THE famous Easter Road slope, which has been graced by the likes of George Best, Dino Zoff, and Ferenc Puskas, and Scottish talent like Lawrie Reilly, Billy Bremner, Alex McLeish and Jim Baxter, will be consigned to the history books after Saturday's game against Aberdeen.

After years of staging some wonderful European nights and great domestic games, the pitch at Easter Road and the incline that slopes 6ft 3in from the top goal at the Dunbar end, where the visiting supporters sit, all the way down to the bottom goal will be levelled out in the coming months.

Some opposition players and even some young Hibs teenagers playing their first game on the pitch, faced with the strong wind, driving rain and heavy surface during an Edinburgh winter, have said playing up the slope is like trying to climb the north face of the Eiger. That sense of foreboding has worked to Hibs' advantage through the years, and clearly the positive psychology of kicking down the slope in the second half always had a place in the minds of the Hibs players.

Club historian and author John R Mackay said the Easter Road slope has been there since the pitch was laid out back in February, 1883 and in the early days had been the main problem for the club to deal with. In fact, the slope was so bad that Hibs even thought about moving lock, stock and barrel to Aberdeen in 1902, the mere suggestion leading to a north-east revolt, which resulted in the three local clubs merging to form what became the Aberdeen side of today.

Seven years later, they were still concerned at the state of their pitch and had planned to move to a new 50,000 stadium in Northfield Broadway in Edinburgh, but the local railway company got a last minute injuction which scuppered the project, although the football pitch Hibs had laid remained at the site for years, being used for minor finals.

In 1924, the playing surface at Easter Road was moved sideways by 40 yards to allow the main stand to be built, and, at the time, they made an attempt to level the pitch, but somehow still managed to be left with a 6ft 3in slope, which gives an indication as to how bad it must have been in the first place.

The soon-to-be-announced work is all part of redevelopment work for Easter Road, which is believed to include rebuilding the main stand and used to have a massive advertisement for Youngers beer on its roof.

Yesterday, three Hibs heroes of different generations, Lawrie Reilly, Keith Wright, and Alex McLeish met to discuss just what playing on the Easter Road slope meant to them and why they would mourn its passing.

In the 1950s ''Last Minute Reilly'', who was given the nickname for his knack of winning games in the dying seconds as a member of the Famous Five, remembers the confidence the side got by realising they would be playing down the slope in the second half.

At 71, he is still a regular at Easter Road and will be there on Saturday to see the end of the pitch where he recorded some of his greatest triumphs.

''Back then, if we won the toss, we would always kick up the hill in the first half,'' said Reilly. ''I think it was a more famous landmark to my generation than any other as The Famous Five team was very successful and Hibs shooting down the slope in the second half was like a war cry back then.

''Certainly, if our captain won the toss, he knew he had to shoot up the hill in the first half, and if we knew that, we had a wee boost straight away.''

As he surveyed the main stand at Easter Road, Reilly said the time was right for it to be rebuilt.

''I have great memories of the pitch and the main stand, but, to be honest, it's all a bit dilapidated now and the time is right for it to be rebuilt.

''In a way, I feel sorry for Alex McLeish, because back when I was playing, we could compete with Celtic and Rangers because the money in football, or what there was, was a bit more widespread and things like rebuilding the stand wouldn't have the affect on the bank balance it does nowadays.

''Alex has done a great job with what he has to work with, but, to be honest, no team can compete with the Old Firm like we did back in my day.''

In the 1990s, Keith Wright was a favourite with the Easter Road faithful, and it was his goal which helped secure them the Skol Cup against Dunfermline. For Wright, the passing of the Easter Road slope is the end of an era that will be felt by every Hibs supporter.

''When Alex Miller was in charge here, he made us kick up the slope in the first half, and if we weren't getting beat, I always fancied our chances going down the slope in the second half,'' said Wright, whose main goalscoring memories at Easter Road were two hat tricks - against Dunfermline and Dundee United.

However, it was Alex McLeish who best summed up the folklore surrounding the famous Easter Road slope after playing on it for Aberdeen and managing the Easter Road side successfully over the past couple of


''When I was at Aberdeen, we realised the significance of Hibs kicking down the slope in the second half, but to be honest any advantage they got was all part of the mind games of football,'' said McLeish.

''It's sad that maybe some of

the foreign players at the club

now don't realise the history of the slope, although obviously all the Hibs fans realise its significance.

''From a managerial point of view, we usually kick up the slope in the first half, but I leave the final decision to the captain and the goalkeeper, especially if he is

having a problem with the sun.''

According to club historian Mackay, the nostalgia surrounding the slope had waned through the years, but had been at its highest in the 1950s.

Mackay said the fact the ground had such a big slope was not out of the ordinary, considering the state of other pitches of the time. However, most clubs had improved their playing surface since the early part of the last century.

''Back then, all pitches weren't in that good a condition and

Easter Road would have been like many others,'' said Mackay.

''I think the peak in interest in the slope was up until the late 1950s as Hibs were winning things and in these days the crowd would be close to the pitch and Easter Road would be an intimidating place to play.''