Rivals: Hearts vs Hibernian | The Edinburgh Derby


As with almost every other rivalry in football, in fact in any sport, there is a heady mixture of geographic, social, and sporting history that defines a fixture. Calum Clark talks about Hearts and Hibernian


Less well known, but just a lively as the Old firm, and for a while mired in same religion and sectarianism divides, Edinburgh is the home of two of Scotland biggest clubs in Heart of Midlothian and Hibernian.

Both sides have firm roots ingrained in the city dating back to the late 1800’s and the surrounding areas of Edinburgh have over time become interlinked with the clubs as Gorgie and Leith have become the spiritual home of both Hearts and Hibs respectively.

In a city, perhaps more famous for its Comedy festival and being the backdrop for Danny Boyles Trainspotting, football is at the forefront of most of the Edinburgh populace and you are either a Hibiee or a Jam tart there is very little room for anything in between.

Sadly, like in Glasgow, the stench of sectarianism has surrounded the Edinburgh derby but fortunately not as much as its bigger ugly big brother in Glasgow. Hearts were seen as predominantly Protestant club while Hibs were linked more with the Catholic populace of the city. Thankfully those days seems to have passed with all comers welcomed to both clubs.

The two football clubs were founded in the late 1800’s with Hearts being founded in 1874 and Hibs a few years later in 1875, that year was to mark the pairs first meeting which Hearts won 1-0 but it was the starting of a rivalry that was to last in the years to come and the pair were to meet more frequently with Hearts often being the more successful of the two including a Scottish Cup final victory over Hibs in 1896 but Hibs were to rectify this the following year winning their first national silverware winning the Scottish cup in 1897.

Hibs from their inception were very closely linked with the Free-Irish movement of the time with a harp being used as the club’s emblem and for a while players needing to be members of the Catholics young men society. It was dropped by the club as the years went on as both sides became more open in the years to come.

Hearts on the other hand were formed by a group of friends of the Heart of Midlothian Quadrille Assembly Club and had their first match in 1873 against Queens Park but it was not until 1874 that they were to play association rules, they were to be the first side outside Glasgow to win the League championship in 1895 as their rivals were struggling with financial irregularities briefly going out of business for two years.

From those early years, the rivalry was born out of locality and sadly religious divides, both sides would go on to have early success and both were to go on to win leagues and cups in the early 20th century with Hearts going into folklore at the outbreak of WW1 with the side leading the League Championship by four points, 16 of the Hearts squad were to join Sir George McCrae’s Pals Battalion and the Army exertions cost Hearts the league with Celtic making up the ground on the Edinburgh side. Of the 16 that went 7 would never return.

Hibs meanwhile would go onto have a period of real dominance after the Second World War with the birth of the famous five. Hibs were considered one of the best sides in Britain, with all five of the famous five scoring over 100 goals for the club. During this time Hibs also became the first British side to play in Europe reaching the European Cup semi-finals before losing to Raymond Kopa’s Stade Remis.

The era of the Famous Five was to coincide with Tommy Walker’s time at Hearts which saw the Edinburgh pair challenge Glasgow’s duopoly with Hearts’ last league championship coming in 1960 and Hibs’ in 1952 both sides were constant challengers but both were to struggle for years. Hibernian struggled after the tenure of club legend and Famous Five alumni Eddie Turnbull and were eventually relegated with the great George Best in their side. Hearts were to fare no better as Walker left the club in 1966 which began the slow slump down the table year after year and like Hibs, Hearts became a yo-yo club going between the top and second tier.

But while Hibernian struggled into the 80’s, Hearts under new chairman Wallace Mercer and a new management team of Alex McDonald and Sandy Jardine experienced a revival and in 1985-86 lost the championship on the final day of the season. They became a top half side but Hibernian were struggling at the other end of the table and were imploding financially. By 1990, the club were facing a real possibility of bankruptcy and liquidation.

This was to see the rivalry hit its peak when in early 1990 Hearts chairman Wallace Mercer tried to buy rivals Hibs effectively wiping them out to create a super club called Edinburgh United which was to play at Tynecastle and wear Hearts’ colours. The whole venture was met with animosity from all sides and lead to death threats and some of the most highly charged games in Scotland’s recent history.

Of course, the takeover never happened and neither side has had any sustained success with both winning Scottish Cups and League Cups, with Hearts famously beating Hibs 5-1 in the 2012 Scottish cup final continuing their wait for a Scottish Cup which they finally won in 2016.

Neither side has had the best of times recently, with Hearts entering administration after the disastrous tenure of Vladimir Romanov left the club with crippling debt. This eventually led to their relegation which they have bounced back from with promotion to the Premiership. Hearts managed to  finish 3rd in their first season back. Hibernian joined their rivals in the second tier and have missed out on promotion on two attempts but look likely to head up this season under the guidance of Neil Lennon.


Important Figures

The Famous Five: Even today the famous five are spoken about at Easter Road in reverential tones. The collection of Hibernian forwards would be renowned throughout Europe during the 50’s with the forward line of George Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormand all chalking up more than 100 goals for the club during their time.

John Robertson: Robbo as he affectionately known went on to score more competitive goals than any other in the Edinburgh derby with an impressive 27 goals to his name. He would go on to manage Hearts for a short while but it was more for his goal-scoring exploits that he is known. He was also one of the key members of the Hearts side that managed an impressive 22 game unbeaten streak against their bitter rivals: a derby record that stands to this day

Rudi Skacel: The Czech forward has had his name sung by both sets of fans for differing reasons but in recent history the Hearts hero has had a bigger impact than most in the Edinburgh derby even to this day despite playing in Scotland for Raith Rovers. It is still quite common to hear his name sung around Tynecastle and even on occasion Easter Road when Raith Rovers meet Hibs in the championship. Obviously he has never received a friendly welcome at Easter Road.


Key games down the years

Scottish Cup Final 2012: For Hearts fans, it’s seen as the best moment in the history of the club as not only did winning keep Hibs’ Scottish Cup hoodoo going, but also inflicted one of the biggest derby defeats on them in recent history. Moreover, it was in a cup final and they ran out 5-1 winners with Rudi Skacel playing himself into Hearts Folklore. For Hibernian it’s a day they would rather forget and it is brought up at every opportunity by rival supporters.

The Tynecastle mauling New Year derby 1973: It was the heaviest home defeat inflicted on Hearts in the modern era and it was at the hands of an impressive Hibernian side who ran out 7-0 winners. Hibs that season would go on to win a cup double under the guidance of famous five alumni Eddie Turnbull while rivals Hearts settled for mid table mediocrity.

The day the Derby changed 15th September 1990: It has been described as the one of the most ill-tempered and hate filled derbies in Scottish football history. Hibernian had just defeated Hearts chairman Wallace Mercer off the pitch by stopping the hostile takeover which would have seen their club cease to exist. It was a highly charged atmosphere and Hearts went on to win 3-0. But it’s for all the off field problems that the game would be remembered, as John Robertson was attacked after putting Hearts 1-0 up and at half-time with the score 3-0, the mythical story that emerged was that the police entered the changing rooms to ask for either side not to score to help them end the fighting on the terraces. The game finished 3-0.


Read all other articles from our Rivals series here

Calum Clark

Calum Clark

Former qualified youth coach and football writer who is obsessed with all things football, and when he isnt at his day job is still living the dream turning out for his local football side.
Calum Clark