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  • We Are Hibernian FC - Part Thirty

    As the country goes to war the footballing authorities initially decide to suspend all domestic competition but soon change their minds when it is pointed out how good it would be for the morale of the public to retain a degree of normalcy. At Easter Road Willie McCartney continues building his side and in April 1941 the first of the Famous Five arrived - 16 year old Gordon Smith.

    In the close season of 1939 the eyes of every Hibs fan were on the build of tension in Europe where Germany’s Chancellor Adolph Hitler appeared to have broken the word given to Neville Chamberlain that he was interested only in peace. Hitler’s armed forces had occupied various tracts of land outwith their borders and it looked very much as though Poland would be next. The UK Government had a pact with Poland which effectively stated that should that country be invaded the Great Britain would enter the fray. Such a development was only a few short months away as the Hibs tried to carry on the business of running the football club.

    Leaving the club were Timothy O’Keefe who had failed to settle in Scotland and so returned to Waterford in Ireland. Stalwart defender James Miller was sold to Albion Rovers and Paddy Farrell was given a free transfer. The club reported a trading profit, helped no doubt by a decent run in the cup and monies were being spent to expand the terracing which took the capacity to 60,000.

    As ever, public practise matches were played in front of thousands of enthusiastic fans and George Ross certainly enjoyed himself in the first of those matches as he scored five goals! On show were John ‘Cubby’ Cuthbertson and Sean Gilmartin, two of Willie McCartney’s more recent signings and they would be joined in time by John Devlin who had signed from Coltness United but who would initially stay with them to broaden his experience. Two other new signings were Louis Ross and Willie Clark and it was good to see both James McLean and Alex Prior back in action after both had suffered extensive absences with quite serious injuries. The press coverage of the public trial matches included encouraging words for Hibs fans in saying “The Hibernians have a number of very promising young players and there is reason to believe that the club will do well in this new season.”

    Nice words from the Scotsman reporter but the first league match gave rise to the thought that maybe things were not quite as rosy as first thought. At Palmerston the Hibs went down 2-1 to Queen of the South but the truth of the matter is that if Jimmy Kerr had not been in such sparkling form in goals then the defeat would have been much heavier. Things didn’t improve in the following midweek as two Tommy Walker goals in the first six minutes of the match won Hearts the Wilson Cup at Easter Road.

    The season’s first league win came against cup holders Clyde as 20,000 fans inside Easter Road witnessed a 3-2 victory and four days later Hibs again won in front of their own fans by gaining revenge over Queen of the South in a 3-1 win.

    Little did Scottish football fans know but there would be only two more First Division games played before the world as they knew it would change. The first brought a 3-1 defeat at Pittodrie and the second a 5-3 home defeat by Albion Rovers. Twenty four hours before that home defeat Hitler’s forces invaded Poland and twenty fours after that home defeat Great Britain declared war on Germany.

    Unsurprisingly, football was immediately suspended although war time leagues would soon be in place. The players had their contracts suspended although they were still registered with their clubs. From Hibs’ perspective a number of their players had trades and took up work in Leith Docks whilst others were miners, plumbers and so on. Heroically, Alex Prior immediately enlisted in the RAF and others would follow in the future.

    The footballing authorities were trying to decide what to do and in the meantime clubs asked for and were given permission to play friendlies. The first of those in which Hibs played was at Tynecastle where the visitors won 4-2 and the green and whites followed that up with a 5-1 win over St. Mirren at Easter Road with Arthur Milne getting a hat trick.

    After much deliberation the Scottish League decided to set up two Divisions with a split of East and West. The decision to even continue playing was taken after many, including Willie McCartney, argued that it would be good for public morale if some form of regular recreation were to be available.

    On 14 October 1939 Hibs played their first Regional League Eastern Division match at Dens Park, Dundee and lost out 2-1. A number of players were unavailable and one youngster given a chance to play was ‘Cubby’ Cuthbertson who scored the Hibs goal. Playing at left back that afternoon was Alex Hall as the former Dunfermline man, although now a Sunderland player, had been brought to Edinburgh in connection with his war work and Willie McCartney soon arranged that he guest for Hibs. During the war years this kind of situation would occur often with Hibs playing ‘loan’ players and indeed Hibs players playing as ‘loan’ players at other clubs.

    Next up was a home game against St. Johnstone where Hibs fought back twice from being two goals behind to draw the game 3-3 before somewhat bizarrely doing exactly the same thing with the same outcome in their next match against Aberdeen at Pittodrie. If one thing became clear early on in these strange times it was that there would be some peculiar results as no team could play a settled formation and chopping and changing of starting eleven’s would be the norm.

    After a disappointing 2-1 home defeat by Stenhousemuir but then thumped King’s Park 7-2 in Stirling when the green and white’s were able to field ex Celtic centre half Bobby Kane who was a Leeds United player stationed near Edinburgh and Kin’s fielded Preston North End’s Bill Shankley who would later achieve legendary status as manager of Liverpool. The final game of November 1959 brought a 5-2 home defeat at the hands of East Fife and it was interesting to note from the match report that attendance figures were now rarely given. The authorities had placed a condition on all clubs that crowds should not exceed 8,000 although it’s difficult to imagine quite how they would police that.

    December would involve five matches and would yield eight points following four wins and two draws. One of those wins came against Dundee United when Bobby Nutley got a hat trick in a 6-2 win whilst Hibs’ centre forward Arthur Milne actually turned out for the visitors as a ‘loan’ player! Milne never scored that day but Jerry Kerr did and he would later become a very successful manager of the Tannadice club. Prominent amongst the goals for Hibs that month were Bobby Nutley and Willie Finnegan who each notched five in five games.

    The ‘War League’ as it had become known by Scottish football fans brought Hibs and Hearts together at Easter Road on 1st January 1940 when a reported 14,000 were in the ground, making the ‘limit’ somewhat redundant. This would prove to be amongst the most bizarre Edinburgh Derbies ever played and would produce no fewer than eleven goals. The Scotsman Archive carries a match report that informs the reader of Hearts scoring early, Hibs hitting back with two, Hearts equalising and then Hibs going 3-2 up at which point the referee blew the whistle for half time. As the players began to troop of it would seem the referee realised he had played only 43 minutes and so he ordered play to resume right away and Hearts then scored twice. After the break Hearts scored again to make it 5-3 but Hibs scored twice to tie the match at 5-5 at which point it was so dark hardly any of the fans could see what was going on and indeed many of them had gone home thinking the game was over. It wasn’t and with five minutes left Tommy Walker scored to win the game 6-5 for Hearts.

    On the London Hearts Website is a report headed Fantasy Football Comes To Life in which it is explained that BBC commentator Bob Kingsley provided full coverage of the match, with much excitement and many descriptions of skilful performances and wonderful goals. The problem was, according to this report, there was a thick fog over Easter Road that afternoon and Kingsley saw nothing of the play and simply made the commentary up as he was fed information from the touchline. He was told which side had scored but had to invent the moves leading to the goals and his reasons for doing this were to avoid alerting the German Luftwaffe to the fact that the Forth area was fogbound!

    The Derby match meant that Hibs had now played twelve games in this wartime league, amassing twelve points and leaving them in eighth place. Falkirk topped the Division with Dunfermline second and Hearts third whilst fifth place Cowdenbeath gave Hibs their next challenge and the Easter Road side won 4-0 at Central Park before scoring four again in their next home match to Raith Rovers.

    Two more Eastern Division matches remained before Hibs would begin to compete in the Scottish War Emergency Cup (SWEC) which the footballing authorities had decided would replace the Scottish Cup for the duration of the hostilities. Effectively clubs would play sides from their own Division for this cup which to say the least seemed a somewhat bizarre decision. As it was, having won one and lost one of those two league games Hibs arrived at Brockville for what would be a two legged affair in the SWEC. Appalling weather had meant that most clubs hadn’t played for a number of weeks and despite having Rab Walls back in the side, the Cowdenbeath man rejoining Hibs after the Fife club decided to close down until the war had ended, Hibs crashed 5-0 to a quite excellent Falkirk and looked dead and buried in terms of progression to the next round. Amazingly, the green and whites came very close to overhauling the five goal deficit in the return match. Three up by half time they scored again early in the second half but couldn’t find that last goal to force extra time.

    Eastern Division matches were all that remained other than the usual local cup competitions and in the first of the league games Hibs had a nightmare at Easter Road where they missed two penalties, conceded an own goal and had to play a large part of the match with just ten men after Shaw was carried off. When the final whistle sounded the score was Hibernian 2 Arbroath 4.

    Away form was decent and a 3-2 win at Alloa was well merited although that form deserted them somewhat when Stenhousemuir beat them 2-1 at Ochilview. Two good home wins followed as first St Bernards were beaten 3-1 and then poor Dundee suffered a 6-0 hammering with Cubby Cuthbertson nabbing a hat trick.

    In early April a Derby defeated heralded the start of a six game run without victory. The Hearts game was strange in that Hibs were reported to have played well defensively but suffered from the only four errors they made and consequently went down 4-0. Of the following batch of poor results the one worthy of mention was a remarkable 6-5 home defeat by Falkirk. The Bairns needed just a point to secure the Eastern Division title and in a quite thrilling game they managed to take both although Hibs missed a late penalty that would have earned them a deserved draw on the day.

    With the season drawing to a close Hibs lost the East of Scotland Shield Final when they went down 3-2 at home to Hearts but after winning their final two East Division matches they gained revenge on the Tynecastle side by lifting the Rosebery Cup with a cracking 5-2 win at Tynecastle where Arthur Milne scored a hat trick and Jimmy Kerr saved a Tommy Walker penalty, denying the Hearts man a hat trick.

    In this new league format Hibs finished in eighth place in a sixteen club league, topped by Falkirk with Hearts as runners up.

    In the summer months of 1940 a number of players from various clubs decided to volunteer for armed service and as such Hibs lost Arthur Milne to the army whilst Bobby Nutley joined the RAF. The club AGM reported a trading loss which was hardly surprising given the circumstances and although re-elected to the Board Edward Lester withdrew his name as he wanted to join up and fight for his country in the war against Germany. Amazingly there were now sixteen Hibernians serving in the Forces which made Willie McCartney’s job all the more difficult but in fairness every club was suffering the same fate.

    One event that didn’t make the headlines at the time occurred in July 1940 in the English sea port of Liverpool. With the Luftwaffe bombing the area heavily a young Mum went into labour and soon gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Within weeks the family had relocated to Lanarkshire where Joseph Henry Baker would acquire the most unusual accent you were ever likely to hear from an Englishman!

    With the Western and Eastern Division idea not really having worked there were moves made within the game to change the set up. Effectively the Chairmen of the Western Division clubs held a meeting at which a decision was taken to invite Hibs, Hearts and Falkirk to join with them in a new Southern League of sixteen clubs. All three accepted and so when the new season rolled around that August the following clubs competed in that league. Rangers, Celtic, Clyde, Queens Park, Third Lanark, Partick Thistle, Hearts, Hibs, Falkirk, Motherwell, Hamilton, Albion Rovers, St Mirren, Morton, Kilmarnock and Ayr United. A thirty match league had been established and the only club not invited that had competed in the Western Division the previous season was poor Queen of the South.

    Season 1940/41 started with the usual public practice match but it was one with a difference as so few signed players were available the club drafted in some Polish soldiers to help make up the sides! The Poles were stationed out in Midlothian and were delighted to be involved even if the side they were in lost 9-3.

    On the eve of competitive games getting under way there were questions raised in the House of Commons regarding the number of professional football players that had been declared as having occupations that excluded them from being drafted into the military. In fact Hibs like many Scottish clubs had already lost a whole squad of players to the military although a number did have protected occupations such as miner, ship worker etc. The fact was that to field a team able to compete Willie McCartney had to look around for players and in doing so he successfully arranged for the likes of East Fife’s Tommy Adams, Raith Rovers’ Ernie Till and Manchester City’s Eddie McLeod who was very highly rated indeed. Soon to join these guys was the great Bobby Baxter, a Middlesbrough player but stationed near Edinburgh and persuaded along to Easter Road by the smooth talking McCartney.

    An opening day 3-2 home win over Queens Park was achieved with Whiteford of Ayr United guesting in the centre of the Hibs defence. Interestingly in the build up to the match the Scotsman reported that few clubs in Scotland can have lost more men to the services and that their resolve would be tested. Thankfully, those that did play got those important first points on the board.

    A 3-2 defeat by Hearts in the Wilson Cup Final at Tynecastle meant that Hibs went to Ibrox for their next Southern League match with confidence a shade low. Rangers easily won 5-1 with the great Torry Gillick giving a makeshift Hibs defence a very busy afternoon. On the eve of their next match, a 2-1 home win over Morton, Hibs announced an addition to the Board of Directors with Mr. James Drummond Shiels replacing the departed Edward Lester. A 2-1 reversal at Shawfield was not as bad as it might sound as this league would throw up some unbelievable score lines including Hearts losing ten to the Bully Wee at one stage.

    It was Hearts that Hibs next faced at the start of September and a 2-1 win at Easter Road was fully merited, taking the green and whites up to seventh place and leaving Hearts second bottom. The remaining matches that month brought a win a draw and a loss which just about summed up how Hibs’ season had been going up to that point. October would be a great month for Hibs as in four games played they scored fourteen goals including a highly impressive 4-0 win over Celtic at Parkhead.

    If October had been great then November had to be brilliant, for Cubby Cuthbertson as opposed to Hibs although only one defeat was suffered in five outings. The month started with Hibs 3-1 down at Motherwell and playing with just ten men due to an injury but the green and whites fought back magnificently to gain a draw with Cubby getting two. A week later Falkirk were crushed 7-1 at Easter Road with Cubby hitting four and three of those came in a five minute spell. A 4-2 reversal at Broomfield was a team blip but Cubby got one of the two goals to keep his personal run going and a week later when Hibs were cruising to a 5-2 win against Queens Park at Hampden, Cubby got four taking his tally for the season so far to twenty.

    The last game of November 1940 brought undefeated league leaders Rangers to Easter Road for what promised to be a good match involving two in form sides. Hibs started the better and controlled the first half hour without scoring and then Rangers had a good spell either side of half time but could not find a way past the in form Jimmy Kerr. Suddenly, Hibs took the lead through Willie Anderson and that signalled some frantic play by the visitors in their attempts to get level. The Scotsman match report has a familiar ring to it as regards decisions seeming often to favour Rangers. In essence it states that Hibs’ goalkeeper Jimmy Kerr came to the edge of his box to gather a through ball and was barged from behind causing him to fall outside the box with the ball still in his hands. Says the Scotsman report “The incident – without which no Rangers match seems complete – resulted in the referee giving a free kick to Rangers.” Thankfully they failed to capitalise and Hibs ran out worthy winners.

    Hibs wouldn’t be Hibs if they didn’t follow up such a great result by producing a few poor ones and that’s what they did in December with the four games played producing one win, one draw and two defeats although good old Cubby Cuthbertson was still finding the net on a regular basis.

    Bad weather affected the fixture card for the next couple of weeks which meant that amongst other things the Derby with Hearts was postponed but of those games played there was mixed results meaning that as the season moved into February Hibs were beginning to lose touch with Rangers and Clyde at the top of the league. A glimmer of hope was afforded by the fact that Hibs completed the double over Celtic in a fine 2-0 win at Easter Road that was all the sweeter given the visitors arrived on the back of an eight game unbeaten run. One point from the next two league games snuffed out that glimmer as Hibs had to concede they would not be champions.

    The SLWC now began and its format was more like the League Cup that would arrive in future years rather than the straight forward knock out format adopted in the Scottish Cup. Effectively the sixteen clubs were split into groups of four and each team would face the other on a home and away basis. The four teams topping their group would meet in the semi final. Hibs found themselves in a tough group along with Clyde, Hearts and Queens Park and started the competition well by beating Clyde 4-2 at Shawfield with Cubby Cuthbertson hitting all four and then winning 3-2 at home to Hearts in what was described as a ‘robust’ cup tie. Now leading the group Hibs went to Hampden and lost 2-1 to Queens Park but bounced back with a nail biting 5-4 home win over Clyde in which guest forward Benny Yorston of Middlesbrough scored twice. Qualification was lost however when Hearts reaped revenge for that earlier defeat by winning 5-2 at Tynecastle and then shot shy Hibs could only scrape a 0-0 draw at home to Queens Park.

    Whilst scoring in Scotland was often moderate with the odd ‘cricket score’ there were some amazing goalscoring feats in the English Cup around this time with left back Les Compton being pressed into service as a makeshift centre forward by Arsenal and going on to score ten of his side’s fifteen goals against Clapton Orient in the London Cup whilst a Scottish forward by the name of Dodds, recently dropped from the Scottish international side by the selectors, scored eight of Blackpool’s nine goals in the Football War League Cup against Stockport.

    On 14 April 1941 a Hibs and Hearts select side travelled to north to face a Scottish Junior Select side in marking the official opening of Lochee Harp’s new ground. The Lochee club was an off-shoot of Dundee Harp and Dundee Hibs with the latter of course becoming Dundee United and so it seemed natural that Hibernian should be involved in the occasion. Willie McCartney provided seven of the starting eleven and travelled himself to watch the match. The final score was Scottish Junior Select 3 Hibs/Hearts Select 2 and the Junior outfit’s goals were all scored by 16 year old Gordon Smith.

    The lad was outstanding and impressed both the Hearts delegation and Willie McCartney. Enquiries about Smith revealed he was Edinburgh born but that his family had moved to Montrose when he was very young. The family were in fact Hearts fans and were delighted when that club expressed an interest on taking Gordon to Edinburgh for a trial but McCartney was convinced no such trial was needed and upon return to Edinburgh with his players he telephoned a neighbour of the Smith’s as the family did not yet have a phone in their house and arranged to meet Gordon at the Seaforth Hotel in Arbroath on Sunday 27 April 1941. As a result of that meeting Gordon and his father were invited to travel to Edinburgh the following day to meet McCartney at the North British Hotel, to sign a contract with Hibs and to go straight into the first team.

    Monday 28th April 1941 and the Smith’s arrive at the North British Hotel where they are met by Willie McCartney who reiterates that whilst Hearts dallied and offered only a trial, Hibs would sign him there and then, pay him a £10 signing on fee and put him straight in to the first team for a match that night, Hibs’ last in that season’s Southern League, where he would face Heart of Midlothian at Tynecastle. Later, Gordon would say “I was very impressed with Mr. McCartney and had decided even before I arrived at the Hotel that I wanted to sign for Hibs. When he told me of the signing on fee I felt like a millionaire.”

    Just a few short hours later Gordon made his debut for Hibernian at Tynecastle and did so in borrowed boots after a team mate from his junior side had failed to turn up with his. Borrowed boots or not Smith was a revelation and scored a hat trick in Hibs’ 5-3 win as he featured alongside two other debutants in Bobby Combe and Jock Weir. Combe had been spotted playing for Inveresk and was soon snapped up by McCartney who did the double over Hearts because Bobby had been training with them but was in his own words ‘Hibs daft’ and so jumped at the chance to join the Easter Road club. Jock Weir joined from Leith Renton and would play many fine games for Hibernian but although he wore the number seven jersey in that 5-3 win at Tynecastle he would soon come to realise that a certain Gordon Smith would make that his own for many years to come.

    With the season ended the clubs went on to play for the Summer Cup, a competition created by the footballing authorities after a suggestion from Hibs Chairman Harry Swan. As in the SWLC the sides would play each other home and away but not in groups, just as the ties came out of the hat. In the first round Hibs drew Celtic with the first leg to be played at Parkhead and the Easter Road men played out of their skins to win 5-2. Although Celtic won the return match in Edinburgh it was only by 1-0 and so Hibs progressed to face Clyde in round two.

    In the first leg at Easter Road an on leave Arthur Milne scored for Hibs but Clyde got two and that made the second leg pretty tricky. In the days leading up to that game Willie McCartney pulled off a major signing coup when he persuaded army sergeant Matt Busby to guest for Hibs while he was stationed near Edinburgh. With Busby in the side Hibs won 4-3 at Shawfield forcing a replay at a neutral venue. That playoff took place at Ibrox and when Clyde scored inside the first two minutes things looked grim but the green and whites fought back brilliantly to win the game 2-1 and progress into the semi final. There’s little doubt that the class of Busby made a huge difference to the youngsters at Hibs and the man who would later manage an all conquering Manchester United once said of a certain Hibs youngster “I had the luck to play behind a boy who would become a legend in Scottish football, Gordon Smith.”

    The semi final was a one off game at a neutral venue and Tynecastle was selected for the meeting of Dumbarton and Hibernian. The west coast club had been enjoying good results with a team consisting mainly of loan signings and gave Hibs a stern test but an Arthur Milne strike was enough to win the tie and take Hibs into the final where unsurprisingly they would face Glasgow Rangers.
    Ahead of that clash McCartney was at it again in persuading Everton’s international winger Jimmy Caskie but there was one face at Easter Road that didn’t bear a smile at that news because Caskie would go straight into the side to face Rangers in place of young Gordon Smith.

    When Rangers ran out onto the playing surface at Hampden on 12 July 1941 they did so as clear favourites to beat Hibernian as they had already that season won both the Southern League and the Scottish War League Cup. Of the 37,000 attending the match the majority favoured Rangers as travel between cities in war time meant fewer Hibs fans could make it to the game than would have liked but they still managed over 10,000. There were loud cheers as the Ibrox club scored twice in the opening twenty minutes but this was a Hibs outfit with huge courage and determination and they got a lifeline when the referee awarded them a penalty four minutes from the interval. Willie Finnegan coolly stroked home from the spot and the Hibs fans, until then subdued, burst into life to roar the Hibees on. Sixteen minutes into the second half Finnegan scored again, this time from open play and the game was level. By now the Ibrox outfit was wilting under the constant movement of a young Hibernian and with just two minutes left to play Bobby Baxter headed home from a corner to ensure the cup would be going to Edinburgh.

    At the post match presentation, Harry Swan had a smile as wide as Hampden Park on his face as he praised his team and who could blame him. The Hibernian eleven was, by comparison to Rangers, young and inexperienced in the main and yet it had fought back from a seemingly impossible position to show all of Scotland that the men from Easter Road would in future be a force to be feared. The icing on the cake came when Hibs were told they could retain that trophy for all time as a new one was to be produced for the competition next season.
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