Dundee United and Hibernian: A History

Leith-based Arab and DUFC Archive team member Derek Keilloh discusses the history of the Dundee United – Hibernian fixture in the days leading up to our first clash of the season with the Easter Road side.

Above: Dundee United and Hibernian clash in a League Cup 3rd Round tie in 1997.

The histories of Dundee United and Hibernian are intertwined. It seems a good week to revisit this, given the two clubs are meeting outside the top division for only the third time ever this weekend.

Two of Dundee United’s biggest ever victories over Hibernian took place in the final week of September.

On the 30th of September 1961, United had a 4-0 victory over Hibs at Tannadice, which included two goals from Wattie Carlyle. 364 days later, incredibly, they surpassed the feat with a 5-0 win, which remains United’s joint-biggest ever win over Hibs. Again, Carlyle managed to hit the net twice.

Above: Goal-mouth action during United’s 5-0 win over Hibernian at Tannadice in September 1962.

Anniversaries aside, the obvious connection goes back to the club’s formation – Dundee United were Dundee Hibernian for the first 14 years of their existence.

Like their Edinburgh counterparts, the club was formed as a football club for the city’s Irish-Catholic population. Dundee Hibernian were formed by bicycle salesman Pat Reilly in 1909. At the time, there were estimated to be around 30-40,000 people of Irish origin living in Dundee, which was a sizable chunk of the city’s total population.

Hibernian themselves were formed in St Patrick’s Church on the Cowgate in Edinburgh in 1875, and an equivalent club in Glasgow was created in 1888, although they called themselves Celtic to avoid confusion with the earlier Edinburgh team.

Perhaps to get their intended target audience on board, Dundee Hibernian’s first game on Wednesday 18 August 1909 was against their Edinburgh counterparts. The game was a 1-1 draw in front of a crowd of around 7000 people with Dundee’s Lord Provost Sir James Urqhuart performing a ceremonial kick-off. Edinburgh Hibs full back John O’Hara became the first player to score at what was now known as Tannadice Park, and was presented with a bicycle by Reilly for his troubles. The first Dundee Hibernian goal came in the second half from Jamie Docherty. He received a gold medal as commemoration, which was probably preferable to a bicycle, if slightly less practical.

Above: Hibernian FC in hooped jerseys (borrowed from Leith Athletic) and Dundee Hibernian FC in plain, dark jerseys prior to the latter’s first ever match.

However, by the time the teams met in a competitive game, it was 1924 and Dundee Hibernian had become Dundee United. Hibernian won a Scottish Cup game 1-0 at Easter Road.

Almost 50 players have played for both clubs, and Mixu Paatelainen has managed both, with limited degrees of success.

Having lived in Leith for many years, I have been well aware of another parallel. When Hibernian finally won the Scottish Cup earlier this year, it ended a run of 114 unsuccessful years in the competition. Even now, it feels faintly surreal.

When I heard Hibs fans speaking about the Scottish Cup, I was always reminded of the feelings I would get every year as I grew up, when the Scottish Cup third round came along. There was always a weird feeling of optimism (“I wonder if this will be the year we finally do it?”) mixed with fatalism (“we’ll probably mess it up somehow”). I recognised it, and empathised.

Our hoodoo ended in 1994. Hibs fans had to wait a bit longer.

It was a genuine privilege to be in Edinburgh that evening. Seeing the many buses coming along Princes Street, seeing delirious and disbelieving fans hugging bemused tourists, watching the open top bus on Leith Walk the following day, all brought it home how much it means, how much football itself can mean to so many people. It will be a day Hibs fans will remember forever, as the 21st of May 1994 is for us.

The clubs have had a few memorable games in my lifetime.

One interesting piece of history is that Dundee United and Hibs met at Easter Road in 1986 on the day Hearts lost the league in the final seven minutes of the season at Dens Park. United won a rather inconsequential game 2-1, but arguably the minds of the Hibs fans were elsewhere, judging by their reaction at full time as results came in from other grounds. There were apocryphal stories that a Hibs supporters club named Albert Kidd as their player of the year, but I’m sure they wouldn’t really be that mischievous…

In the first fixture of the 1994/95 season, in what was United’s first competitive fixture since that Scottish Cup win, they travelled to Easter Road. There was a real air of optimism among the United support that day, which evaporated pretty quickly after a shocking 5-0 defeat. The fact that three of the goals came from former United players, with two for Darren Jackson and one for Michael O’Neill, did not improve anyone’s mood.

It was United’s heaviest opening day defeat for almost 60 years, as well as being the heaviest defeat Dundee United have ever suffered against Hibernian, and set the tone for a challenging season.

Later that same season, there was a meeting on Hogmanay 1994. The scoreline was better, but not by much.

Edinburgh is normally a wonderful place to spend your Hogmanay. When you are sitting in an exposed temporary stand in the pouring rain wearing a flimsy yellow poncho while watching your team get stuffed 4-0, not so much.

It might be the coldest game I have ever attended. It was certainly one of the bleakest. Watching former Dundee player Keith Wright notch a hat trick is not an enjoyable experience by any means. In truth, it should have been a lot worse as Hibs had more than enough chances for a margin of victory even greater than their opening day win.

Ivan Golac lamented after the game, “If Hibs played us every week they would be champions”, although the scorelines were probably more of a reflection on Dundee United than they were on Hibs.

That season had a suitably inauspicious end as United were relegated.

One slightly more enjoyable experience came in 1998. Well, it was enjoyable for one set of fans.

1997-98-hibernian-1-2-dundee-united-league-1Above: Action from Easter Road on May 2nd, 1998 as Dundee United relegate Hibs.

The spectre of relegation hung over the meeting between the two sides in the penultimate week of the season at Easter Road. An appalling run of form had dragged United towards the bottom of the league. Hibs themselves, who were bottom, knew if they beat United they would have a great chance of avoiding relegation, given they had a game against Kilmarnock on the last day while United had to play a Rangers side who were still chasing their tenth league title in a row. As so often happens in these cases, the side at the bottom of the league were the ones with the momentum.

However, if United won it would confirm that Hibs would be relegated. Given United had won one league game in their previous 16, it was a tall order.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hibs started the better side despite a bad mass from Lars Zetterlund, and a goal from future United player Grant Brebner gave them a deserved lead. United looked in severe trouble.

They did improve after half time, and it was inevitable that the home side would begin to get nervy for as long as it only remained 1-0. And the equaliser came on 72 minutes. Some good persistence from Zetterlund on the left led to the ball making its way via Gary McSwegan to Kjell Olofsson, who slotted the ball past Bryan Gunn.

Six minutes later, Olofsson scored again with a header which somehow squirmed past Gunn, consigning Hibs to the second tier. For Hibs fans, being relegated and seeing Hearts win the Scottish Cup in the same season must have been as low as it gets.

And you thought being relegated by your local rivals was bad.

The two clubs have never met in a national cup final, although they have met in two Scottish Cup semi finals in recent times.

The first was in 2005. Hibs had been fantastic all season, with an exciting young team managed by Tony Mowbray. United were struggling against relegation, and had just sacked Ian McCall after a dreadful run of results. His assistant, Gordon Chisholm, took charge for the semi final in only his third game in charge of the club. He had lost the preceding two, which included a 3-2 defeat at Easter Road due to a last minute winner from Gary Smith.

Hibs started the game the better side, and the only surprise was how long it took them to take the lead. It was from a penalty which in truth was rather soft, with Barry Robson adjudged to have fouled Dean Shiels. Derek Riordan scored the spot-kick.

In response, Chisholm brought on Jason Scotland and this change turned the game.

United equalised with a great move that saw Kerr play in Barry Robson whose shot cum cross was side footed home from 5 yards by Jim McIntyre. United had all the momentum at this stage, with Hibernian suddenly clinging on for dear life. McIntyre and Samuel both went close before they got the winner their endeavour deserved when Scotland drove the ball home from 25 yards.

A shellshocked Hibs had no response. Indeed, United nearly won the game by an even greater margin, with Robson hitting the bar from a corner kick. United progressed to their first Scottish Cup final in 11 years, which they lost 1-0 to Celtic. They only ensured Premier League safety on the final day of the season.

2004-05-dundee-united-2-1-hibernian-scottish-cup-semi-final-1Above: Jim McIntyre equalises for Dundee United in the 2005 Scottish Cup Semi-Final meeting with Hibs at Hampden.

The recent Scottish Cup semi final which preceded Hibernian’s amazing final triumph was not a thing of beauty. The game was only noteworthy for an excellent display from the Hibs debutant goalkeeper Conrad Logan, and Jason Cummings having the most pathetic attempt at a ‘Panenka’ I have ever seen. Given how Logan played during the game, it was probably inevitable he would be the hero in the penalty shoot out.

In a strange quirk, at the time of writing, of the 206 games between the sides in all competitions, both teams have won 73 games each. And here they are, in the second tier together, with the first meeting of the season on the horizon.

It’s an indication of how big the two clubs are that their first three league meetings will all be televised. Both clubs are in the second tier, due to off the pitch negligence combined with on the pitch incompetence. The two clubs have not met outside the top division on league business since 1932.

On the face of it, Hibs are Dundee United’s biggest obstacle to an immediate return to the Premiership, although they are by no means the only obstacle. They are the biggest club United will face in the league this season, and most of their players have experience of this level.

Easter Road is a formidable place to go at the best of times, evidenced by the 3-0 defeat United suffered on their last visit there, in last season’s League Cup. In truth, United were rather lucky the margin of defeat was not even greater.

The most recent meeting was the aforementioned Scottish Cup semi final, although to judge either side on the events of that day is slightly unfair given what a nervy occasion it was. The circumstances surrounding this week’s game are rather different.

Whatever else, the four meetings this season are likely to be crucial for both teams, and will no doubt write themselves into the rich histories of both clubs. For good or ill.

Written by Derek Keilloh 


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