Hibernian travel to Tayside to play in Dundee Hibernian's inaugural match.
At the start of the 1909/10 season, Edinburgh Hibernian made their way to Tayside to play a friendly match against the recently formed Dundee Hibernian. The match, which was the home sides first ever fixture, took place on Wednesday 18th August to officially inaugurate the former Clepington Park ground, now known as Tannadice.
Dundee Hibernian was formed by members of the local Irish community after the earlier demise of Dundee Harp FC. ‘The Harp’ had been established as early as 1879 to represent the then large Irish Catholic community of Dundee, following the example of the leaders of similar communities in Edinburgh who founded Hibernian in 1875.
Sometime later Dundee Harp would be briefly suspended by the SFA after failing to meet visiting team’s guarantees and within a few short years, the club would go out of business. Although playing mainly in local competitions, Dundee Harp’s main claim to fame had been in recording a 35-0 victory over Aberdeen Rovers in the first round of Scottish Cup in 1885, ironically on the very same day as Arbroath’s now historic record breaking 36-0 victory over another Aberdeen side, Bon Accord. It was around this time that a new club calling themselves Dundee Hibernian was formed in the area. This team had no connection to the later side of the same name and after a short period as Dundee Harp they too would completely disappear from the scene.
At that time, Clepington Park was situated in what was then largely open countryside on the outskirts of the city. Several minor sides had used the ground during the 1870s, including Dundee East End and Dundee Old Boys, who would amalgamate in 1893 to form Dundee Football Club.
By 1891 Clemington Park, which by this time had its own small grandstand complete with changing rooms, was being used by a side called Johnstone Wanderers, who themselves would merge with Strathmore in 1894 to form Dundee Wanderers. The newly formed side had originally called themselves Dundonians, but after an objection from Dundee, the name was changed to Dundee Wanderers in time to take its place in the Scottish Second Division at the start of the 1884/85 season.
Eventually finishing second bottom of a ten-team league, Dundee Wanderers failed to be re-elected the following year and would play mostly in the Northern League until their demise in 1913.
In 1909 Patrick Reilly, the secretary of the newly formed Dundee Hibernian, sensed an opportunity to secure the ready made football ground Clepington Park. He approached the landlords of Clepington Park with a better offer than the Wanderers and secured the land for Dundee Hibernian. This underhand action naturally infuriated the Wanderers, who later returned to completely dismantle the ground. The Wanderers took the fences enclosing the pitch, disassembled the small grandstand and changing rooms, and even took the goalposts. Nothing was left but the open field.
Not to be fazed, the Dundee Hibernian committee soon set to work rebuilding the ground, complete with a change of name to Tannadice after one of the surrounding streets.
The inaugural game against Edinburgh Hibernian had been advertised rather grandly as a Gala Football Match, with pre-match entertainment provided by the band from the Mars Training Ship that had been a local landmark anchored on the nearby River Tay since 1869. Launched in 1848 and after brief service in the Crimean War, the three-masted Mars had spent a short time as a coastal defence vessel, one of several then stationed around Britain. At the time of Gala Football Match in 1909, Mars was a training ship for dissolute children from the area. More that 6,500 homeless and destitute boys joined the ranks of the Mars to learn new skills and to keep out of trouble.
The promotional poster for Dundee Hibernian vs Edinburgh Hibernian
With both clubs registering similar dark green colours, Edinburgh Hibernian took to the field wearing black and white hooped jerseys that had been borrowed from near neighbours Leith Athletic especially for the occasion.
The ceremonial kick-off was performed by the Dundee Lord Provost Sir James Urquhart and it was then on to the game. Secretary Patrick Reilly, a local bicycle shop owner who had played a prominent part in the formation of the Dundee side, had promised a brand new bicycle to the first player to score on the new pitch. The honour was claimed by the Easter Road wing-half John O’Hara, who had opened the scoring in the second half to collect new pedal cycle. However, in front of a crowd of just over 7000, the home side scored late in the game to record a credible 1-1 draw, a result that in the circumstances would no doubt have satisfied everyone present.
During their inaugural season, Dundee Hibernian would play their games in the Northern League, but by the start of the following campaign they had been elected into the then 12-team Scottish Second Division in place of Ayr Parkhouse, managing to finish in a credible mid-table position.
The following few years however would prove to be turbulent. Their best season was the last campaign before the First World War, when the club finished in fourth place. During the war years, the Scottish Second Division would be annulled and the Dundee side would have to be content playing its football back again in the Northern League.
With the reinstatement of the Second Division in 1921, Dundee Hibernian were readmitted back into league football, but the season was not a success and after finishing second bottom of the table, the club decided to resign completely from the league. By this time, Dundee Hibernian was in serious financial trouble. The club was saved from oblivion by a group of Dundee businessmen. Reinstated once more into the Second Division, they started the 1923/24 season as Dundee Hibernian before a change in name weeks later. In an attempt to broaden the clubs appeal, Dundee Hibernian initially changed their name to Dundee City. However, a complaint from near neighbours Dundee meant another transition to Dundee United, a name that is now familiar to us all.
The Dundee Hibernian and Edinburgh Hibernian squads before the match in 1909
On the occasion of the Dundee club’s centenary in 2009, the Hibernian Historical Trust marked the milestone buy gifting a copy of the photograph from the inaugural game to United. The photo featured the players and officials of both teams on that day in 1909. Before a game between Dundee United and Hibernian at Tannadice the following season (2010/2011), a framed copy of the same photograph was presented to the grandson of the young boy seen leaning on the railing behind the players by a representative from the Historical Trust.
On the extreme right of the photograph in the front row was the recently capped Hibernian full back James Main, who had played in Scotland’s 5-0 victory over Ireland at Ibrox the previous March. Now considered a mainstay of the side, the cultured and well-respected Main had improved out of all recognition since signing for the club from Motherwell in 1904.
Sadly, tragedy was to befall him within months of the photograph being taken. In a game against Partick Thistle on Christmas Day that year, he would be involved in a severe but fair challenge from his immediate opponent and was unable to continue. He seemed to have recovered after the game and was able to make his way to his home in West Calder. However, he took ill during the night and was rushed to the Edinburgh Royal infirmary, where despite an emergency operation, he died a few days later. James Main is buried in West Calder Cemetery.
Dundee Hibernian's inaugural match with Edinburgh Hibernian finished 1-1 in front of a crowd of over 7000.
Edinburgh Hibernian wore black and white hooped jerseys that had been borrowed Leith Athletic, due to both Hibernian teams wearing similar dark green colours.
Easter Road wing-half John O’Hara scored the first goal of the match and won himself a new pedal cycle as a reward.
Written by Tom Wright