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16 October 2014

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Hibernian reach the first European Cup semi-finals 1956

Football was becoming a leisure industry. Slowly, over the period between the 1960s and '70s, football clubs would develop from being sporting institutions rooted in their community to big businesses.

While every era is special to those who witness it, perhaps in hard statistical fact, Hibernian's golden age was the late '40s and early '50s. Hibs won the League championship in 1947/48, 1950/51, and 1951/52, and developed a global fame for their attacking football. At this time the club toured Europe and South America long before it was fashionable. Exhibition games were virtually unknown but Hibs played against English clubs such as Manchester United (who they beat 8-3), Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.

Lawrie Reilly, Joe Baker, Gordon Smith


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 Turbull and Willie Ormond made up the greatest front line Scotland has ever seen.

As the chant of the time went: "Johnstone was braw, Reilly an' aw, but the cocky wee Gordon was the pride of them aw."

Gordon Smith (Outside Right) – was known as the 'Prince of Wingers', playing 18 times for Scotland, and scoring 170 competitive goals for Hibs, with 17 hat-tricks. After leaving Hibs he became the only player to win league titles with three different non-Glasgow clubs (Hibs, Dundee and Hearts).

It's arguable in fact that Smith was central to Scottish clubs' success in these early days as he went on with some success to contribute to the great Dundee side, of whom more a little later.

But in 1956, Aberdeen were, in fact, Scottish champions, but like English counterparts Chelsea, they ignored the offer. So Hibs were in by default. In the first round they met West German champions RotWeiss 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 gassed 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 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 against Reims 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.

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