Many of Hibernian's fixtures, including the 1963 New Year's Day match against Hearts, become casualties of the atrocious winter conditions.
The big freeze of 1947 saw the worst weather since records began. Although many parts of the country were brought to a complete standstill due to heavy falls of snow which lasted from the middle of January to the beginning of March, surprisingly relatively few football matches were cancelled. Hibernian only missed two games during this period although several clubs were hit much harder. In those days, matches were only postponed if the playing surface was considered unplayable, unlike today when the pitch can be in good condition but games are occasionally cancelled due to the condition of the surrounding roads and pavements.
The winter of 1962/63, however, was a vastly different story. A few days before the turn of the year, Hibernian's home game against Clyde received the go ahead from the referee a mere twenty minutes before the kick off due to the severe weather sweeping the country. The heavy falls of snow earlier in the week had discouraged all but the brave, or the foolhardy, and at the kick off it was reported only a few hundred hardy souls were inside the ground. The entire sporting card had been heavily hit by cancellations and ultimately Hibs may have wished their game had also been a casualty, a 2-1 defeat seeing the home side drop to third bottom of the league table.
The Hibernian team of 1962
The heavy snow, which had come so close to postponing the match against Clyde, continued to fall. The New Year's Day game against Hearts became an immediate casualty of the atrocious conditions with eight inches of snow covering the Tynecastle pitch, as did Hibernian's home game against Motherwell the following day. This turned out to be only the start, conditions eventually becoming so severe that Hibs, along with most other clubs in Scotland, would not play another league match for nearly three months. As far as football was concerned the situation was unprecedented, the worst in living memory, breaking all records for the postponement or abandonment of matches. Throughout January, February, and the early days of March, the snow frost and ice continued to play havoc with the entire sporting card, resulting in two extensions to the end of the season being required to ease the fixture backlog.
Over the years many different methods of protecting pitches from the ravages of winter had been tried including covering the pitch with straw and the use of braziers but none proved particularly effective. At the time envious eyes were cast in the direction of Murrayfield Stadium where the underground electric blanket had allowed rugby matches to proceed undisturbed by the inclement conditions, and many were of the opinion the under-soil heating system was a medium worthy of consideration for football. Although nearly twenty years elapsed before its introduction into the Scottish game, Hibs were destined to play a leading part in the innovation when it did arrive.
Results elsewhere, when the occasional game managed to escape the stranglehold of the severe conditions, saw Hibs drop another league place without playing a game, putting them second bottom of the table. The alarm bells were ringing, the situation critical.
January 1963 arrived and still it snowed. Defender Tommy Leishman, a former team mate of Hibs centre forward Gerry Baker at St Mirren, was signed from Liverpool. The weather conditions were so bad Leishman played his first game on Portobello beach in a full scale practice match as Hibs struggled to find training facilities which had escaped the icy grip of winter. On occasion they travelled as far as Dunbar to find a suitable training surface, and as well as an offer to use the Pleasance Boys Club's well equipped gymnasium, both Edinburgh clubs received invites to use Powderhall Stadium.
The arctic conditions also affected the Scottish Cup competition with numerous attempts made to play Hibernian's second round tie against Second Division Brechin City at Glebe Park. After several postponements, a request was eventually made to the SFA for the game be played at nearby Arbroath whose pitch had escaped the worst of the weather, presumably due to its proximity to the salty sea air. As it was in breach of the competition's rules this request was initially refused by the far seeing authorities, but because of the by now almost emergency situation, the SFA eventually saw sense and reversed the decision.
By this time, however, it was too late as travel arrangements had already been made to play the game at the original venue. Before the game Brechin City announced they had acquired a so-called revolutionary new special anti-freeze mixture which the manufacturers had claimed would soften the soil sufficiently to allow play to proceed. Whether this mixture was used is uncertain, but the 2,380 robust fans who braved the elements, paying a grand total of £341 for the privilege, watched twenty two players slip and slide on what one member of the press described as a 'porridge pitch that was quite clearly unplayable'. Hibs eventually managed to advance to the next round, overcoming stuffy opponents 2-0 in their first game for almost four weeks.
At a meeting of all thirty seven clubs, St Johnstone proposed a six week mid-season shutdown to start the following season. The suggestion was considered unrealistic by Hibs chairman Harry Swan, as was another proposal for summer football. According to the Hibernian chairman, the unpredictable Scottish weather made a winter shutdown unpractical with severe weather likely to appear outside of any anticipated period.
Extreme weather conditions called off many football fixtures
One proposal which was adopted, however, was the introduction of the Pools Panel. Without football for a lengthy period many clubs, particularly the smaller ones, were now in desperate need of a financial injection, and with the Pools companies also facing extreme financial hardship due to the cancellation of the fixture lists, an emergency scheme was introduced which saw a panel of experts predict the results of abandoned games. Coming into operation only when thirty or more games in both Scotland and England had been called off, the panel, each member receiving the then not inconsiderable sum of £100 per week, first sat on Saturday 26th January 1963, the same day Hibernian's match against Brechin had managed to escape the rigours of the extreme conditions. The novelty was not universally popular at the start, with many supporters baffled by some of the panels predictions, particularly when a Hibs side, who had won only once in the league since the beginning of November, were credited with an away draw against a Dundee side ten places above them in the table. However, people soon got used to the idea and despite initially being introduced as an emergency measure to tide over the bad winter, the scheme was eventually extended and is still in use today.
A reserve fixture between Hibs and Queen of the South at Easter Road on the 2nd March became the city's first senior game of 1963. Both sides took the opportunity to field virtually full strength first teams with Tommy Leishman playing his first competitive game in Hibs colours. Teenagers Jim O'Rourke and Peter Cormack featured prominently in the game, between them engineering Hibernian's goal in a 2-1 defeat. Reserve team coach Jimmy McColl was less than happy with the result however - with his second string unbeaten in the previous fifteen games, he joked of the irony of defeat coming when the team was packed with first team regulars.
On the 9th March 1963 the weather in Scotland eased at last, allowing Hibs to fit in their first league game in nearly three months, before travelling to Spain to face Valencia in the Fairs Cup. In front of a sparse 5,000 crowd the home side could only manage a 1-1 draw in a drab game at Easter Road against a Third Lanark side featuring former Hibs captain Sammy Baird, who had been transferred to Cathkin several months before. As a result of the severe weather wing half Tommy Leishman was making his first team debut for the club a full eight weeks after moving to Edinburgh.
Season 1962/63 would be the Club's worst for over thirty years, a 4-0 victory against the already relegated Raith Rovers in Kirkcaldy in the final game of the season allowing the Club to escape relegation for the second time in its history.
The New Year's Day derby of 1963 is postponed due to the extreme weather conditions.
Hibernian, alongside many other teams in Scotland, doesn't play a match for over three months as a result of the winter conditions.
Two extensions to the end of the 1962/63 season are required to ease the fixture backlog.
Season 1962/63 ended as the Club's worst performance for over thirty years with Hibernian finishing second bottom.
Written by HHT media