The Meadows is a large public park that sits equidistant between Tynecastle Park and Easter Road, the respective stadiums of Edinburgh’s biggest football teams. It was at the Meadows in 1875 that the two capital clubs played the first Edinburgh derby.
Funnily enough despite each other proclaiming to be bigger than the other there is never much of a chasm between the two. Even when one of the other gets relegated the other seems to follow. Incredibly they also draw each other regularly in the domestic Scottish Cup often in the early rounds.
Despite Hearts winning the 2012 Cup final by 5-1, a Hibs win over Hearts a few seasons later sent the Leith club on its way to its greatest ever triumph – victory in the 2016 Scottish Cup Final.
There is charm and intrigue to this derby, and while under-appreciated by most outside the city of Edinburgh, the game means so much to fans in the capital and its surrounds. The fixture each season is woven into the very fabric of the local football calender.
Almost 150 years on a group of Hearts fans stand drinking in the Meadows mid morning before embarking on the walk to Easter Road. The two big city rivals are playing each other once again and the Edinburgh derby rivalry is still as strong as ever.
Given nearly 15 decades of tradition this is one of world football’s oldest derby matches. Despite always being in the shadow of the old firm Glasgow derby it’s a competitive fixture and, much like the Dundee derby, the problems each are experiencing often runs much deeper if defeat is experienced on derby day.
Hibernian v Heart of Midlothian
Easter Road Stadium,
Hearts and Hibs were formed only one year apart in the 1870’s, a decade that saw a period of significant technological advancement. The phonograph, telephone, and electric light bulb were all invented during the 1870’s.
Like those items it would take a few more decades before both clubs became household names, a defining moment came in 1896 when someone had a light bulb moment and decided to play the 1896 Scottish Cup Final in Edinburgh.
No matter what anyone says the Edinburgh derby is taken just as seriously by people in the Lothians and Edinburgh as the Old Firm is taken in Glasgow. Today there is no real undercurrent of religious, social and political ramifications that shadows the Glasgow derby although certainly if you look at the history of each it’s perhaps just as intertwined with Ireland and Empire as the Old Firm game.
From their very inception, Hibernian have been always been linked – whether by people or symbols – with Ireland. The club was founded in 1875 by Catholic Irish Mens society located in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh.
The name of the club Hibernian derives from Hibernia, an ancient name for Ireland.
As if the club name was not a hint enough to the colour green, the Gaelic harp and the Irish language phrase Erin Go Bragh (meaning Ireland Forever) were adopted as symbols early on and the harp is still evident as a club symbol to this day all be it only introduced again to the badge post year 2000. Funnily enough off the badge during the 80’s OUT went the royal crown insignia (much the same as you see above Real Madrid logo) and at the turn of the century IN came the Irish Harp.
Hibernian as a club were slowly once again sewing its Irish traditions back into the branding and labelling of the club.
If Irish identity and the symbolic roots of its founding fathers rings true at Easter Road so the same sort of identity symbolism with British Empire and the UK exists at Hearts just simply not anywhere near the extent to which they are evident at Rangers. The club’s historic roots don’t sit in any one political or religious ideology but it’s common at Hearts to see the Union flag flown and carried by fans.
The reasons why are numerous.
The city of Edinburgh houses the Palace of Holyrood where many Kings and Queens have lived. Moreover, it’s common to see the Union Jack and the Scottish Saltire flown from Edinburgh Castle. But one of the most common affiliations that runs deep to Hearts fans is that with World War I when a successful winning Hearts team was broken up by the Great war – a conflict that gave rise and still does not emotions of patriotism and unity.
In response to the start of WWI hostilities, sixteen players from Hearts enlisted in Sir George McCrae’s volunteer battalion, joining en masse on 25 November 1914. The battalion was to become the 16th Royal Scots and was the first to earn the “footballer’s battalion” sobriquet. The group of volunteers also contained some many Hearts supporters.
The war eventually claimed the lives of seven Hearts first team players and the loss is still marked every year at a memorial in Edinburgh. The symbolism of the ‘poppy’ which celebrates and is closely affiliated to the British Army and its combats is common amongst Hearts fans on scarves, badges and other types of match-day sold memorabilia.
While for many the red poppy is a symbol of both remembrance, reconciliation and hope for a peaceful future, in the Irish Republic the poppy the poppy often represents something else. It is closely aligned to the British military presence in Ulster as well as the Irish Easter Rising of 1916.
While it is wrong to say that politics, or even a small element of sectarianism is a common feature of the modern day Edinburgh derby there is no doubt that the Irish Tricolour and the Union Jack are easily identified on derby day.
These symbols are important to both because they facilitate that communication and identification of ideas and cultural concepts so important to the history of both clubs. The symbols (whether the Irish Harp, the Union Jack, the Irish Tricolour or the Poppy) represent literal as well as figurative club meanings that are emotive and run very deep.
Match Day – Derby Day in Edinburgh
Both clubs were on a losing streak and a week previous to the clash it was tagged the ‘sacking derby’.
Hearts however put paid to that by showing the door to its long term manager former player Robbie Neilson a few days before the derby. A period of intense pressure from Hearts fans saw the board of directors pull the trigger and both the manager and his assistant departed Tynecastle Park.
As it turned out Hibernian defeated Hearts 1-0 at Easter Road in the Edinburgh derby and the Hibs manager Lee Johnson is safe in his role, for another week at least.
The winner came from the best player on the field the dangerous striker Kevin Nisbet who scored a second-half goal that ended the hosts’ four match losing run.
Emotively this edition of the fixture had a lot of meaning at least to the home fans. With the recent death of Hibs owner, the American investor Ron Gordon, a mournful shadow had lurked over the fanbase for many weeks.
For Hearts, a six game losing streak is now more than a real problem that needs addressed quickly as the business end of the season starts. If the club have any hope of finishing third behind the Glasgow clubs a host of tactical and squad issues need fixed. None more clearer than bolstering a midfield that looks weak and defeated.
One set-play moment ultimately cost Hearts and while overall the maroon clad side defended the direct play of Hibs well, the better individual threats came from Hibs players.
Images from the Edinburgh derby can be seen here.