Hibernian face bitter rivals Hearts in the 1896 Scottish Cup Final at Logie Green, the first time that the Edinburgh sides meet at this stage of the competition.
The 1895/96 First Division League title would eventually fall out of range for the Hibernians, although the Club would eventually finish a very creditable third behind Champions Celtic and runners up Rangers in their top flight debut season.
Hibernians however entered 1896 with high hopes of a Scottish Cup win and began their campaign with a tough 3-2 away to East Stirlingshire only to face a longish delay for their next opponents Raith Rovers who progressed following a successful protest. The delay caused no problems however and the greens stormed to a fine 6-1 win at Easter Road.
A Cup trip to Ibrox
The reward for that win over Raith Rovers was a trip to Ibrox in the next round for a very tough tie against high flying Rangers. This would be the talk of Scottish football with very few suggesting that the greens could progress. However, that did not stop supporters of Hibernian making up at least 50% of the 15,000 crowd. In a very physical encounter the greens took a 2-0 lead only for Rangers to pull a goal back as well as miss a penalty before half time. Despite what seemed to be foul play in the lead up, a Rangers equaliser was allowed to stand. The decision seemed to galvanise the greens and Willie Groves in particular, who began to run amok around the Rangers defenders. Soon the darling of the Hibernians fans put the greens ahead before the home side were awarded a hotly disputed penalty. However, their fans would groan in horror as Hibernians keeper Pat McCall brilliantly saved the spot kick. Try as they might, the Rangers could not score again and Hibernians had secured a famous victory.
Just one week later the greens would have to face a Renton side which had been on fire. There was to be no neutral venue at this time and the draw had secured the Hibernian home advantage for the semi final showpiece. The first half, in which Hibernians Captain Barney Lester had elected to shoot up the slop, was a trying time for the home side, which found itself a goal down after just five minutes. However as the half wore on, the greens fought back and were level on the half hour mark.
The second half would prove a wholly different affair, with the greens only denied by the fine goalkeeping of the Renton stopper. Finally, with just five minutes left to play, Bobby Neill cracked home what would prove not only to be the winning goal but the goal which took the Hibernians into the Scottish Cup Final.
Only three years on from having survived on the brink of extinction, Hibernians had won the Second Division twice and finished a highly creditable third in their first season in the top League, as well as reaching the Cup Final.
All Edinburgh Final
Despite what appeared to be a spiteful protest by Renton, the greens survived an enquiry and were then set to meet their long time rivals Hearts in the first ever all Edinburgh Final. Renton however did not let it rest there and raised a further protest just four days before the Final what scheduled to be played. Again the protest was thrown out by the SFA, the Celtic representative suggesting the grounds were frivolous, ridiculous and unsatisfactory. Still the defeated team would not let go and this time they resorted to an appeal to the Court of Session, but this too was turned down with Renton required to meet legal costs. All of this was most unsettling for the Easter Road Club as the last rejection by the Court had come just 24 hours before the Scottish Cup Final was due to be played.
Ironically, given the debates regarding where the 2006 Semi Final should be played between the Edinburgh sides, the SFA had a similar problem to consider back in 1896. Hearts suggested Tynecastle which was of course rejected, whilst Hibernian wanted the game played in Glasgow as this was the traditional home of the Final. The SFA decided an Edinburgh venue made more sense and considered Powderhall but rejected it and selected Logie Green instead.
The Hibernians team selection on the day of the Final caused a stir amongst the support. Willie Groves who was known to be suffering from a heart condition and John O'Neill, a new and as yet unseen outside left were both selected to play in the forward line. The Hearts were a well settled and strong outfit and they would dominate large parts of the game as nerves struck the greens. It was no real surprise when the Tynecastle men ran out 3-1 winners, much to the delight of their support but to the dismay of the large contingent of Hibernians amongst the 17,000 crowd.
The 1896 Scottish Cup Final between Hibernian and Hearts at Logie Green
The League and Cup now settled, the greens were to play 16 more games before the season ended, including a friendly in Birmingham against English Champions Aston Villa from whom Willie Groves had been signed when he had decided to return home to Edinburgh. A 2-1 win was recorded with Groves grabbing the winner against many of his former team mates. There would be a few friendlies with English clubs at this time, perhaps a sign of the greens already willing to flex their wings and play in other countries. Sheffield United drew with Hibernian 1-1, Aston Villa gained revenge with a 5-2 win at Easter Road and Preston North End triumphed 3-1. It should be borne in mind that football clubs in England were at that time far more professionally organised and many were paying high wages to their full time players.
Season 1895/96 drew to a close in the middle of May 1996 and a few around Easter Road breathed a huge sigh of relief. It had been a very eventful and not entirely unprofitable season for the Club, which had stunned many by finishing third in the League and reaching the Scottish Cup Final. The word 'stunned' is used deliberately because just three seasons earlier the Hibernians had looked to be down and out as their Committee struggled to keep the Club afloat. The efforts of men such as Thomas Flood, John and Philip Farmer, Charles Sandilands, John and Thomas McCabe and a still very active in the background Michael Whelahan cannot be emphasised enough as without the efforts of these men there would be no Hibernian Football Club.
The Club begin their 1895/96 Scottish Cup campaign with a 3-2 away win over East Stirlingshire and a 6-1 home demolishing of Raith Rovers.
Hibernians secure a famous 2-1 victory over Rangers at Ibrox in the third round of the Scottish Cup.
The semi final draw saw Hibernians play Renton at home, with Bobby Neill scoring a late winner for the greens.
Hibernians play Hearts in the 1896 Scottish Cup Final, losing 3-1 with the game held at Logie Green in Edinburgh.
The team play 16 more games before the end of the season, including friendlies against Aston Villa and Birmingham.
The Club finish a credible third place in their inaugural Division One season.
Written as part of 'The Origins of Hibernian' series