Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital city, its political centre and every year draws tourists by the million to its castle, cultural festival and historic cobbled streets. In the realm of football, however, it has long lived in the shadow of its larger and more populace neighbour to the west. Glasgow is, after all, Scotland’s undisputed football capital; the city in which Hampden Park set the European record attendance of 149,415 in 1935, and where Celtic and Rangers have maintained a tight stranglehold on the national honours.
With the Old Firm derby renowned throughout the world and its participants boasting 95 Scottish league titles between them, it would be understandable if the Edinburgh equivalent carried a distinct air of inferiority. As it is, the match between Hearts and Hibernian has developed an identity all of its own, with Sunday’s meeting at Easter Road providing the 616th instalment of one of football’s longest-standing rivalries.
It was on Christmas Day 1875 that this particular derby was born, with Hearts – founded the year before - emerging 1-0 victors in a match that doubled as Hibernian’s first competitive fixture. Before long, as the number of local and national competitions swelled rapidly, the clubs were meeting as frequently as ten times a season, and the mutual animosity steadily grew.
There were other Edinburgh clubs at this time but, as in Glasgow, the city came to be polarised between an establishment side, Hearts, and a team in Hibernian who were supported by the city’s poor and largely Irish working-class immigrants. Where this rivalry has gone on to differ from the Old Firm is that it has not been defined by religion and ethnic origin; instead, geographical factors are key. Hibs’ support is drawn largely from the east and south of the city, while rivals Hearts' support comes from the west.
The atmosphere is invariably hostile and the tackles ferocious, but the Edinburgh derby has generally stopped short of the blind hatred that has blighted its Glasgow counterpart, and it is not uncommon to find families ‘split’ between green and maroon. Hibs legend Pat Stanton, who also represented Celtic in Old Firm battle, outlined the distinction. “I am an Edinburgh boy, grew up a Hibs supporter, so [the Edinburgh derby] was always the biggest occasion for me. But I had and have a lot of friends who are Hearts fans and we would always meet up for a drink after the derby. I think there is a realisation that it is only a game, if one that we desperately want to win.”
Yet for all this, and the fact that half-a-century has now passed since the city last produced a title-winning team, there remains palpable tension in the build-up to any Edinburgh derby. Csaba Laszlo, a Hungarian whose career has taken him throughout Europe, attributed this during his time as Hearts coach to football’s place at the heart of Scottish culture. “The character is different here,” he said. “In Scotland what I love is that everybody speaks just about football. The interest is higher, and the people in town speak just about the derby and football. The love of football is more higher-ranked here than in other countries.”
Facts and figures
The two clubs are tied on four Scottish league titles apiece, but Hearts comfortably hold the upper hand in derby combat, with 273 wins to Hibernian’s 198. This tally includes local competitions, and it was in one of these tournaments that Hearts produced the fixture’s biggest win and aggregate score with a 10-2 victory in 1893.
Fans of the Tynecastle club also remember fondly a record 22-match unbeaten run that straddled the 1980s and ‘90s, and even the derby’s highest-ever attendance – 65,860 at Easter Road in February 1955 – witnessed a 2-1 Hearts victory. Hibs’ only crumb of comfort in derby statistics is that they boast the biggest competitive win: a much-celebrated 7-0 thrashing of their great rivals on New Year’s Day 1973.
Tales of derbies past
That encounter might be enshrined in Hibs folklore, but the most significant match between these sides took place 114 years ago in the 1896 Scottish Cup final. It was the only time Scotland’s showpiece fixture was played outside of Glasgow, the only all-Edinburgh final, and Hearts emerged triumphant, winning 3-1. The fixture’s early history is punctuated by plenty more notable wins for the team in maroon, with an 8-3 league win in 1935 among the more incident-packed.
Hibs soon began producing heroes of their own, however, and the club’s 'Famous Five' frontline helped secure three league titles between 1948 and 1952. One component of this legendary quintet, Gordon Smith, actually went on to win a championship with Hearts in 1960, earning a unique place in Edinburgh's football history before going on to enjoy title success with a third non-Glasgow club, Dundee, in 1962.
It was another member of the ‘Famous Five’, Eddie Turnbull, who led Hibs to that legendary 7-0 win during a successful spell as manager. However, it wasn’t long before the balance shifted once again, and in the 1980s Hearts unearthed a derby hero of their own in John Robertson, 'The Hammer of Hibs', who remains the fixture’s all-time leading scorer in competitive matches with 27 goals.
Among the more memorable Edinburgh derbies of recent years was a 4-4 draw in 2003 in which 18-year-old Graham Weir struck twice in the 94th minute to earn Hearts a share of the spoils. Even more significant was the Scottish Cup semi-final of 2006, which Hearts won 4-0 en route to lifting a trophy that has eluded Hibs since 1902. Revenge, and silverware, did at least arrive the following year for the Easter Road club, who bounced back to beat their old rivals 1-0 in the quarter-final of a triumphant League Cup campaign.
The rivalry today
With such successes few and far between, and a shared inability to wrest the title from Glasgow, 1990 heralded a radical bid from then Hearts chairman Wallace Mercer to merge the two clubs. ‘Edinburgh United’, a team capable of breaking the Old Firm duopoly, was Mercer’s dream, but despite acquiring 60 per cent of Hibs’ shares, his plan floundered amid fierce opposition from the club’s outraged supporters.
The arrival of Lithuanian investor Vladimir Romanov in 2005 prompted suggestions that Hearts might challenge for the title without the need for such measures, but despite taking second place the following year and splitting Celtic and Rangers for the first time for over a decade, the promise of a sustained challenge has gone unfulfilled. Hibs, meanwhile, have brought a steady supply of Scottish internationals through their youth academy over the last decade, but have been plagued by instability, with the recently-appointed Colin Calderwood their eighth manager in less than nine years.
Since taking charge, Calderwood has seen his side slip to second-bottom, and Sunday’s derby might not be seen as the ideal home debut for a new boss with a struggling team. As it is, Calderwood himself has described it as offering him “a perfect start”. Should he mastermind a win and leave the green half of Edinburgh with the bragging rights, he might just be proved right.