammed in to see the local derby with Hearts, a figure more than the likes of Liverpool, Leeds or half a dozen other English Premier League sides have ever pulled in. The Safety of Sports Ground Act wasn’t kind to the club however, and in 1985 this terrace was reduced by nearly half its size, before finally being knocked down a few weeks shortly after my own visit. Arthur’s Seat sits in the background, although not as visible as it once was (one of my favourite ground pictures), but apparently still so, not that I could tell with a cloud of dense fog making visibility limited throughout the day.

It was as this fog continued to fall that I arrived outside the ground, quickly taking a few snaps before going in. From the outside the ground is tightly hemmed in by surrounding buildings, with the two ends angled to make maximum use of the limited space available. Inside, the ground does open up more, with three sides redeveloped since the 1990s, the first of which, the Famous Five Stand, I chose to go in. Two tiered, it offers good views from the upper section, with steep seating, and angled off towards the West Side where the road cuts in on the outside. The South Stand opposite is a replica, with the Eastern side of the upper tier sloping in. It’s surprising that both of those stands hold less than 4000 each, as they feel much bigger, ditto the 6500 capacity West Stand, which takes on a more contemporary rectangular shape, whilst also remaining two tiered. It was opposite this that the East Stand stood, a smaller former terrace that had seats put on it in 1995. This was the favoured stand for the clubs hardcore support with its low roof and unusual floodlights, replacing the old style ‘angled’ ones when the two ends were built in 1995.

Going in at a few minutes to 3pm thanks to big queues outside, I just managed to make kick-off, it being quite refreshing to see the teams run out of the tunnel and straight away line up, ready to go instead of faffing around with the forced handshake routine that has been adopted right down to the lowest levels of English football. Montrose were the visitors and their fans were sited in the lower tier of the stand opposite, their numbers meaning that the upper tier remained closed, but despite this they did keep up a good atmosphere throughout as the game got underway.

The ‘Gable Endies’ as Montrose are known had had a torrid year, sitting bottom of Division Three having only won their first league game of the season the previous week. The Cup had offered them a nice distraction though, including a victory in the previous round just down the road at Meadowbank over Edinburgh City. SPL opposition was a different prospect however, and within four minutes the hosts took the lead thanks to Colin Nish who was quick to pounce on a rebounded shot and hit home from close range. The visitors’ keeper Andrew McNeil was going to have a busy game of it, making a good save shortly after the restart, and it was obvious that it wasn’t going to be their day when they had to substitute John Maitland on 9 minutes after an injury saw the midfielder limp off.

Reading the programme, I’d remembered watching McNeil play in a youth team cup-semi at Molineux in 2005 when he put in a sterling performance for Southampton to deny us then, and having moved to Hibs since, winning the CIS cup there, it was a wonder as to why he was playing Third Division football as he continued to make a number of good saves to keep the score respectable, but on 24 minutes he couldn’t keep the ball out as Nish grabbed his second from a deep cross, which was how it stayed until the break as the home side began to ease off.

After the restart, at 2-0 and Hibs cruising, the second half was going nowhere, with the fans getting a little restless until the 69th minute when Derek Riordan stunned Easter Road with a beauty, cutting in unchecked from the touchline before unleashing a cracking shot from all of 25 yards straight into the top corner. It got the game going again, and Montrose weren’t going to lie down just yet, grabbing a goal back courtesy of Chris Hegarty who scored from outside the area, the home fans sportingly berating the referee who booked him for his celebration! They could afford the hospitality and four minutes later it was 4-1, Benjelloun heading home before former Wolves target Alan Gow rounded off the scoring on his debut when he dribbled through the Montrose defence before poking the ball home to make the final score 5-1.

After leaving, stopping off briefly in the clubshop, then I made my way back to the city centre before catching the train home, not getting back until late, but glad to have come.

Whilst the travelling might have been a little much for one day, it had still been good to see Easter Road, and especially the final piece of its former state, in the East Stand. Most ground developments you tend to hear about years in advance, but this one came about virtually overnight, with no one knowing a thing when I visited in early February, to the stand having being flattened by the end of month. The clubs plans are to build a new 6000 capacity single tier stand there, which will complete the ground and make it seem more balanced, even if it will block out the view of Meadowbank which you could see over the roof of the old East Stand, (albeit not on this day!). As with a lot of Scottish grounds, I would have loved to have come here before the redevelopment had started, but despite that, Easter Road is proof that new grounds don’t have to be boring, so if I did have to rapidly alter plans again, then I’d be more than happy to come back for a revisit.

Welcome to Easter Road (or Albion Place!)

Rear of the West Stand

Outside the East Stand

Rear of the East Stand

Rear of the Famous Five Stand

The Famous Five

The East Stand

The South Stand

The West Stand

The West Stand

The South Stand

The East Stand

Rear of the South Stand

Easter Road Panoramic 1

Easter Road Panoramic 2
(click here for full size picture)

From Easter Road (left) to Meadowbank (floodlights far right)
(click here for full size picture)


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