One of the best days of the year when I was a kid was the Hibs Kids Open Day. Every year, usually on Easter Monday, Hibs opened up Easter Road for what was effectively an open training session with opportunities to meet players, get autographs and spend time on hallowed ground. There were probably face painters and other peddlars of children’s entertainment there but I can’t remember them. I never much entertained them anyway. Usually you got to walk along the front of the Famous Five Stand and get your photos taken with the players. If I had the opportunity now, I would probably be still as bumbling and nervous to meet Darren McGregor, Lewis Stevenson and Martin Boyle today compared to Pat McGinlay, Stuart Lovell and Andy Millen twenty years or so ago.
They don’t do Hibs Kids Open Days now. The closest equivalent is the Hibs Historical Trust Open Day at the stadium during the Leith Festival in June. I’ve been the last two years (here’s what I wrote about last year) and it neatly satisfies the football cravings that build up this time of year. This year the feeling was ever more acute, despite or maybe because of the World Cup currently in progress. Lewis Stevenson over Cristiano Ronaldo for me any day. I wasn’t sure if I could be bothered but go I went, not even put off when I got to Queen Street and realised there were engineering works at Linlithgow, requiring me to take the slow train.
Eventually I rocked up to Easter Road and into the West Stand. I had come a bit later so it was quieter than the previous year, which meant I could linger around the many fine displays the Historical Trust have placed around the place, including new displays about the ladies team which were great to see. In the boardroom I made sure I lingered by the 2016 Scottish Cup Final displays and I can personally confirm how much the nicer the toilets are up there compared to over the way in the East. The bit which tickled me the most was the press room where a very big photo had been placed of Neil Lennon doing the aeroplane at the end of the Hibs-Rangers 5-5 draw in May. Combined with the glossy pictures of each of Hibs’ three goals in the 2016 Scottish Cup Final, it was a pretty nice statement to our friends in the fourth estate.
I sat for a few minutes in the director’s box looking out over the ground. As the volunteer guide said that ‘the first thing a lot of people do is find their seats’, I did that very thing, looking across and up to the back centre of the East where I sit. I made sure I got a selfie in the TV interview room, marvelled at how spartan the officials’ changing facilities are then ran out the tunnel and onto the touchline, sitting in Neil Lennon’s seat in the dugout. Or rather Garry Parker’s as Neil will most likely have a touchline ban to serve in the Europa League and SPFL soon enough. The walk took me around the front of the South and then through the East to the stones that adorn the wall outside.
The tour ended in the Famous Five Stand, scene of all those autograph opportunities years before, where I bought the programme from the only home league game I missed last season (Ross County in December – I had the lurgy) plus some of the Scottish Cup trading cards. I keep losing my Sir David Gray one. There was also an interesting plaque put up by the Historical Trust commemorating James Main, a defender who played for Hibs from 1904-1909 and who tragically died after a stomach injury incurred while playing at Firhill in late December 1909. With the reminder earlier in the boardroom of Dan McMichael, the 1902 Scottish Cup winning manager, who died of Spanish flu in 1919 (as discussed in the Eastern Cemetery post here a few months ago) our club’s history had had many low points as well as the highs of winning cups and running about like an aeroplane. I am a Hibs fan to my fingertips but I felt a bigger sense of pride leaving the Famous Five, part of something much bigger than myself.
I left via the southern side of the stadium, passing near the old Dunbar’s lemonade works and then onto Lawrie Reilly Place. As I made my way homewards, my cravings were now satisfied, longing for the new season, Europe and many more fine days down Easter Road way.