The next book to be featured in Scotzine’s book review by Dr Jonathan M Thomas is We are Hibernian: The Fans’ Story by Andy McVannan.
Andy McVannan has edited an engaging oral history collection that delivers an authentic fan’s eye view of Hibernian Football Club over the years. It brings the culture and experience of supporting one of Scotland’s best-loved clubs, vividly to life. This second edition provides some updated material and includes three brand new contributions from Ger Freedman, Pat Nevin and Mickey Weir. While the market is primarily Hibs fans, this volume is a valuable addition to the literature about and by genuine Scottish football fans.
Proclaimer, Charlie Reid, sets the tone by capturing nicely what Hibernian means to him and how it is ‘important for football to be played the right way at Hibs’. Throughout, there is a warmth and authenticity that seeps from the pages. While some contributors are celebrities and even former players, they are all here as Hibs fans first. Reminiscence and shared memories appear unfiltered, but every football fan can identify with the themes of idolising former players and basking in past glories.
The sections on watching Hibs through the 1970s and 1980s, describe the fan experience with a mix of humorous, visceral detail and atmosphere. The recollections and enthusiasm of the McBain’s, a retired couple who have been going to Easter Road for decades, is infectious. Their love for the experience of being in Easter Road on a Saturday demonstrates a shared sense of history, community and belonging.
Others develop the idea of Hibernian as a rock’n’roll club, cooler and more maverick than other clubs. The distinct history and style that fans associate with Hibs are of enduring importance for many contributors. They also identify how the social and compassionate roots of the club adds further value to their self-image. There are some great passages about the passion and belief that is the often misguided preserve of the football fan. The volume portrays a good balance of contributions from different types of fan, although the weight is firmly on the male experience. The female voice although faint is evident and the range of feelings they express about their club, are welcome additions to the piece.
The themes of history, background, family and a sense of place come shining through. Indeed, for many of the fan contributors there is a general plea for Hibs to extend its reach further into the local community. The ‘Hands off Hibs’ campaign features prominently and clearly provided a focus for fans to demonstrate their passion for Hibs. A few contributors note how the sorry episode brought the extended Hibs family closer in a common cause and how this spirit and identity through shared endeavour is still evident today.
Notably, every contributor has a slightly different take on relations with their city neighbours. Many describe how in the post-war years fans would mingle on the terraces with minimal trouble, yet by the 1980s, violence and running battles were the norm. Despite this, most fan contributors recognise that the city rivalry is important and that life would be much less interesting for Hibs without Hearts.
The intergenerational links between sons, father and grandfathers as played out attending a Hibs football match is more than just a bonding experience between men, as it also bonded you to a place. One of the newer sections, by Pat Nevin, stands out for his admission that he came late to supporting Hibs, having been brought up a Celtic fan.
This anthology clearly demonstrates that while the club’s fortunes may vary from season to season or manager to manager, and despite the old stadium now modernised, the core ethos of the club survives and thrives in the stories, histories and memories of their loyal fans.
As any fan will recognise, it is important to preserve those memories that underscore your club’s sense of identity, history and place. In that regard, this volume is required reading for all diehard Hibees. (Dr Jonathan M Thomas - Scotzine)