Many of our historical exhibitions and artefact collections are situated within the West Stand of Easter Road Stadium.

A series of letters composed by the then Hibs manager Willie McCartney.

Described at the time, along with Harry Swan and Hugh Shaw, as one of the architects of the modern Hibernian, manager Willie McCartney joined the Club in the summer of 1936, taking over the Easter Road hot seat from former player Johnny Halligan.

The Club had been in the doldrums for several years, culminating in relegation in 1931 although promotion was achieved before the new manager's arrival.


Willie McCartney 7

Willie McCartney


McCartney had succeeded his father, John, as manager of Hearts at the end of the First World War, and had been at the helm at Tynecastle for thirteen years before resigning suddenly the previous summer in mysterious circumstances which were never satisfactorily explained. Unlike his father, who had spent some time with Rangers and had played for Cowlairs against Hibs in the match arranged to commemorate the official opening of the first Celtic Park in May 1888, Willie had not played the game at any serious level, preferring instead to make his name as a referee.

During his first few years with Hibernian, leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War, the team's form was again inconsistent although there were signs of definite, all be it slow, progress. It was, however, during the war years Hibs began their rise to greatness.

Several promising youngsters who had been signed immediately prior to or soon after the outbreak of war, including Willie Finnigan, Sammy Kean, Bobby Combe and the great Gordon Smith, were to benefit greatly by playing alongside experienced guest players such as Liverpool's Matt Busby, Bobby Baxter of Middlesbrough and Everton's Jimmy Caskie. Under McCartney's leadership Hibs would challenge Rangers near monopoly of the Scottish Game, winning the inaugural Summer Cup in 1941, and start to take giant steps towards fulfilling Harry Swan's earlier bold, some say rash, promise that given 10 years he would make Hibernian great again.

It was in the immediate post war years, however - arguably the greatest ever period in the Scottish game - which saw Hibs rise to true greatness. By now most of the promising young players had matured, and McCartney would mould a side which would secure Hibernian's first Championship win since 1903.

Sadly he would not live to see the triumph. In January 1948, just a few weeks before League title success was assured, he complained of feeling unwell near the end of a Scottish Cup tie against Albion Rovers at Cliftonhill. Taken by car to his home in Queensferry Road, he died later that night, the result of a massive coronary.

A large crowd attended his funeral at Warriston Crematorium in Edinburgh, many from the world of football, including representatives of both the Scottish League and the SFA, the coffin borne into the chapel by several senior players. Many famous Hearts players who had played under his stewardship at Tynecastle were also in attendance.

Within days of McCartney's death trainer Hugh Shaw, himself a prominent player in the great Hibernian team of the 1920s, would succeed McCartney as manager at Easter Road, leading the Club not only to the 1948 Championship but to consecutive title wins in 1951 and 1952.

Although the popular Shaw would preside over Hibernian's most successful ever period, there is absolutely no doubt Willie McCartney had lain the foundations not only for these successes, but for the emergence of the Famous Five a few months later, and ultimately the Hibs side which created history by becoming the first British team to participate on the competitive European stage in 1955.



4th September 1939

This is the earliest of a series of letters acquired by the Trust, written by the then Hibs manager Willie McCartney. It is addressed to his Hearts counterpart, Frank Moss, and dated the 4th September 1939.

The first letter is addressed to the then Hearts manager, Frank Moss, a well known goalkeeper of both Arsenal and England fame during the 1930s. Dated the 4th September 1939, the day after war had been declared, McCartney writes a cheque for £22 was enclosed to cover the cost of the medals for the Wilson Cup game staged at Easter Road on the 16th of August, which Hearts won 2-0.




24th August 1940

Another document, dated 24th August 1940, also relates to the Wilson Cup, this game played at Tynecastle on 14th August 1940. In this letter, McCartney respectfully asks an amended cheque be sent to Easter Road with Hibs share of the gate receipts for the game.




19th October 1946

The third and final letter is perhaps of most interest, as it illustrates typical 'Scottish hospitality'. Sent on the 19th October 1946 to David McLean of Hearts, at the Tynecastle manager's request, it details the itinerary for Sparta Prague's recent trip to Scotland when they played games against both Hibs and Rangers, earlier in the October of 1946. The game at Easter Road took place only weeks after Hibs had visited Czechoslovakia on a four game tour during the summer, the first Scottish side to visit the continent since the end of the the Second World War.

McCartney explains, after arriving in Edinburgh on the 11th of October, the Czech side trained at Easter Road in the morning, before being entertained by the Lord Provost at the City Chambers in the afternoon. Later the party were invited to tea by the British Council at International House in Edinburgh's Castle Street. The following day, the visitors attended Hibernian's game against Celtic in Glasgow, Jock Weir scoring for Hibs in a 1-1 draw in front of a 30,000 crowd.


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In what was to prove a hectic visit to Scotland, the following day, a Sunday, the visitors took in the Forth Railway Bridge, North Berwick and Dunbar before returning to Edinburgh for tea. Monday was taken up by the match against Rangers at Ibrox and, on the Tuesday, the players again trained at Easter Road in the morning, before visiting several places of interest in the capital that afternoon, namely the Castle, St Giles Cathedral and Holyrood Palace.

On the Wednesday, Sparta defeated the home side 3-1 at Easter Road, with future Hibs legend Eddie Turnbull making his debut for the first team, before both sides were taken to dinner at the North British Hotel in Princes Street.

The letter ends rather quaintly with the explanation that any arrangements regarding visits to theatres or picture houses were purposefully avoided, as only three or four of the party understood, or could speak, English.



Willie McCartney Caricature

Only hours before Hibs faced Sparta at Easter Road, the curtain had finally been drawn on the horrors of the Second World War when the convicted leading Nazi War criminals were hanged in Nuremberg.

Being signed by Willie McCartney, the manager responsible for laying the foundations of the side which won three League Championships inside a five year period, makes these letters an important part of the Club's history and consequently the Trust is delighted at their acquisition.


If you can add to any historical article, perhaps with special memories, a favourite story or the results of your original research, the Hibernian Historical Trust would love to hear from you.
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