At Easter Road They Play by John Campbell (published by Birlinn)
A Review by Ted Brack
John Campbell’s Hibernian credentials are impeccable. He has edited the Hibs fanzine Mass Hibsteria, contributed to the Hibs match programme and official website, provided match commentary on Hibs games and posted regularly on Hibs.net as ‘Jonnyboy’. Most of all, John is now in his sixth decade as a passionate supporter of the Hibees.
I got to know John well during Alex Miller’s time as manager at Easter Road when we both wrote for the fanzine. It didn’t take me long to realise that here was someone who was knowledgeable about our club’s history and demonstrated total commitment to our team’s cause as a fan. Who better then than John to follow in the footsteps of Alan Lugton and write a trilogy which begins where ‘The Making of Hibernian’ finished and brings readers up to the present day?
The first volume of John’s three books which is called ‘At Easter Road They Play’ was published recently and it chronicles Hibs’ fortunes from the beginning of the post-World War Two era until the end of season 1966-67 finishing round about the time when the Beatles were about to release their classic album ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ .
I am delighted that John has asked me to review his book for Hibs.net and carrying out that task has been an absolute pleasure. Lawrie Reilly is quoted on the front cover where he describes ‘At Easter Road They Play’ as ‘a thoroughly enjoyable read’. Lawrie’s skills in literary critique prove to be as accurate as his finishing was in a green and white jersey.
In an entertaining, informative and, always interesting journey through Hibs post-war history, John covers 21 seasons in the most detailed fashion. Every single match is outlined; new signings and departures from the club are reported on with lots of fascinating Hibee facts revealed.
Certain themes run through the book with Hibs’ ill fated attempts to win the Scottish Cup being one of them. Indeed in the very first chapter, we discover that Hibs went one up against Aberdeen in the 1947 Scottish Cup Final when John ‘Cubby’ Cuthbertson scored in thirty seconds. Despite this and our goalkeeper Jimmy Kerr saving a penalty, Aberdeen still managed to win 2-1. As anyone who sat in abject misery at Hampden last May, knows only too well, things haven’t really improved for Hibs in Scottish football’s most venerable competition since.
The early part of the book makes us realise just how good things were in days gone by. Let’s look at a few examples. 10,000 fans turn up for a reserve team derby on Boxing Day (Hibs won 4-1 by the way), the Hibees win the league in 1947-48 and the Famous Five are born. One incident from season 1947-48 jumps out the pages at me. When Hibs beat Third Lanark 8-0, Gordon Smith scores five of the goals. Asked for his reaction after the match, Gordon says that he was disappointed with his performance and he felt that he should have scored more. Compare that with today’s prima donnas who accentuate the positive at every opportunity and always find an excuse to justify their failures.
As the book moves on through the halcyon days of the early fifties, we are able to celebrate two more league championship triumphs. John regales us with tales of the Famous Five and makes the telling point that although Bobby Johnstone, Lawrie Reilly and Willie Ormond were not tall men, they scored an impressive amount of headed goals. There are unsung heroes too. In the title winning season of 1950-51, 17 year old Robert Wood from Musselburgh comes into the team, scores what prove to be two vital goals and quietly returns to obscurity.
Then there are referees. Eddie Turnbull swings over a free kick and Gordon Smith nets a header only to discover that the referee has blown for half time in between the free kick being struck and his header entering the net. Precision timing or anti-Hibs bias? I’ll leave you to decide. On Smith’s 500th appearance for Hibs, he scores but we lose 3-1. John comments on ‘a number of dubious refereeing decisions which went against Hibs.’ The consequence was that the referee was booed off the park. His name is the ultimate in irony. He is called, wait for it, Mr Faultless!
It seems that it wasn’t just officials who were loathe to give Hibs a fair deal. After a bad run of derby results, Hibs eventually beat Hearts 3-1 at Easter Road with Lawrie Reilly netting a hat trick. Hearts consolation goal came from what John calls ‘a ludicrous penalty decision’. Full back Bobby Parker converted the spot kick and the next day’s headlines read ‘PARKER PENALTY FAILS TO SAVE HEARTS’. What Hibs fans and Lawrie himself must have made of it all doesn’t bear thinking about.
In 1954 we are told that Rangers much revered manager Bill Struth retired at the age of 78. Reading that will make Sir Alex Ferguson feel like a youngster. In the same year, our author would be interested to see that a young wing half called John Campbell made his debut in the Hibs first team.
We learn of the first floodlit match at Easter Road in October 1954 (Hearts beat us 2-0) and a fabulous festive occasion when a couple of months later Hibs beat Rangers 2-1 on Christmas Day. Then Bobby Johnstone scores a hat trick against Kilmarnock. Shortly afterwards, with very little time left in the game, the referee abandons the match and Bobby’s goals are deleted from the records. He was to depart Easter Road for Manchester City shortly afterwards and The Famous Five was no more.
The following season Hibs blazed the trail for Britain in the European Cup. John enlightens us to the fact that on the Saturday before Hibs first ever game in Europe, the club lost 6-2 to Aberdeen at Pittodrie. Undeterred, they travelled to Germany and beat Rot Weiss Essen 4-0. Round about the same period, they beat Manchester United 5-0 at Easter Road having already beaten them 7-3 in Gordon Smith’s testimonial a few years earlier.
As Hugh Shaw’s team begins to pass its peak, the fans show their disappointment. A cup defeat at Stark’s Park to Raith Rovers in 1955-56, sees the team met by a chorus of boos from their fans as they entered Kirkcaldy railway station for their journey home. Later the same season, Hibs travel to Parkhead and beat Celtic 3-0 with Lawrie Reilly scoring a hat trick. Astoundingly, because Rangers had wrapped up the league the previous week, the crowd numbers only 7000.
At the end of that campaign, Hibs meet the Brazilian side Vasco de Gama. The Brazilians put on three substitutes but don’t take anyone off. It takes the referee, Bobby Davidson, quite some time to notice the numerical disparity but Hibs still manage to win 3-1. It is gems like these which give the book an added dimension.
There is poignancy in 1957 when assistant groundsman John Clapperton dies at the age of 81. John had not only been a great servant to Hibs he had actually been present when we won the Scottish Cup in 1902 – another factual nugget in John’s book.
When Hibs beat Queen’s Park 2-1 at Hampden in January 1958, we are informed that this is the first time that Hibs have taken the field without a member of the Famous Five in their ranks since October 1949 - an impressive piece of research. Later that year Hibs lose 1-0 to Clyde in the Scottish Cup Final having beaten Rangers and Hearts on the way to Hampden. The only consolation is that fans have to pay just 6 shillings (30p) for a terracing ticket.
1958, like 2012, is a very wet summer, so wet in fact that Hibs are forced to carry out their pre-season training indoors. What does that tell us about the validity of the global warming argument? A year later, the great cricket writer John Arlott pens an article on his feelings about Scotland. In the article he describes the best thing he has encountered on his trips North of the border as ‘that wonderful Hibs forward line’. He clearly knew as much about football as he did about the summer game.
Then there is a 7-0 moment. Hibs reserves despite being reduced to ten men beat Rangers by that very margin – a definite portent for the future. In 1959, inspired by the return of Bobby Johnstone, Hibs beat Airdrie 11-1 and Partick Thistle 10-2 away from home. On the day of the Airdrie annihilation, Hibs second string beat Airdrie reserves 8-0 at Easter Road.
The man scoring most of the goals was Joe Baker and the following season, the Baker Boy puts paid to Barcelona but, as John reminds us, Hibs had lost their first seven league games of that particular campaign and that miserable run had included a 6-0 home defeat by Celtic. Over the course of the 1960-61 season, Joe scored 48 goals in 52 starts which can only be described as phenomenal.
In 1961, John is perceptive enough to foresee signs of strain building up in long serving manager Hugh Shaw. He tells us that in his programme notes, Shaw states with less than profound insight that Hibs are only losing because they are conceding more goals than they are scoring. Not long afterwards, the great man calls time on his managerial reign.
Joe Baker leaves for Torino in the summer of 1961 much to the disgust of the Hibs support and is replaced by his brother Gerry who arrives from Manchester City and becomes Hibs top scorer for the next two seasons.
In 1962, Hearts beats Hibs 4-1 at Easter Road and a schoolboy striker called Alan Gordon is on the score sheet for the maroons. Eleven years later, Gordon would score twice while wearing green and white in a historic derby encounter.
In 1963, Tom McNiven becomes Hibs trainer at the age of 29 and in 1964, Hibs under Jock Stein wins the Summer Cup by beating Aberdeen at Pittodrie. The club has a long journey North because the Forth Road Bridge doesn’t open for business until two days after the game. John documents all of this and more brilliantly.
In the summer of 1965, Hibs travel to Canada and North America for a close season tour. They play nine games, win them all and score an astounding 73 goals. Mind you, when you consider that Hibs attacking resources at that time included Pat Quinn, Willie Hamilton, Jimmy O’Rourke, Jim Scott, Eric Stevenson, Peter Cormack and Neil Martin, perhaps that statistic shouldn’t be quite so surprising.
These are just a few of the fascinating snippets which caught my attention. There are many, many more in the book. As I finished the book, I couldn’t help being struck by the number of talented players sold by Hibs over the years. In the period covered by John’s volume, Bobby Johnstone, Jim Harrower, Andy Aitken, Davie Gibson, Lawrie Leslie, Jackie Plenderleith, Joe Baker, Johnny McLeod and Neil Martin were all allowed to leave Easter Road. Jim Scott, Colin Stein and Peter Cormack would follow shortly afterwards. You can only wonder what Hibs could have achieved had the services of these players been retained. Plus ca change….
‘At Easter Road They Play’ is just under 300 pages long but I read it in one sitting. When I was privileged to co-author Lawrie Reilly’s autobiography a couple of years ago, Lawrie said to me ‘If your mother was still alive, I would be having a word in her ear.’ When I asked him what he would be saying, Lawrie said ‘I would be telling her off for giving birth to you too late to have seen my team at its peak.’ He was right but through John’s book I have been able to do the next best thing and travel with The Famous Five Team as it undertook its triumphant journey through Scottish football.
As John’s history reaches and goes beyond 1957, I am able once again to relive so many matches that I attended as a schoolboy and a young man. The accounts of great games in the late fifties and early sixties brought back so many happy memories for me.
If you love Hibs and want to learn their history or relive parts of it that belong to your own personal Hibs supporting portfolio, then this is the book for you. Meticulously researched and entertainingly related, ‘At Easter Road They Play’ will appeal to all Hibees. It most certainly appealed to me.
John Campbell’s book is a fitting successor to Alan Lugton’s much loved trilogy and the good news is that John has the next two volumes already written with publication planned for the near future.