Celtic have been in a state of flux since the season began. Between the overhaul of the playing squad and various behind the scenes changes, the first few months of Ange Postecoglou’s reign have been anything but smooth. Now though, it seems a corner may have been turned. Away wins against Aberdeen and Motherwell have put to bed, for the moment, the teams away woes. For the first time this season the manager has had an, almost, full squad to call on. This combined with a comfortable Europa League victory against last seasons foes, the Hungarian champions, Ferencvaros has given the confidence around Celtic Park a welcome boost.
League business resumed with a dominant, if not free scoring, victory over a stubborn St Johnstone side to keep Celtic in touch of the current league leaders. It is so important that this run of results and performances continues, but the teams next opponents will present another challenge that Ange and his men need to overcome. A midweek clash with Hibernian may not seem the most daunting fixture to face while on this run, but there is an interesting wrinkle to the game; It has been eight years since Celtic beat their green and white counterparts on the road. The last time a Celtic team beat Hibs at Easter Road was in January 2014.
(The line up here is interesting!)
To be clear, that timeline takes into account the three years that Hibs were in the lower division, however to go seven fixtures against their Edinburgh rivals presents something of a hoodoo that Postecoglou men must overcome.
Games against Hibernian are always a tough affair, but there is more than just a sense of competition when the teams meet. Celtic and Hibs have a shared background, a linked history that includes iconic players and charitable beginnings.
Formed in 1875 Hibernian football club, named after the Roman name for Ireland and representing the immigrant Irish community of Edinburgh, played a number of matches across Scotland with the purpose of raising money for those in need. One such game took place in September 1885. A select team of Hibs players would take on a team playing under the banner of ‘Glasgow Hibs’, the proceeds of which would go to the poor children living in the East End of Glasgow. One of the most prominent men involved in raising said funds was Brother Walfrid.
As most, if not all Celtic fans will know, on 6 November 1887, Walfrid would use the example of Hibs, who had been doing similar charity work for the Irish communities in Edinburgh in the years previous and form a club to help the poor children of Glasgow. The major difference was the name, Celtic, which he wanted to use to represent both the Scottish and Irish roots of the people they would help.
The noble charity work and popularity amongst the locals set Celtic apart from most other institutions, but there was also an opportunity to commercialise this rise in profile. Enter John Glass. In the 1880’s football was, for the most part, an amateur venture amongst players. However, in England, there was a move toward the professionalism of the game. Mr Glass knew that Scotland would follow suit and, unbeknownst to the club committee, or Wilfrid himself, Glass began offering cash inducements to several of Hibs best players. The likes of Willie Groves, James McLaren, Paddy Gallagher, Mick McKeown, John Coleman and Mick Dunbar would become Celtic players at the expense of the team from Leith.
Hibernian losing their best players to Celtic was incredibly damaging for the club at the time. Their success dwindled and they struggled to return to the pinnacle of the Scottish game for many years. Of course, in later years, many Hibs players have made the jump to Celtic. The modern game means this has become the norm for clubs outside of the ‘Big Two’ of Glasgow. John Collins, Leigh Griffiths, Anthony Stokes, Gary Caldwell and the most obvious example of all, legendary club captain, Scott Brown have all had great success when they made the switch from the green and white of Hibs to the famous Hoops of Celtic.
When the teams meet it is good to look back on the linked history and remember where both clubs come from. The Irish heritage, green and white strips and charitable origins have defined both clubs for years and, while Hibs have moved away from the ‘Irishness’ of their history in recent years, the cultural impact both clubs have represented in Scotland cannot be underestimated.