After winning a second successive Second Division title, Hibernian are granted permission to play in the top league of Scottish football for the first time during season 1895/96.
Season 1894/95 was underway and having easily disposed of Forfar Athletic 6-1 in the first round of the Scottish Cup, Hibernian drew Celtic at Easter Road in the next round of the tournament. As reigning League One Champions, the Glasgow side were red hot favourites for the replay encounter, but Hibernian played magnificently to win the match 2-0. Both second half goals were scored when the home side were shooting down what was a much more pronounced slope than it would be in later years.
Sadly, the visitors decided they would lodge an appeal and despite the grounds being of a type that even the Glasgow press called insignificant, the SFA ordered a replay and Celtic won 2-0 to end the Scottish Cup dream for yet another year.
Back to reality
Hurting badly from the Scottish Cup setback, the Hibernians lost two friendlies in quick succession, both 6-1 against Hearts and Rangers. The Club did however get back on course in the League with a fine 5-0 home win over Motherwell, putting the League title challenge firmly back on the agenda. A cruel winter kept Hibernian out of League action until late March, but in their next two games, a draw and an away win against title challengers Partick Thistle kept the Easter Road men right up there at the top.
With just two games left the Easter Road outfit could clinch the Championship if they could overcome a Renton side which had fought its way to the Scottish Cup Final. Despite the game being away from home, the greens demolished their hosts 9-1 to clinch the Scottish Division Two League flag in style.
Justice at last
Winners of the Scottish Second Division for two consecutive seasons still did not ensure automatic promotion and it took a great deal of canvassing by the Club amongst those who would vote on their future before finally, Hibernian were granted First Division status for the forthcoming season of 1895/96.
Although money was still tight, Hibernians stuck to their charitable principles and played a number of friendlies to raise cash for worthy causes, not least of which to donate money to the widow of former player Phil Clarke, who tragically died whilst still in his late twenties. Clarke had scored the first goal for Hibernian in their 1887 Scottish Cup Final victory and the Club, as ever, was determined to look after its own.
Top scorer for Hibernians Allan Martin, joined Celtic before the start of the 1985/86 season
And so the 1895/96 season would commence with Hibernian at last, amongst the elite of the Scottish First Division. The effort to get there had cost the Club dear with two Second Division Championships having to be won before entry was permitted. Moreover, the Club inevitably lost top scorer Allan Martin to Celtic, the Glasgow side enticing the player West with the promise of an extra £1.00 per week in his pay packet.
Celtic team of 1896, with ex-Hibernians goalscorer Allan Martin
Back row left to right: T.Maguire, J.Kelly, A.Martin, D.Doyle, B.Battles and W.Ferguson
Front row left to right: J.Madden, A.McMahon, P.Meechan and W.Maley
On ground left to right: J.Blessington and D.McArthur
No fault is attached to Martin for going because £1.00 could buy a great deal in those days. Hibernian had to start the search for a replacement as their debut season in the top division dawned.
Edinburgh well represented
Although the Club had replaced Leith Athletic in the top League, there were still two other Edinburgh sides playing at that level alongside Hibernian, namely Hearts and St. Bernards. All three would make their impact in one way or another.
Hibernian's League programme kicked off with an away game against a very strong and much fancied Third Lanark, but the greens were in devastating form and humbled their opponents with a 7-2 scoreline. On a showery day the following Saturday, Celtic provided the first ever home opposition in the First Division and it is worth noting that the teams entered the park separately in those days. When the Hibernians took the field to rousing cheers from the 10,000 strong crowd, there was a parting in the clouds as the sun poured down its sunshine on Leith before, in a quite pulsating encounter, the home side triumphed 4-2 against the reigning Champions.
It had been a good start to their first season at this level and the greens were top of the League after five games, yet to experience defeat either home or away.
With Willie Groves back in the fold having returned from a spell down south, Hibernians were going well but still looking for a goalscorer who could replace the previously departed Allan Martin. The lack of a proven scorer cost them dear as they lost their unbeaten record to Hearts at Tynecastle, when despite dominating the game and securing three goals, they missed a barrowload of chances and conceded four whilst doing so.
With his appearances limited due to his health, 'Darlin' Willie Groves was to be a fine addition and although he was an out and out left winger, he was actually played in several different positions including right full back and centre forward.
With the year nearing its end the greens fought out a good 1-1 draw with a Rangers side much fancied to win the title. However that credible draw things began to go a little bit wrong for Hibernians and three League defeats in a row blew them out of the Championship race before 1896 had even arrived!
The best way to end such a run, even in those days, was to win a derby match and the greens did just that by defeating a strong Hearts side 3-2 at Easter Road. This was long before names were on the backs of jerseys and just as well as Hibernian had two Paddy Murray's and a Paddy McMurray playing for them that day!
Hibernian exit the Scottish Cup replay to Celtic after the Glasgow team lodge an appeal against Hibernian's initial victory.
The Club are granted First Division status for the forthcoming season of 1895/96 after winning the Second Division for a second consecutive time.
Hibernian's first match in the First Division is an away fixture against Third Lanark, with the Edinburgh side winning 7-2.
Celtic are the first ever home opposition in the First Division, with Hibernian winning 4-2.
Written as part of 'The Origins of Hibernian' series