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Hibernian reach the first European Cup semi-finals 1956

Gordon Smith


In the early days of European competitions, from the 1950s to late 1960s, clubs like Hibernian, Dundee and Dunfermline Athletic competed at the highest level building a formidable reputation for the Scottish game.

These clubs were pioneers gaining valuable playing and managerial experience and it was their early triumphs that would lead the way to the later successes of Celtic (European Cup winners in 1967) and Rangers (Cup-Winners' Cup winners in 1972).

Under Bob Shankly, Dundee reached the semi-final of the European Cup, defeating Cologne, Sporting Lisbon and Anderlecht before falling to the eventual winners AC Milan in 1963, and Dunfermline Athletic were to reach the semi-final of the European Cup-Winners' Cup in 1969 three years before Rangers won it.

Rangers themselves had been to the semi-final of the European Cup in season 1959-60 and the final of the Cup-Winners' Cup in 1961. But until 1967 Celtic had never been to the latter stages of a European competition.

Key to Scotland's early success was the vision of Hibs Chairman Harry Swan and (former manager) Willie McCartney, who were very forward-looking in taking a club on tours and competitions which others saw as a waste of time, the energy of manager Bob Shankly at Dundee, and the individual skill of Gordon Smith.

Hibernian were the first British club to enter European competition in season 1955/6 (the following year Matt Busby would follow Hibs' lead with Manchester United as the first English club into Europe) and three years before that had graced the Maracana Stadium in Brazil.

In 1953 Hibs were invited to play in Brazil, not as a touring team but to take part in a competition, labelled by the Brazilian FA as a World Club Championship, called the Octagonal Rivadavia Correa Meyer. Hibs qualified as Champions of Scotland for 1951-52 season, but the main reason they were asked to compete was their reputation at the time. This is borne out when remembering that no other Scottish teams have ever been asked to play in Brazil.

According to the Hibs fanzine, Mass Hibsteria: "Hibs took three sets of boots: the usual football boot of the day, a lighter 'shoe' with studs, which they had bought whilst touring Germany, and an even lighter rubber-soled shoe. They also took three sets of strips of varying materials. This is in stark contrast to the preparation of the Scotland National team of the time who still favoured the "tackity boot", as modelled by the Rangers 'Iron Curtain' team of the day."

Travel broadens the mind, and mixing with the powerhouse of world football would have good knock-on effects for the Scottish game, but in these days international travel was rare, expensive and time consuming, and European club competitions were in their infancy.

The feasibility of European football was dependent on two key factors: the new technology of floodlights, which allowed midweek and evening football, and the growing affordability of air travel.

Inevitably this spirit of international exchange, travel and tourism went hand in hand with the urge for big money-making spectacles. Although this is something taken for granted today it was quite revolutionary for its time and was part of a process of the growing phenomena of 'leisure time'. The very idea of evening games, on a Wednesday night, against foreign opposition was an exotic and radical prospect.

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.

Willie Ormond in 1973, then Scotland manager


Scottish clubs would continue to do well in both the Fairs Cup (precursor to the UEFA Cup, and the European Champions Cup).

Hibs qualified for the UEFA Cup in 1961 and beat Lausanne in the first away leg. Lausanne, perhaps sensing a costly journey to Edinburgh, withdrew, so Hibs joined Barcelona in the quarter-finals drawing 4–4 at the Camp Nou and beating them 3–2 at Easter Road in the return tie.

In the semi-final Hibs played AS Roma with club legend Joe Baker taking his tally to six goals in four games. But after drawing home and away (2-2, 3-3), Hibs mysteriously collapsed 6–0 in the final play-off, Roma inspired by the brilliant Argentinian striker Pedro Manfredini.

The following year - 1962 - was a vintage year for Scottish football in Europe, with highlights including Bob Shankly's Dundee beating Cologne 8–1 in the European Champions Cup and Dunfermline beating Everton (2-0) then Valencia 6-2 in the Fairs Cup.

Shankly came to Dens Park in 1959/60 after previously managing Falkirk and Third Lanark. He quickly honed a well-balanced side, winning the league in 1961/2. The team comprised: Liney, Hamilton, Cox, Sieth, Ure, Wishart, Smith, Penman, Cousin, Gilzean and Robertson. Future Scotland manager Craig Brown was a squad member.

For the '62/63 European campaign Shankly added Liverpool keeper Bert Slater and drew in younger players to freshen things up. En route to the semi-final they beat Cologne (8-1), Anderlecht (4-1; 2-1) and Sporting Lisbon before being stopped by AC Milan at the San Siro (despite beating them at Dens).

Dundee's famous victory over Cologne caused shockwaves through European football but the match was overshadowed when the Cologne keeper was hurt in the opening leg at Dens Park. There was some sinister talk that the Dundee keeper might suffer the same in Germany, and indeed Bert Slater was kicked in the head when going for a ball. He was put on a stretcher and was being taken off when he realised what was happening and fought back into the ground. He played on the wing till frustration took over and he relaced the stand-in Andy Penman in goals, holding the Germans to 4 – 0.

John Rafferty in One Hundred Years of Football writes: "The game finished with the thick crowd round the touchlines and police holding them back with dogs on leads. So nasty was the atmosphere of the match that Dundee refused to join Cologne at the after-match banquet."

Next Dundee would beat Sporting Lisbon, then Anderlecht before facing AC Milan. With the final that year to be played at Wembley, many have commented that if it weren't for a cruel semi-final draw, Dundee might have been the first British club to lift the European Cup. If it had been the case it would have been Ayshire's Bob, not Bill, Shankly to be associated with British club success in Europe.

When Jock Stein came to Hibs as manager in 1964, he built on their European tradition. Often known as a dour character, Stein was more of a showman than he's given credit for. He had just taken over at Easter Road and won the Summer Cup. But Hearts were in Europe and Hibs weren't, so Stein went on the offensive and arranged a game against Real Madrid (October) – then the most famous club in the world.

Pat Stanton recalls being asked to mark Puskas. He recalls: "I got a wee insight early on into Puskas when he went over the top on me. I was a bit taken aback. Here was the world-famous player sorting out me, a young laddie from Niddrie. Anyway we won 2-0 and did a wee lap of honour afterwards."

Dundee's defeat to AC Milan would be revenged four years later when, in season 1967/68, Hibs faced Italian giants Napoli after ejecting Porto from the UEFA Cup competition, winning 3-0 at home and going down 1-3 in Portugal. The Hibees were beaten 4-1 by Napoli in Italy before rallying to put five past Dino Zoff at Easter Road and go through to the third round. Here they were put out by Don Revie's all-conquering Leeds side who went on to win the competition.

The following year Dunfermline would go on to be European Cup-Winners' Cup semi-finalists in 1968/69, then in season 1972/73 the year after Rangers ill-fated final, Hibs qualified for the European Cup-Winners' Cup. The Edinburgh side beat Sporting Lisbon 7-3 and Besa from Albania 8 -2 (helped by two hat-tricks by Jimmy O'Rourke) before going out to Hajduk Split (4-2, 0-3) in the quarter finals.

Central to this impressive early record in European competitions, then, are four characters: Gordon Smith (Hibs and Dundee), Jock Stein, (Hibs then Celtic), Bob Shankly (coach with Stenhousemuir then manager of Falkirk, Third Lanark, Dundee, Hibs), and chairmen with the necessary vision such as Harry Swan at Hibernian.

A side-effect of this internationalism was the emergence of the independence of the manager in charge of the playing staff (when Tommy Docherty replaced Bobby Brown in charge of the Scotland team in 1971 he was given a free hand, and paid significantly more than Sir Alf Ramsey.) But with this success came clubs undoing. The year of Dundee's European adventure 1962-63 season, there was a mini-revolt from the Players wanting bigger signing on fees for winning the League.

Dundee were to lose Ian Ure (to Arsenal) in 1964 for a Scottish record transfer fee of £62,500 and the following year lost their Scottish all-time record goals scorer (50 League and Cup goals) - Alan Gilzean, who was sold for yet another record Scottish fee to Spurs for £72,500. Shankly was disillusioned with the board and was quoted as saying: "They'll sell the groundsman if you make them an offer".

Success bred ambition but ultimately few of the smaller clubs could sustain it. While Hibs and Dundee and Dunfermline were pioneers they would soon see their playing staff and managers poached by clubs with deeper pockets. Little it seems has changed in the intervening period.

Thanks to Dunfermline Athletic FC, Hibernian Historical Trust and Dundee FC for help with this article.

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