School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences


4 May 2018

The other Old Firm

Ahead of Wednesday’s Hearts vs Hibernian derby, Professor Alan Bairner from the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences has shared his thoughts on the Edinburgh derby, which is often overshadowed by its Glaswegian equivalent. This follows on from a recent journal paper he co-authored, which reflects on social intricacies of the two teams in Edinburgh's capital city.

Although the Glasgow rivalry between the so-called ‘Old Firm’ is well known throughout the football world, the rivalry between Heart of Midlothian and Hibernian in Edinburgh is no less worthy of attention.

When Hearts’ manager Craig Levein announced that the natural order between these clubs had been restored after his team had beaten local rivals Hibs 1-0 in a Scottish Cup tie played on 21st January this year, he had statistics on his side.

Hearts have won considerably more Edinburgh derbies than Hibs although, at the time of writing, that cup goal is the only one they have scored against Hibs in four meetings this season, two of which have been won by Hibs and the other drawn. However, Levein was also betraying that air of superiority that his club and its fans have traditionally adopted towards their rivals.

Hearts are Edina’s Darlings, the establishment team. The club’s name refers to the Heart of Midlothian mosaic on the city’s Royal Mile close to St Giles Cathedral and is also the name of one of Sir Walter Scott’s more readable novels. Even Hearts’ maroon and white colours are the same as those which adorn Edinburgh City Transport’s buses. By comparison, Hibs are the rebels, the poor relations – an attitude of mind that no doubt goes back to the days before the formation of Celtic when Hibs were Scotland’s biggest Irish Catholic club.

During its history, Hibernian have been forced to reinvent itself in two different ways. First, although the Latin name for Ireland remains as do the green shirts with white sleeves, the sheer scale of Celtic’s operations has gradually ensured that there is room for only one major sporting representative of the Irish diaspora in Scotland. The harp on Hibs’ badge is smaller than it once was and songs referring to the deeds of Irish republicans are increasingly distant echoes from the past. However, even with that element of Hibernian’s heritage greatly diminished, Hearts’ status as Edinburgh’s team has proved difficult to challenge.  Instead, Hibs have become Leith’s team, Leith being the former port of Edinburgh, a separate burgh once but now incorporated into the city and home to the Royal Yacht Britannia. Although only some Hibs’ fans live in Leith, the name provides a spatially rooted identity which neither Ireland nor Edinburgh can offer.

Before Wednesday’s final meeting between the two clubs in this season’s SPL, The Hearts Song, written by Hector Nicol, a St Mirren fan, will ring out over Tynecastle Park and the home fans will be reminded that ‘glorious Hearts’ are ‘the talk o’ the toon’. A Hibs victory will be greeted by their fans singing Sunshine on Leith, written by The Proclaimers, Charlie and Craig Reid, two of Hibs’ many celebrity fans including Irvine Welsh, Shirley Manson, Andy Murray and Dougray Scott.  Hearts can boast Stephen Hendry, Alec Salmond, Eilidh Child and the late Ronnie Corbett who, for many Hibs’ fans, was the embodiment of a Hearts’ supporter with his comfortable sweaters and love of golf.

Hibs’ fans are entitled to claim that their team attracts a different type of supporter. It would also be fair to say that Hibs have often also attracted a different type of footballer. One only needs to think of the rivals’ more illustrious exports to England. From Hearts, there was Dave Mackay, a stalwart of Tottenham Hotspur’s double winning team and later of Derby County. Barrel-chested and obdurate. A man’s man. From Hibs, on the other hand, the rather more effete type of player such as Peter Cormack and Alec Cropley, whose most successful times south of the border were with Liverpool and Aston Villa respectively, and Arsenal’s poor man’s version of George Best, Peter Marinello.

Marinello is one of that select group of players who have played for both Hibs and Hearts. As we look forward to another derby match, it is worth remembering perhaps the most remarkable member of that band. Gordon Smith played for Hibs from 1941 to 1959, was at Tynecastle from 1959 until 1961, and was then transferred to Dundee. What makes him so unusual is that he won a league championship winner’s medal at each of these three clubs. Now that’s an achievement that can rightfully be celebrated in Edinburgh and in Leith, regardless of who wins on Wednesday night.