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  • We Are Hibernian FC - Part Thirty One

    The year 1941 will be remembered as the one in which a war went global but down in Leith there was something else happening that would leave a much more pleasant memory in the thoughts of Hibs fans. All conquering Rangers arrived and were duly demolished by the might of Hibernian! Add to that a couple of good results against old rival Hearts, including one game in which Matt Busby found the target and the fact that Gordon Smith scored 33 in one season and you'll get a feel for just how special this Hibs side was shaping up to be.

    The close season of 1941 was extremely short and just three weeks after that Hampden triumph Hibs were at Cappielow for their opening Southern League fixture. Unfortunately they lost 2-1 and a week later fell 4-1 at Easter Road to Clyde but they would make up for that poor start in the weeks ahead.

    On Saturday 23rd August 1941 Hibs travelled to Coatbridge to face Albion Rovers and blew the home side away with an 8-3 victory that featured four cracking goals by young Bobby Combe who was at it again a week later in scoring two for Hibs in a 4-0 home win over Hamilton. All of that meant that when the first Edinburgh Derby was played at Tynecastle, Hibs were in goal scoring form and for once it didn’t desert them as Finnegan, Combe, Smith and Baxter all struck in a fine 4-2 win in front of around 20,000 fans. It was four again a week later as Dumbarton failed to find the Easter Road net.

    During the following week the Scottish Football Association Emergency Committee met to discuss an occurrence of crowd violence at a recent Old Firm game. After submissions from both clubs the Committee decided that Parkhead would be closed to all football for one month and that Celtic would not be allowed to play in any competitive game in Glasgow during that period. Even back then, violence amongst followers of the Old Firm was in the news.

    On a great run of form Hibs next visited Hampden and defeated Queens Park 2-1, allowing the green and whites to close the gap on early pace setter Rangers. In fact it would be Rangers that Hibs next met and because every once in a blue moon a football match offers up the totally unexpected, there follows a relatively detailed summary of that match.

    The date was 27th September 1941 and the venue was an Easter Road stadium with tens of thousands of fans in attendance, including we are told a sizeable contingent supporting the visitors. What was about to unfold would be spoken of for years to come as Hibernian turned on a brilliant display of attacking football and thrashed Rangers by the unbelievable score of 8-1. Make no mistake, this was not in any way a weakened Rangers. Indeed Hibs had a couple of regulars missing including the highly influential Matt Busby. No, this was not a fluke or achieved because of any lack of effort by the visitors. This was wholly down to the eleven men in green and white that day hitting their absolute top form.

    The match report tells us that Rangers were rarely seen in attack and got their only goal thanks to a dubious penalty whilst at the other end Scotland goalkeeper Jerry Dawson performed heroics in keeping the score down to eight. Every Hibs goal was, according to the Scotsman report, a ‘picture goal’ which in modern language might relate to a ‘peach’ a ‘pearler’ a ‘cracker’ or any other description that conveys a sense of brilliance. Three goals before the interval had Rangers reeling and once again the Scotsman offers views on the effect that had on the visiting players in saying ‘unfortunately some of the Rangers players could not accept their troubles and a minute from the end Venters was sent off.’ By the time he’d gone the damage was done as Hibs added another five goals to the three from the first half. On target that day were Arthur Milne and Gordon Smith who both got doubles with the youngest man on the park Bobby Combe getting four goals for the second time in a matter of weeks. Last word on this magnificent performance goes to the Scotsman newspaper as it reported ‘it was a performance that will long be remembered in the history of Hibernian Football Club.’

    As is often the way Hibs followed up a great run of results and the thrashing of Rangers by going to Cathkin Park and tamely losing 4-2 to Third Lanark. In fact that would be the first of a trio of defeats with Celtic winning 3-1 at Easter Road and a 3-2 reverse at Motherwell. Back to back wins over Falkirk and Airdrie followed with Willie Finnegan getting a hat trick in the second of those wins and then a setback away to Partick was followed by a run of eight games without defeat.

    The seventh and eighth games of that unbeaten run are worthy of mention. The seventh took place at Ibrox where leaders Rangers were desperate to avenge that 8-1 humiliation but it was not to be as Hibs completed the double with an excellent 1-0 win thanks to a solitary strike from Bobby Combe. The eighth match was the first of 1942 and took place at Easter Road where Hearts arrived on the back of a 7-0 thumping of Falkirk. Around 25,000 were in the ground to see Hearts twice take the lead but then have to settle for a point thanks to an 88th minute equaliser from Matt Busby.

    All undefeated runs have to end sometime and Hibs’ did 48 hours later at Boghead where a late goal gave the home side a 2-1 win but a few days later they found their form again in disposing of Third Lanark 6-0. Four more Southern League games – two wins, a draw and a defeat – took Hibs to the start of their Southern League Cup campaign in which they would face Hamilton, Celtic and Queens Park. Of the six games played Hibs managed only three wins and three defeats and so did not qualify for the latter stages.

    A final Southern League match in which Hibs beat Airdrie 2-1 at Broomfield meant that the green and whites had finished second in the table eight points behind winners Rangers. Celtic was third, Motherwell fourth and Hearts fifth.

    At the end of May 1942 matches got underway in the Summer Cup. Of course Hibs were holders although the trophy now being played for was a new one. Clyde provided the opposition in round one and Hibs beat them both home and away to set up a second round tie against Third Lanark. In the first leg at Easter Road the tie was virtually killed stone dead as Hibs won 8-2 but just to make sure there was no doubt they went to Cathkin and won the second leg 5-1. On that same afternoon Hearts went out to Albion Rovers, Celtic went out to Motherwell and Falkirk went out to Rangers.

    In the semi final, played at Tynecastle, Hibs defeated Motherwell 3-1 whilst in the other semi Rangers scraped through 3-2 against Albion Rovers. Of course this meant that Hibs and Rangers would contest the final at Hampden and given the League results between the teams nobody was sure who should be classed as favourites as Rangers, don’t forget, had won the title. More than 40,000 fans watched on as the match unfolded and Hibs were effectively down to ten men after just four minutes when Arthur Milne was hacked down crudely and could only rejoin the game after extensive treatment. Even then his mobility was such that he presented little danger to the Ibrox defenders. Rough treatment of Hibs players was going unpunished but that was simply par for the course. At the end of ninety minutes it was still 0-0 and so extra time was played. Mindful of the fact that the number of corner kicks won would be important if the match finished level, both sides went on the attack but when the referee ended the game each side had no goals and two corners. A replay was not possible under the rules of the competition and penalty kick deciders had not yet been invented and so it came down to the toss of a coin and tragically Rangers guessed correctly. There was a perverse sense of joy in that the only way the mighty Glasgow Rangers, winners of the other two competitions that season, could beat Hibernian was by relying upon the head of King George!

    Once again there would be a shortened close season in the summer of 1942 and perhaps that was no bad thing because with the country at war since 1939 any kind of positive distraction for the people of Great Britain was surely a good thing. Edinburgh and the surrounding area had not suffered too much from German Luftwaffe attacks although Leith Docks had a number of bombs dropped upon it but other parts of the UK were under constant aerial bombardment. The people of London, of course but also places like Coventry, Birmingham, Liverpool and Glasgow were all targets and the bombing was intense although the RAF was beginning to get the upper hand. Of course by this time Japan had attacked Pearl Harbour and effectively brought the Americans into the war whilst Hitler had turned on one time ally Russia and both of those events, though the World in 1942 did know it, would end in the destruction of the Third Reich.

    Although activity in the transfer market was virtually a non starter at this time there would be new faces in the Hibs team for this coming season as of course some players were posted away from the area and Willie McCartney would use his uncanny ability in securing the services of others to replace them. The club was in a good financial state, reporting a trading profit for the year with that run in the Summer Cup helping to boost the figure of £972.00 declared.

    The new season started extremely well for Hibernian and in August alone it was four wins out of four with Gordon Smith prominent amongst the scorers. That run meant Hibs went into the first Edinburgh Derby as league leaders with Hearts down in eighth but it also brought the first dropped point of the season for the green and whites. With 25,000 in the ground an exciting match unfolded with Hearts taking the lead only for Gordon Smith to equalise. End to end football produced two penalties with Hearts keeper Stevenson brilliantly saving from Smith whilst at the other end, having awarded the penalty the referee was approached by his linesman and after discussion the decision was overturned. With just two minutes left to play Gillies looked to have won it for the visitors but with almost the last kick of the game Smith rescued Hibs with a fantastic drive from just outside the box.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly Hibs’ main rivals at the top of the table were Rangers and when the sides met at Ibrox it was the visitors that were depleted due to unavailability of three or four regular starters. Unfazed by that, the men from Edinburgh won a merited point to retain top place in the league, a position they retained over the next several games with a 5-1 home win over Third Lanark, a brilliant 3-0 win at Parkhead where Aberdeen’s Stan Williams who was guesting for Hibs was amongst the scorers, a 2-1 Easter Road win over Motherwell where Gordon Smith again missed from the spot, another home win this time 4-0 against Falkirk followed by a cracking 5-0 away win at Airdrie.

    All this while, Rangers had kept pace with Hibs, notching up some high scoring wins of their own and when the green and whites took just four points from their next three matches the Ibrox club sneaked above them in the table. It should not be underestimated at just how good a run this team had put together. With a pretty small player pool to begin with it was a miracle sometimes that Willie McCartney could name an eleven but he managed it and proved in the process just what a talented manager he was.

    When the unbeaten run finally ended it did so in quite dramatic style at Shawfield. Clyde had been sitting on the tails of Hibs and Rangers for some weeks and had an excellent group of players at their disposal. Leading 2-1 at the break Hibs suffered a second half collapse and crashed to a 7-2 defeat but it did not dishearten them too much as they recovered to win their next four games to keep Rangers under pressure at the top.

    A mid December defeat at Third Lanark was less harmful than it might otherwise have been due to Rangers also losing that day and so when the sides met at Easter Road on Boxing Day the visitors led only on goal average. The Ibrox side had scored 60 goals to the 58 scored by Hibs but defensively they excelled in conceding only 12 to Hibs’ 26. Sadly none of those facts seemed relevant when the afternoon was marred by a quite disgraceful incident that would blacken the name of Hibernian Football Club. In an often physical first half the sides each scored once and so it was all to play for in the second. It is reported that early in the second half Cubby Cuthbertson outjumped Rangers keeper Dawson to head the Hibs in front and at first the referee awarded the goal but after protests from the Ibrox men he changed his mind and awarded them a free kick instead. Shortly after this a Hibs fan hurled a bottle at Dawson hitting him on the head and knocking him out.

    Dawson was carried off and did not return meaning that Rangers had to finish the game with just ten men. There is no doubt the incident both frightened and sickened both sets of players and as a spectacle the match was poor from then on with no further goals scored. The Hibs ‘fan’ was identified, arrested and subsequently jailed for 60 days with Harry Swan saying that once released he would not be welcome at Easter Road at any time in the future.

    Going into 1943 on the back of that unsavoury incident was not how the club would have wanted things to be but the juices were flowing again as the first match took Hibs to Tynecastle to face tenth placed Hearts. Neck and neck at the top with Rangers, both clubs on 33 points although Rangers had two games in hand, Hibs played a style of football that proved far too strong for Hearts and easily won the game 4-1. The main disappointment was that only 7,000 fans had watched on. Incidentally, on the same day Rangers crushed Celtic 8-1 at Ibrox. Things were not so encouraging 24 hours later however as Hibs fell 2-1 at Motherwell but it was back to winning ways the next time out as Hibs swept Celtic aside 4-0 with all four goals scored in the first ten minutes of the game.

    A disappointing 3-1 defeat at Brockville was soon forgotten as Hibs trounced first Airdrie 7-1 at Easter Road and then Partick Thistle 5-1 in Glasgow with Gordon Smith netting a hat trick in each.

    The draw for the Southern League Cup placed Hibs in a very tough section along with Rangers, Celtic and St. Mirren but ahead of those games taking place the Easter Road men could only manage three points from three games and looked now to have lost any hope of winning the Southern League.

    In those Southern League Cup matches Hibs failed to qualify by winning only three of their six matches whilst in the league they eventually finished third behind both Rangers and surprise package Morton. Interestingly, Hearts finished ninth, one place ahead of Celtic. The East of Scotland Shield was won after a replay against Hearts whilst the Rosebery Cup went to Hearts on the toss of a coin after the match finished at 1-1.

    The first round of the Summer Cup paired Hibs with Partick Thistle with the first leg at Easter Road where the Jags were well and truly stung 7-0. It is of interest to note that when Clyde faced Morton that day in the same competition both Stanley Matthews and Tommy Lawton played for the Greenock side and the latter got their goal in a 1-1 draw. In Hibs’ second leg in Glasgow they won 5-2 to progress 12-2 on aggregate whilst Hearts were going out on a 4-1 aggregate to Rangers and Morton beat Clyde 8-3 with five goals from Tommy Lawton!

    Round two took Hibs to Hampden to face Queens Park and a 2-1 win was achieved there whilst St Mirren hammered Dumbarton 6-3 with Alex Linwood getting five of the Saints goals. In time, Linwood would adorn the green and white of Hibernian. The second leg at Easter Road saw Hibs ease to a 4-0 win on the night and 6-1 win on aggregate taking them back to Hampden for a semi final against Rangers. Unfortunately the Govan side won and for the first time in its three year history, Hibs would not be in the final.

    Overall it had been a decent campaign for Hibernian with all the chopping and changing of line ups only causing problems on a few occasions. Top scorer with an astonishing 33 goals was 17 year old Gordon Smith who had alternated between centre forward and outside right and whilst doing so had totally repaid the faith shown in him by Willie McCartney who, unlike the Hearts management team, knew the lad had no need to prove anything by playing in a trial match!

    That good season meant a trading profit of £1,076 and so as the club prepared for the 1943/44 campaign it was a question of having a roll call to see who was available for selection. Players like Bobby Nutley would manage to get occasional leave from the RAF whilst a few youngsters would be given a run out as and when required. One such youngster was another spotted by Willie McCartney and immediately offered a contract. That player was Jock Govan who would go on to star for Hibs for many years, making the right back position his own and forming a fantastic playing partnership with Gordon Smith.

    A tough start to the Southern League took Hibs to Ibrox where they were beaten 4-0 but not disgraced. A number of quite excellent saves by the Rangers goalkeeper stopped Hibs from registering any goals but this was certainly not a ‘true’ 4-0. Three consecutive wins, over Hamilton, Queens Park and Albion Rovers carried Hibs into the first Edinburgh Derby at Tynecastle in front of around 25,000 fans. The clubs were locked together on six points and were sharing third place but a goal in the first minute of the second half by Willie Finnegan sent the Hibs fans in the crowd home happy. Something that was catching the eye in the games played to date was the outstanding form of Gordon Smith with the youngster being mentioned in positive ways in just about every match report. Even then, when still an inexperienced teenager there was signs of just how good a player he would turn out to be.

    A week after disposing of Hearts the green and whites defeated Dumbarton 4-3 at Easter Road with Gordon Smith, playing centre forward that day, bagging a hat trick. Hibs had dominated for long spells and actually led 4-1 midway through the second half but suffered a bit of a defensive collapse and conceded two late goals to keep the 12,000 fans on tenterhooks until the final whistle.

    The last match in September 1943 brought a blip in the general run of results when Hibs went down 2-1 at Shawfield and there was little consolation in being told that the Hibs goal, scored by Len Butt of Blackburn Rovers was the highlight of a disappointing game. Of the five games played in October the green and whites managed four wins and a draw, scoring 15 goals and conceding only 6. In one of those matches, a 5-3 win at Brockville, debutant Tommy Bogan who had signed from Renfrew grabbed a double and he repeated that feat a week later as Hibs beat St Mirren 4-1 at Easter Road.

    A 3-1 reversal at Firhill was put down to the fact that it was a much weakened Hibs side and the same was true of the side that drew 3-3 with Motherwell but winning ways returned in the next match as Airdrie were beaten 5-2 at Broomfield.

    The clubs leading the way in the league race were Rangers, Hibs, Hearts and Celtic and it was the Ibrox side that the Easter Road men next faced. Unbeaten at home until that point it was very disappointing for the Hibs fans in the 25,000 crowd to witness goalkeeper Jock Brown having an ‘off day’ as the visitors took the points with a 4-3 win. A week later a Gordon Smith hat trick helped Hibs to a 4-2 win away to Albion Rovers.

    Mid table Hamilton arrived at Easter Road on 11 December 1943 having won only once away from Douglas Park and that was a 6-5 defeat of Hearts at Tynecastle. Clearly the Edinburgh air suited the Lanarkshire outfit as they defeated Hibs 5-3 and all but ended any hopes their hosts had of winning the Southern League title. That defeat heralded a poor run and a 4-2 defeat by Queens Park at Hampden was quickly followed by a 1-1 draw at Boghead in a game played on Christmas Day.

    As 1944 got under way the country was still at war and although the Allies seemed to have turned the tide on Hitler’s forces there was no sign of hostilities ending anytime soon. There seems little doubt that of the 22,000 who attended Easter Road on New Years Day each would have a loved one away fighting for King and Country. On the park a dour ninety minutes produced just one goal, McCrae scoring for Hearts twelve minutes from time. Two days later Hibs surprisingly went down 2-1 at home to Airdrie but things improved a week later when, despite playing with just ten men for the last half hour after Tommy Bogan was carried off with a knee injury, Clyde were defeated 3-1.

    It was ten men again the following week and that was at kick off! Willie Finnegan was late in reaching Cappielow but that is not the reason Hibs lost 3-1 as they were simply beaten by a better team on the day but a week later, thanks in part to a double by Jimmy Woodburn of Newcastle United, Hibs overcame Falkirk 4-3 at Easter Road.

    Another new signing, Hugh Colvan from Port Glasgow made a scoring debut when Hibs defeated St Mirren 2-1 and that was the first in a run of four games undefeated for Hibs before they took part in the Southern League Cup. The other three of those results brought a 6-0 home win over Third Lanark, a great 2-2 draw at Parkhead after being 2-0 down and a 2-0 home win over Partick Thistle with new signing Jimmy Nelson from Wishaw scoring on his debut.

    The League campaign brought a third place finish for Hibs behind Rangers and Celtic and one ahead of Hearts. Once again personnel had chopped and changed and whilst it is fair to say that the same difficulties were being experienced by all clubs it was testimony to the manager and the players that they performed so well.
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