A disappointing season witnesses Hibernian suffer their largest competitive defeat and an early exit out of the Scottish Cup to lower league opposition.
After finishing a credible third in their inaugural top flight season of 1895/96, Hibernian would emerge runners-up the following campaign and secure another third place in season 1897/98. However, the 1898/99 campaign would prove somewhat disappointing.
Those who ran the Club were determined that the players would give their all and in 1897, the Club had already instigated a strict regime of local living and hard physical training under the eye of record breaking professional runner Paddy Cannon.
A loyal Hibernian supporter, Paddy Cannon put his charges, many of whom were young players, through a new training regimen destined to reap benefits in the longer term. His training methods were considered innovative and modern in that era and he was highly respected by the Hibernian players of the day.
By the time Hibs played their first league game, others were looking forward to playing their fourth but at least it was a winning start with a good 4-1 victory away to Partick Thistle. A week later at a packed Easter Road Celtic were put to the sword when the former Celt Allan Martin struck the vital goal in a 2-1 win.
Two starts and two wins was soon doubled to four starts and four wins when the greens won away at Dundee before beating St. Bernard's at Easter Road. Eight points out of a possible eight soon became ten out of ten as Hibs travelled to Glasgow for a quick return match against Celtic. The Edinburgh side repeated their Easter Road victory scoreline of 2-1.
It was not possible to have had a better start to the season with home and away wins against a strong Celtic and maximum points from all games played. This was Hibs remember and back to back October defeats at the hands of old rivals Hearts soon put a spanner in the works.
Controversy against Rangers
Despite the October setback, an undefeated Rangers visited Easter Road and immediately fell a goal behind in the first minute through new Hibernian signing Tommy Gemmell. Piling on the pressure, the Hibs scored again through Gemmell but by the early stages of the second half Rangers had drawn level at 2-2. Gemmell would inevitably claim his hat-trick in the match, only for Rangers to reply once again, the scoreline now three goals each. With the game finely poised, a soft penalty was awarded in the final minute to the visitors, who scored and won a highly entertaining match 4-3. Reports suggest that the referee, who just happened to be former Hearts full back James Adams, did not make it safely back to the dressing room and was 'shamefully assaulted by a number of the Hibernian support in a hostile demonstration against his blatantly biased refereeing.'
As the season progressed, top players George Dougal, Johnny Pryce and Tommy McFarlane all left to sign for English clubs Manchester City, Glossop North End and Burslem Port Vale respectively. The exit of these players was a tremendous blow to Paddy Cannon and the remaining Hibernian players. Still, a decent run of results was achieved with only two points dropped out of a possible eight in the games which followed the controversial meeting with Rangers.
On Christmas Eve 1898, Hibernian and Rangers clashed again, this time at Ibrox. It was to be a black day for the Easter Road team which suffered a total collapse and was trounced 10-0 on a mud bath of a pitch. Within days another two players left for the English League and Paddy Cannon's resources were being spread very thin.
A short Scottish Cup campaign
Moving into 1899, the first competitive match of the year brought Royal Albert to Easter Road in the Scottish Cup. The home side made very heavy weather of the fixture, only winning 2-1. The next round paired Hibernian with Glasgow League side Queens Park at Hampden. It would be the only visit the greens would make to Hampden that season, as they crashed to an embarrassing 5-1 and exited the Scottish Cup.
With the League chances long gone and the Cup run even shorter than usual, Hibernian played a series of friendlies to see the season out, impressing particularly on an April tour of England when they played on three consecutive days against Newcastle United a 2-2 draw, Manchester City a 3-1 win and Everton a 1-1 draw.
A poor season was over with far fewer highlights than setbacks, the double over Celtic and ten goals against Leith Athletic were scant consolation for that dreadful hammering at Ibrox, a single draw the only plus in no fewer than eight meetings with Hearts, dumped out of the Cup by a lower league team and a number of top players heading South.
Despite all of the season 1898/99 disappointments, the following close season was spent working towards a stronger more successful Hibernians and the signing of a few new players gave the place a lift. One of those signins was Patrick Callaghan who would go on to star for Hibernian in one capacity or another for 20 years, playing in every single position including goalkeeper. Others who joined included Glen, Grey, Hogg, Harrower, McCartney and Handling, some of whom would become firm favourites with the Easter Road faithful.
Patrick Callaghan signed for Hibernian in the 1899/00 close season
Season 1899/1900 would, of course, ring in a new Millennium and the year 1900 would see the Club celebrate its 25th birthday, in some senses a miracle in itself given the difficulties it had in being accepted in Scottish football back in 1875 together with the financial problems which almost put the Hibs out of business.
The greens were, however, here to stay and went into the new campaign full of hope and expectation.
Hibernian start season 1898/99 in flawless form, winning their first five games including home and away victories over Celtic.
The League campaign stalls in October, with Hibernian drawing against Clyde and losing two matches to rivals Hearts.
A controversial match against Rangers witnesses the Glasgow Club win at Easter Road 4-3. The referee is reported to have been assaulted by Hibernian fans.
Top players would leave the Club throughout the season to play in England, including George Dougal, Johnny Pryce and Tommy McFarlane.
Hibernian suffer their biggest competitive defeat, losing to Rangers at Ibrox 10-0 on Christmas Day, 1898.
The Club exit the Scottish Cup against lower league opponents Queen's Park.
Future key players are signed for the upcoming seasons, including Paddy Callaghan.
Written as part of 'The Origins of Hibernian' series