With the Club struggling after the formation of Celtic, Hibernians are for the first time the recipients of a charitable donation rather than the providers, receiving the gate money for an away match against their Glasgow counterparts.
The loss of some ten key personnel to the newly formed Celtic Football Club may have been enough to kill Hibernians off were it not for the determination of Canon Hannan, Michael Whelahan, John and Phillip Farmer and John McFadden. These men were cut to the quick at the way John Glass had treated their Club. However, they would not allow their hurt to stand in their way as they tried to take the good and respected name of Hibernians forward.
John Glass received criticism for the way he treated Hibernian during the formation of Celtic
Weakened but not defeated
The major problem would be to find replacement players from amongst the residents of Little Ireland, as the source of Irish Catholic players in the West would soon now dry up with Celtic on the doorstep. To the eternal credit of Canon Hannan and his committee they kept their dispute with Celtic private. Hibernians even continued to agree to a promise they had made to the effect that they would open the new season with a match against Celtic. Feelings were running high in Little Ireland that Hibernian should refuse to play this fixture, but the Hibernians men would not contemplate withdrawing for fear that it would cause friction in the Irish community in Scotland.
With only three players remaining from the previous season's fixtures, Hibernians managed to put together a team for the visit to Celtic Park and much to the embarrassment of John Glass, the home support wildly cheered the Hibs players both when they took to the field and then when they opened the scoring. Celtic equalised through former Hibernians darling, Willie Groves. Unfortunately, the Hibernians Captain James McGhee had to leave the field that day with a nasty injury. Despite this, the ten men took the lead, but Celtic eventually ran out 3-2 winners, with ex-Hibernians men Coleman and Groves the scorers.
Although football dominated the thoughts of many in Little Ireland, there were some who resolved to pursue other sports and so the Hibernian Swimming Club came into being, based at the Infirmary Street baths. The swimming club instantly decided that any funds it raised would go to the committee of the football club to help them through the trying times of trying to rebuild a team decimated by defection to Celtic.
Events off the park related to politics in the 'Old Country' would further weaken Hibernians when a number of their committee members were forced to resign. In order to replace them, a meeting was held with the honorary members of the Club who pledged financial support and gave up three of their number to take a seat on the new committee. At this meeting, some criticism was levelled at the old committee for so easily allowing Celtic to spirit players away, but this was countered by a statement suggesting that the good men of the Celtic committee had not planned such moves; they too being taken in by John Glass and his associates.
Further bad news soon reached Little Ireland when it was revealed that Celtic, who had sailed into both the Glasgow and the Scottish Football Associations, the path having been smoothed years before by Hibernian, now had a reserve team admitted. This more or less cemented the fear that good players from the West, once a great source for Hibernians, would no longer be as readily available.
On the park, the 1888/89 season started badly for Hibernians, with defeats in the League and an early Scottish Cup exit. With their decline so swift, it was hard to believe that the side were holders of the Cup. New players of quality were nigh on impossible to find and soon a return match with Celtic would take place, this time at Hibernian Park. Once again, there were murmurings that perhaps Hibernians should refuse to fulfil the fixture. Those thoughts prompted the Hibernians committee to insist the game would go ahead as the hand of friendship would always be extended to our brothers from Glasgow. The Hibernians committee were truly men of honour.
When the game was played, it was in a very hostile atmosphere that ex-Hibernians players John Coleman and Mick Dunbar (2) scored the goals which saw a weak Hibernians side beaten. The Irishmen in the home support made their feelings very plain and given the circumstances, who could blame them, as they watched many of their former heroes take Hibernian apart.
Blow after blow
As if things on the park were not bad enough, a further blow was dealt when long time Club stalwart John McFadden resigned his post of Team Secretary to take up a position made vacant by the resignations arising out of the political goings on at that time. Prior to leaving, he negotiated an extension to the lease on Hibernian Park but he knew the writing was on the wall and urged his replacement to actively seek another site upon which the Club could continue to play its matches.
In January 1889, the Catholic Young Men's Society held its AGM and it was reported that although the Hibernians had suffered many recent blows, they were fighting back thanks in particular to the efforts of Michael Whelahan, Club Captain James McGhee and ex-Secretary John McFadden.
The existence of an ongoing pro-Hibernians faction on the Celtic Football Club Committee was also to help, with the greens invited to Glasgow for a match from which all gate money received would go to the Edinburgh men. The game finished 5-4 to Celtic, but a sizeable crowd meant that the gate receipts were of a helpful size to Hibernians who found themselves, for the first time ever, the recipients of a charitable donation rather than the providers.
It was around this time that Little Ireland was rife with rumours of Hibernians being encouraged to relocate to Glasgow and in time, it proved those rumours were true. Thankfully, the men in charge of the Club flatly refused to even consider such a proposal. With the rumours persisting, the pro-Hibernians faction on the Celtic Committee were growing more and more disenchanted with John Glass and his apparent refusal to follow the Hibernians model of doing charitable deeds via the Club, with Glass preferring instead to run Celtic as a money generating operation.
To flatten the rumours, a meeting was called in St. Mary's Hall and to rousing cheers, the assembled membership were assured by Michael Whelahan that Hibernians were the Edinburgh Irish team and would not be moving to Glasgow or anywhere else.
Although the team which had suffered such massive blows by the defection to Celtic of the bulk of its members, Hibernians looked forward to season 1889/90 with some hope. Replacements had been found and it was thought Hibernians could once again challenge the best. Things started well enough, with good Scottish Cup wins including an 11-1 trouncing of Dunfermline at Hibernian Park. Soon after, there was another game against Celtic. The fixture had to be played in Glasgow because Celtic were not willing to come to Edinburgh, even though the proceeds were destined for various worthy charitable causes. This time it was Hibernians who lost heavily. With ten former Hibernian Park players in their line up, Celtic swept the Club aside 7-1.
Prominent in the team that day was one Sandy McMahon, dubbed 'The Prince of Dribblers', a player who turned down a move to Stoke City because he wanted to stay and help his beloved Hibernians be great again. However, Sandy was one of only a few players in the team who could produce football of the standard Hibernians had achieved prior to the Celtic fiasco. As Hibernian travelled to Glasgow for games and were consistently being defeated, the Edinburgh side's support amongst the Irish in that area began to dwindle. Slowly but surely, it seemed that the Glasgow Irish were losing faith in the once great Hibernians and turning their attentions to Celtic, where they could watch many of the stars they once cheered.
With the Cup run over and fewer and fewer games being played in Edinburgh, Hibernians were finding it difficult to attract quality players. Moreover, when Club Secretary Richard Payne inexplicably decided against attending a meeting in Glasgow to discuss the future of the game, the greens were not included in the newly formed Scottish League whilst their City neighbours Hearts and St. Bernard's were.
Around ten key personnel left Hibernians to join the newly formed Celtic Football Club.
The Hibernians Swimming Club is established, based at the Infirmary Street baths.
A new Hibernians committee is elected following the resignation of numerous members due to political circumstances.
The 1888/89 season starts badly for Hibernians with an early Scottish Cup exit.
John McFadden resigns from his post of Club Team Secretary.
The Club struggle financially as Hibernians receive the gate money for an away benefit match against Celtic.
A potential proposal for the Club to relocate to Glasgow is quickly dismissed by Michael Whelahan.
Support for the Club starts to disappear following a run a bad results and fewer matches being played in Edinburgh.
Secretary Richard Payne decides against attending a meeting in Glasgow to discuss the future of the game. As a result, the greens are not included in the newly formed Scottish League whilst rivals Hearts and St. Bernard's are.
Written as part of 'The Origins of Hibernian' series