EASTER ROAD -  A RECORD ATTENDANCE   

The ghostly and somewhat surreal atmosphere facing the players of today as they take the field in front of a virtually empty stadiums due to the circumstances forced on the game by the current pandemic is a far cry from the situation that faced the players of both clubs before the 1950 New Year’s Day derby at Easter Road seventy years ago. Played that year on the 2nd as the 1st fell on a Sunday, in the run up to the game both clubs had been in impressive form, Hibs dropping only one point from the last 26, Hearts themselves on a ten game unbeaten run, and for several weeks a tremendous sense of anticipation and excitement had been building steadily in the city. Now at the halfway stage of the campaign, the Easter Road side were in a much better position points wise than during their championship year in 1948 and were popular favourites to win the all Edinburgh clash. 

 During the recent war thousands of men had been conscripted into the armed forces, many spending several years abroad, and starved of their favourite pastime the immediate post war period had seen games throughout the country watched by crowds in unprecedented numbers. Because of the huge number of supporters that were then attending games at Easter Road, the home fixture against Rangers just a few weeks before estimated to have been just under fifty two thousand, it had already been decided that the time was right to increase the capacity of the ground and for several months work had been steadily progressing to create the huge banking necessary for an extension to the main terracing that would eventually increase the capacity of the stadium to just under 70,000.     

To act as a windbreaker and also help contain what was predicted to be a record crowd, in the days leading up to the game against Hearts new seven foot high fencing had been rushed into operation at the south or ‘Dunbar’ end of the ground. On the day of the game itself sizeable queues had started to form well over an hour before the gates opened at twelve o’clock for the 2.15 kick off, and fully fifteen minutes before the start the turnstiles had to be closed with thousands still locked outside.   

Of the supporters fortunate enough to have gained entry to the ground, hundreds were said to have made their way to the exits even before the kick off after finding it almost impossible to see the pitch, while those locked outside were still trying vainly to gain admission. The huge mound of earth behind the main terracing had still not been landscaped, but this had failed to deter a great many of the supporters from using what was still merely a loose earthen banking for an elevated view, and it helped accommodate Edinburgh’s biggest ever football crowd including Lord Provost Sir Ian Murray, when 65,840, an incredible increase on the previous ground record for a game in Edinburgh and several thousand more than had watched Celtic draw 1-1 with Rangers at Parkhead that same afternoon, had crammed into Easter Road to watch the traditional holiday fixture between the city’s oldest rivals.

At one stage the queues were said to have stretched four or five deep along both sides of Albion Road, up Easter Road almost as far as the junction with London Road, and down as far as Dalmeny Street with similar queues at the St Clair Street and Hawkhill entrances. Such was the chaos that mounted police had to be sent from the High Street in an attempt to maintain order and they struggled to control the masses both outside the ground and around the perimeter of the pitch, eventually managing only with great difficulty to get the situation under control. The huge number of supporters attempting to gain a tentative foothold on the mass of loose earth towering behind the main terracing that was described in one newspaper as ‘table mountain,’ was an accident waiting to happen, and it was only by good fortune that no serious injuries had resulted from the numerous ‘human landslides’. The volunteer ambulance men had also found themselves overworked treating the mostly minor injuries on the pitch before the game, the more serious transported to the makeshift casualty station that had been set up inside the adjacent Albion Road School. Five people were taken to hospital. It was later reported that two people had died due to the effects of the crushing, one at the match itself, the other shortly after arriving home after the game.

    

A severe overspill at the north end of the ground had meant the kick-off being delayed to allow the supporters to be accommodated elsewhere on the terracing, and the proceedings eventually managed to get under way several minutes late with the hundreds of supporters lining the trackside threatening on occasion to spill over on to the playing surface. Those that were able, saw Hearts win a thrilling contest 2-1 to hand Hibs their first home league defeat of the season. In the first half of a game that was described at the time as ‘one of the most memorable matches ever seen between the Edinburgh rivals,’ Hearts had been forced to withstand severe pressure with the visiting goalkeeper Brown in outstanding form, and it was during this period that Hibs took the lead. With his side well on top, in the 30th minute a tremendous left wing run by Ormond down the stand side touchline had left a line of defenders sprawling in his wake, before sending over a head high cross from the left that found the inrushing Gordon Smith perfectly placed to bullet a tremendous header past the Hearts goalkeeper from an acute angle. After the break however, it was a different story with Hearts much the better side as they battled back to take the points. Seven minutes after the restart Conn was on hand to slam a fierce drive past the Hibs goalkeeper after a pass from Sloan to finish off a great move that had involved the entire Hearts forward line. Although the visitors were well on top now, both sides were still finding goal scoring opportunities hard to come by until midway through the half when a McKenzie free kick into the Hibs box struck a defender, allowing the ever alert Wardhaugh to fire past the unsighted Tommy Younger for what would prove to be the winner.  In the closing stages of an exciting struggle that had ‘kept the fans of both sides on their toes until the very end’ only a couple of great saves by goalkeeper Brown had denied the home side a deserved share of the points. The result however still left Hibs at the top of the table with 29 points from 16 games, two better off than second placed Hearts who had played a game more.

   

Hibs: Younger, Shaw and Cairns, Combe, Paterson and Buchanan, Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Turnbull and Ormond.

Hearts: Brown, Parker and McKenzie, Cox, Dougan and Laing, Sloan, Conn, Bauld, Wardhaugh and Flavell.

Referee: J Mowat (Rutherglen).

 

Before and after the match, there had been the now almost monotonous letters of complaint regarding Hibs pricing policy and the widely felt unfair ticketing arrangements. With 7/6 (75p) Centre Stand tickets changing hands for as much as £2.00, there had been numerous allegations that when the tickets for the game had gone on sale during the week at a time when most supporters were still at work, individuals, particularly young boys, had been paid to queue for tickets for others, and there had even been the ludicrous complaint by one supporter that many of the people that had been seen queuing for the precious briefs had ‘neither looked like football people, nor dressed like they could afford to pay the prices.’

 The work to expand the main terracing was just the latest in a line of developments geared to increase the capacity of the stadium that had been ongoing for many years. Before the war the ground had been increased to accommodate just under 60,000, now the latest extension would add approximately 8,000 to that figure when completed. Plans to increase the maximum capacity to 98,000 with part of the terracing covered had been in place since early 1948, but fortunately, with the post war attendance boom soon to be a thing of the past, these plans would fail to materialise.  

To accommodate the construction of the extension behind the main terracing it had been necessary to purchase the four acres of land that lay directly between the stadium and the railway line a hundred yards to the east, from the owners Redpath Brown. It would also require moving the bowling green that lay at the centre of this area surrounded by a putting green and allotments, a hundred yards or so from its original position to a new location at the south east corner of the ground. One quaint legal proviso attached to the purchase of the land was that it was to be used only in connection with the playing of the game of football.     

There had however been some opposition to the intended purchase of the property. It is perhaps difficult with the passing of time to fully appreciate that even several years after the end of the Second World War, food in this country had still been in relatively short supply, and it was this situation that had prompted the Department of Agriculture for Scotland to intervene on behalf of several long term allotment lease holders in July 1947, to request that Redpath Brown, ‘in light of the present food shortage, defer the sale of the land to Hibernian until the food situation becomes less stringent or at least until the present growth cycle has been completed.’ 

There was a postscript to the record attendance game however. More than a year later Hibs would be sued by a 71-year-old supporter for injuries he had received during the match. William Brand a retired pub manager, who lived in Rossie place just off Easter Road, was claiming £750 compensation for his injuries. According to Brand, he had been knocked unconscious at the game, breaking several ribs and suffering severe shock when he was crushed against a retaining wall as he attempted to climb to safety from the swaying crowd. Brand further alleged that the police and stewards had been unable to contain the ‘grossly excessive number of spectators at the match.’ As far as he was concerned it had been obvious even before the kick off that it had been dangerous to remain inside the stadium, and with no passages free from the crush he had no alternative but to attempt to scale the wall to safety when he received his injuries. Allegedly, he had been taken to hospital the following day and not released for almost a month. Denying the claim, lawyers for the club insisted that all possible precautions had been taken with more than the normal number of stewards on duty inside the ground, and although it had been reported that injured supporters were still being escorted from the ground by ambulance men a few minutes from time, that the number of injuries were not excessive for the size of the crowd.  The case would initially be postponed until a later date, but it is not known if any further proceedings ever took place.

The attendance at Easter Road that afternoon remains to this day the record for a football match played in the city, although Hearts League Cup semi final against Celtic at Murrayfield in 2018 would come close with 61,161.

Record attendances usually depend only on the capacity of the stadium, and the 149,269 that saw England defeat Scotland 2-1 at Hampden in 1939 remains to this day a record for any game played in Britain. The 147,365 for the 1937 Scottish Cup Final between Celtic and Aberdeen at Hampden is still the highest attendance for a cup final, the Hibs Rangers Scottish Cup semi-final in 1948 that also took place at Hampden attracted a crowd of 143,000 which is still the record attendance between club sides outside of a cup final or international match in British football. The record for a domestic game in Scotland however remains the 118,567 that saw Rangers defeat Celtic at Ibrox on 2nd January 1939, closely followed by the 95,722 that attended the Queens Park versus Rangers Scottish Cup encounter at Hampden on 18thJanuary 1930.

The highest recorded official attendance for a football match played anywhere in the world however is said to have been the 173,850 that attended the 1950 World Cup Final between Brazil and Uruguay at the then recently opened Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, although some estimates claim the figure to have been as high as 199,854. 

 

Tom Wright  

For more information on the rich history of Hibernian Football Club please visit the Hibernian Historical Trust

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