On a delightfully warm June day a few months ago, I had the good fortune to do something that had been on my mind for some time now, whilst back on one of my many sojourns to Edinburgh. How many wonderful days and night’s have I spent in Hibernian FC’s new and old stadium watching those bright emerald green jerseys with the white sleeves, yet never ventured much beyond the stands for that couple of hours spent supporting my team from boyhood?
In truth, that’s not strictly accurate. Way back in 1978, whilst visiting with a friend, I wandered into the very different ‘ER’ of the day and was kindly taken on an impromptu tour by the then groundsman. My memories of that include an explanation of how the recent ban on alcohol in Scottish football had cleared the Easter Road match day aftermath of two skips full of empty bottles and cans. They also extend to a little tour through the players changing rooms and observing the Hibs youth team playing out a five-a-side training game. This tour was entirely due to one man’s hospitality but now things are a little different.
As you can see, a peek behind the scenes at the ‘new’ Easter Road was well overdue. With that I mind I was very happy to have my phone booking accepted for myself and my partner’s father, visiting from Canada, by the friendly and helpful club staff that June morning. A couple of hours later and we duly arrived to fulfil our booking and were ushered through to the man reception area where a group of people were already gathering for the Easter Road experience.
I was glad and happy to re-make the acquaintance of a friendly face in the tour guide Bill Bryson, something of an old Hibee friend by the good grace of the Internet. As we sat down for Billy to offer us his wide knowledge and intriguing stories about the club and its residence, it felt great to be ‘home’.
Of course the whole of the West Stand in which we sat was completely rebuilt and refurbished within the past decade. Space abounds in this new and modern facility and there was an airy atmosphere of potential for the numerous yet-to-used areas of this excellent resource. This is for the future however and we were there largely for history and plenty of it. Our friendly tour guide, Billy, did not disappoint in this respect.
There are many artefacts of Hibs’ hallowed history on show in the main tour environment, many lovingly kept and kindly bequeathed. Any visitor with half a heart cannot fail to be touched by some of the historic memorabilia proudly displayed here, including a whole section devoted to ‘The Prince of Wingers’ and arguably Hibernian’s finest ever player, the mercurial Gordon Smith.
They’re all here though, they really are. ‘The Gay Gordon’s’ forward line mates, Bobby Johnstone, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond – The Famous Five are of course represented well. Hibs’ great English born centre-forward, Joe Baker – a personal favourite of mine – is here too, along with Pat Stanton, and the other ‘Turnbull’s Tornadoes’ as you might expect. A minor point here was that there was so much to read, learn and yes, revere (in my case) but so little time to do so due to the constraints of another tour which was to follow us. I could have spent the rest of that sunny June day in there learning historic things about the old club that I hadn’t been aware of previously.
A real source of nostalgia for me was the large model of the original ground complete with its huge East Terrace. I’ll admit to having been one of those youngsters ‘held up high on high daddy’s shoulders’ on that absolutely mountainous construction. How many out there remember ‘the big step’?
The tour was on the move and we passed along corridors lined with rare framed match day programmes. I wanted to dally – I wanted to read them all! A short video presentation punctuated the proceedings before we dropped down to the ‘business’ end of things – the areas the players inhabit. Even in this relatively new and modern environment the culture and ‘feel’ of match day pervades. Three green and white jerseys had been stealthily placed on hangers as we entered the player’s changing area. Murray – Stevenson – Bamba were not present but it was easy to imagine they were. (A tip here is that I believe many fans take along their own jersey with their own name on the back and hang them alongside their Hibs heroes’ jerseys for an original and one-off photo opportunity).
The behind-the-scenes investigation passes through the corporate and media areas and what was originally the club gymnasium which has now relocated to the state-of-the-art facility in place down the road at East Mains.
In this account we must leave a surprise or two for the visitor but let it be said that you will not be disappointed, especially when emerging down the player’s tunnel and out in the lion’s den of the Easter Road pitch. It’s probably the moment of the tour I’d dare suggest. Easter Road’s weekday business carries on as usual as you take in how it feels from the players dug-outs with lots of time for photography.
The tour draws to a close all-too-quickly. Underneath the Famous Five Stand we experience a lasting further tribute to the great old club and say our goodbyes to our guide, Billy, before emerging into the much updated and enlarged club store of today. It’s a time-honoured way to end any tour of any type but as well as a few Hibs goodies on show to buy, there’s always the possibility of bumping into a member of the Hibs playing or managerial staff in here as I’ve found out in the past.
The Easter Road tour is a fascinating dip into over 130 years of Hibee and Edinburgh history and is worthwhile, not only for devoted ‘Hibbies’ like myself, but for anyone interested in understanding more about the social fabric of Scotland’s Capital. If you’re an individual just inquisitive or curious about how a modern professional sports club goes about its business in 2009, it’s of equal interest too.
The adult admission price for my visit was a very reasonable five pounds (concessions available) for the approximately seventy-minute tour. At the time of writing, the club operates the tours on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays only. Whether you’re an interested local observer or a visitor to Auld Reekie, make sure and pre-book your tour for this charming and absorbing walk through the past into the present on the Easter Road tour. You won’t regret it.