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  • Sporting Affair

    Another adventure in Europe for Hibernian as they take part in a sporting affair!

    Older fans will know that the European Cup Winners Cup was a tournament that involved winners of domestic cup competitions throughout that continent and existed prior to UEFA reorganising European competition and creating the Champions League. Of course the Champions League is somewhat misnamed as it involves clubs that were not Champions of their domestic League and to that end it somewhat mirrors the situation that often arose in the Cup Winners Cup.

    Had that tournament been restricted to cup winners then of course Hibs would never have played in it but there was a facility for the losing cup finalists to enter, should the winners also win their domestic League Title. And so it came to pass that having been defeated by Celtic in the 1972 Cup Final and Celtic also being Champions that season, Hibs were in the hat for the draw for the 1972/73 European Cup Winners Cup.

    By chance the holders of that Cup were Glasgow Rangers and on their way to the Final the Ibrox club had met and been severely tested by Sporting of Lisbon, the Portuguese outfit missing out only on the away goal counting double rule after losing 3-2 at Ibrox and winning their home game 4-3. Bizarrely, the Referee for that tie had misunderstood the rules and had ordered a penalty shoot out in Lisbon which Rangers lost but in the days following that ‘defeat’ UEFA stepped in and awarded the tie to the actual winners – Rangers.

    Could a Scottish club win the tournament again? Well it was down to Hibs to try and they set off for the first leg in Lisbon in mid September, with the press in Scotland suggesting they might find the Portuguese outfit a class above. Boss Eddie Turnbull was neither impressed nor discouraged by these suggestions and on the night, wearing the purple strip with white sleeves, Hibs narrowly lost 2-1 and thereby gave themselves a fighting chance in the return leg at Easter Road. In later years Pat Stanton offered the view that in all of the European ties he had played in with Hibs the performance in Lisbon was the best, even though Hibs lost and even though Pat was involved in a number of famous victories which gives the reader some idea of how well Hibs must have played that night.

    Prior to the return match Hibs had three good wins on the bounce, defeating East Fife and Dundee United in the League and trouncing United 5-2 at Tannadice in the League Cup and so confidence was high in the dressing room whilst on the terracings Hibs fans were still going to matches wondering how many goals their heroes would score, such was the excitement of Turnbull’s Tornadoes. Sporting would provide a totally different kind of challenge however as their game was based on slick passing and pacy attacking. Turnbull had seen enough of that in Lisbon and set his plan to take Hibs through.

    It was another magical European night with more than 26,000 fans in the stadium and I distinctly recall the feeling of optimism amongst those fans around me in the shed. We sang long and loud before the teams came out and as the game unfolded we sang even louder as Hibs proceeded to take Sporting apart.
    Looking back across the years it is easy to think that the game was pulsating from start to finish but the truth of the matter is that for the first quarter of the match both sides were cagey and seemed more intent on not losing a goal than scoring one. After 28 minutes however that all changed because an inch perfect cross from Alex Edwards was headed home majestically by Alan Gordon to put Hibs 1-0 up on the night. Learning from the debacle of the previous season the Sporting side realised that should the game finish at 1-0, Hibs would go through on the away goals rule and so they started to be a tad more adventurous whilst the home players and fans realised that if Sporting scored then Hibs would need to score one more to ensure at least extra time or two more without reply to progress into the next round.

    Sporting’s Argentine striker Yazalde served notice of his intent when, just five minutes after Gordon’s goal, he fired in a shot from 20 yards that hit the bar and went over with Jim Herriot beaten all ends up. Almost on the half time whistle the same player was put clear by Murinho and this time he had better luck as his shot whizzed past Herriot to make it 1-1.

    During the interval whilst no doubt both managers were issuing instructions on how they wanted their players to play the fans were discussing something quite different and most likely unknown to the visitors and that was the effect of the famous Easter Road slope! Hibs would be shooting down that slope in the second half and so there was every chance they would score the goals needed while we fans cheered and sang them on from underneath the shed roof.

    Within 17 minutes of the restart, Hibs were 4-1 up and Sporting were chasing shadows. In the 55th minute and showing the kind of skill Hibs fans knew he had in his locker, Jimmy O’Rourke took a pass from John Blackley, looked up and spotted keeper Gamas off his line and promptly lobbed the ball over him and into the empty net to make it 2-1. Effectively that put the sides on level pegging and so it would all depend on what happened over the next 35 minutes. Only three of those minutes had passed before Hibs scored again when Erich Schaedler crossed to the far post and Alan Gordon rose to bullet home a header that gave Gamas no chance. Amazingly, just four more minutes has elapsed, four minutes during which I was going mental under the shed singing and dancing as I watched the Hibees run riot, when another goal went in and it was O’Rourke again as he took an Edwards pass in his stride before firing a cracking low shot into the far corner to make it 4-1.

    In a few moments of rest from singing I consulted with those fans around me and we determined that Lisbon would now need to score five more goals to go through. Even in our delirious state we could work out that was never going to happen so we went back to our singing with renewed vigour and the players rewarded us with another goal ten minutes from time. Arthur Duncan who had been giving the Lisbon right back Gomes a helluva time, waltzed past him and into the penalty area only for the defender to whip the legs from the winger and Jimmy O’Rourke converted the penalty to secure a hat trick for himself and a 5-1 lead for Hibs.

    Inside the final minute of the game with the visitors looking a despondent bunch, Hibs rubbed salt in their wounds when a low cross come shot from Duncan was turned into his own net by Manuca of Lisbon to make the final score 6-1 on the night and 7-3 on aggregate. Unsurprisingly the self same football reporters that had written Hibs off prior to the first leg were now falling over themselves to let the world know what a wonderful performance this had been for Hibernian and of course for Scottish football.

    I mentioned earlier that Rangers were the holders and if the trophy was to stay in Scotland then that was down to Hibs. Well, in the next round they hammered FC Besa of Albania 8-2 on aggregate but went out 5-4 on aggregate to Hajduk Split after winning the home tie 4-2 but collapsing in the return and going down 3-0. The ‘adventure’ had not lasted as long as we might have hoped but it was still a thrilling time to be watching the Hibees.
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