British clubs in Europe have given our football some high point moments down the years and for a small island our record is still formidable.
Whether it be Celtic as the first UK team to win the European Cup in 1967 or Manchester United’s last-gasp victory over Bayern in the Champions League final of 1999 we have seen so many home successes abroad in the three major Euro club competitions [ Cup Winners Cup sadly no longer with us ].
However, at the very start of European club competitions, it was Hibernian who blazed a trail for the UK and Scotland. Their success and reputation led to the invitation to take part in the inaugural European Cup in 1956, and there’s no doubt that this reputation was built upon the rock of their legendary forward line, ‘the Famous Five’.
In those days it was common for teams to play with five up-front, two wingers, and ‘inside right’ and left and a centre forward. Gordon Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond [ later Scotland manager ] made up the greatest front line Scotland has ever seen.
But in 1956, Aberdeen were, in fact, Scottish champions, but like English counterparts Chelsea, they ignored the offer of a European Cup place. Hibs were in by default. In the first round they met West German champions Rot Weiss Essen. Hibs won 4-0 in Essen and the return tie in Scotland ended in a 1-1 draw.
Eddie Turnbull, later to manage one of the best Hibs sides of all time recalls: “That’s where I became the first British player to score in Europe. We hammered Rot-Weiss 4-0 although they were not a bad team, with quite a few of the World-Cup winning team of 1954 on their side.”
In the quarter-finals Hibs met Djurgaarden, winning 3–1 at home and losing to a single goal ‘away’. The Scandinavian team’s pitch was frozen so they played their home match at Firhill [ home of Partick Thistle ] in Glasgow. The night of Hibs’ win Celtic were playing across the city and the Parkhead programme notes stated: “Already interest in these floodlit evening games is on the wane.”
The second leg of the semi final against Reims of France at Easter Road was attended by 45,000 spectators. Sadly Hibs were defeated by a Reims side inspired by the great French footballer Raymond Kopa.
Kopa in fact, known as ‘the Little General’, was recently voted the third greatest French player behind Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane, dictated both games. Reims were then beaten by Real Madrid in the final.
Hibernian’s success led to an increased interest in European club competition in the UK and it is hard to believe now that back in the 1950’s so many clubs and officials in these islands thought it would never catch on.
Scottish clubs would continue to do well in both the Fairs Cup (precursor to the UEFA Cup, and the European Champions Cup).
Barcelona being knocked out by Hibs in the 1961 Uefa Cup quarter-final. Photograph: SMG/Press Association Images
Hibs qualified for the UEFA Cup in 1961 and beat Lausanne in the first away leg. Lausanne, perhaps sensing a costly journey to Edinburgh, withdrew, so Hibs joined Barcelona in the quarter-finals drawing 4–4 at the Camp Nou and beating them 3–2 at Easter Road in the return tie.
In the semi-final Hibs played AS Roma with club legend Joe Baker [ a rare breed as an Englishman who was brought up in Scotland and played for the Three Lions while talking with a Scottish accent ] taking his tally to six goals in four games. But after drawing home and away (2-2, 3-3 and no penalty deciders back then), Hibs mysteriously collapsed 6–0 in the final play-off, Roma inspired by the brilliant Argentinian striker Pedro Manfredini.
Hibs would later play Liverpool in the UEFA Cup in the 1970’s and although they were easily beaten on a 3-0 aggregate in the early part of the decade by the Anfield side the Hi-bees beat Liverpool 1-0 at Easter Road in an early round of the 1975/6 tournament with Joe Harper getting the goal on 19 minutes.
Liverpool had to battle hard in the return leg on Merseyside and Hibs were going through at Half Time with the score 1-1 on the night and 2-1 on aggregate for the Edinburgh men but the reds 12th man, better known as the Kop, roared their favourites on in the second 45 and John Toshack added two goals to his opener in the second leg to become hat trick hero on the night and send Liverpool through on a 3-2 aggregate, although Hibernian would have won on away goals had the reds England international goalie Ray Clemence not saved Hibs full back John Brownlie’s spot kick at Easter Road in the first game!
George Best would be tempted to play in the famous green shirts with white sleeves in the late 1970’s as Hibs became one of the football nomad’s stop off points as his post Man U career took him to places as diverse as Fulham, Edinburgh and the USA.
Hibs Bukta kit of the day caused a stir in the domestic game when the white lettering of the manufacturer’s name on the shirt was deemed too large for TV games [ a strict no shirt advertising policy in Scotland back then ] but the Best connection and advertising controversy made the home shirt more iconic, as was the Bukta away shirt which was purple with white sleeves!