Hibernian v Rangers: A win would put us back in touch

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A question that could have come straight from any Pub quiz around the country is: Which Scottish team reached the semi-final of the inaugural European cup in season 1955\56?

I’m sure most, including myself, will be thinking that they have a 50 percent chance of getting the answer right if they say Rangers or Celtic. We would all have been wrong though because the team that actually did get to that semi-final was Hibernian. I’m pretty sure that not a lot of people younger than sixty and living outside Edinburgh had ever heard that Hibs had reached the semi-final of the European cup. They lost over 2 legs to Stade Reims 3-0 on aggregate.

The teams that played in the tournament were invited to play by the French football magazine L'Equipe. Hibs actually only finished fifth in the league that season. Aberdeen won it, but Hibs were invited because they were noted as the best Scottish team in the years leading up to the tournament. In those years they had the players known as the famous five playing for them. Those five players were Gordon Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond. That forward line was thought to be the best forward line ever to play in Scotland.

Many will remember Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond as managers. Willie Ormond managed the Scottish national team in the 1974 world cup remaining the only unbeaten team in the tournament. Unfortunately we failed to qualify for the final stages but the team put up probably the best performance a Scottish team has ever done in the World cup. The north stand at Easter Road was named in honour of the Famous Five.

Hibernian was founded in 1875 with the club being named after the Roman name for Ireland. Players had to be members of the Catholic Young Men's Society, making Hibs the first sectarian club in Scotland. The SFA originally refused them membership saying “We are catering for Scotsmen, not Irishmen”. Ironically it was their future greatest rivals Hearts who broke SFA rules to play a friendly against the so-called Irish club, which helped break down some of the resistance against them. They were finally accepted by the governing bodies and quickly became the top Edinburgh team winning the Scottish cup and the football Association world decider against Preston.

Irish Catholics in Dundee and Glasgow followed the Hibs example with a Glasgow priest Brother Walfrid regularly inviting Hibs to play in the Glasgow area. In 1887 Celtic were founded and played with players mostly borrowed from Hibs. John Glass the Celtic president and financial backer, realized professionalism was coming and offered the Hibs amateurs professional contracts with Celtic leaving Hibs basically without a team. Mismanagement and inexplicably not attending the meeting to set up a football league, led to the demise of Hibs and they ceased as a club in 1891. Their remaining star players all moved on to Celtic. They were reconstituted in 1892 and moved to Easter Road where they have remained to this day.

Many Rangers supporters will remember the great Hibs team of the seventies who were known as Turnbull’s Tornadoes. They included players such as Pat Stanton, Alan Gordon, Joe Harper, John Blackley, John Brownlie, Jim O’Rourke and Erich Schaedler. They beat Celtic in the League cup final and also won the Drybrough cup twice. In that period they also defeated Hearts with their biggest score against their Edinburgh rivals of 7-0. Without doubt that was the best modern day Hibs team and I remember fearing when Rangers had to play Hibs at that time.

At the end of the 80’s Hibs were in dire financial problems and in 1990 Wallace Mercer the Hearts owner tried to buy the shares to merge the two teams so as Edinburgh could put up a greater fight against the old firm. This sparked a reaction from the Hibs supporters who were afraid Mercer would just shut Hibs down, so they started a “Hands off Hibs” campaign. They enticed Kwik-fit owner Tom Farmer to provide some investment to keep the club running. Although Farmer had no interest in football he felt obliged to help as his family were involved in saving Hibs in the 1890’s.

Last season threw up a shock as both Hibs and Hearts were both relegated from the SPL, putting them in the same league as Rangers who had made their way up from the lower leagues. Rangers record against both has been disastrous this season and Hearts are only a few points off winning the Championship. Hibs have fought back from a bad start to the league season to move 6 points clear of Rangers in second place. The Gers have played a game less.

Rangers meet Hibs at Easter Road on Sunday for their fourth and final league meeting in a game that could be pivotal to Rangers season. A win would put us back in touch and give a massive boost to our flagging confidence levels. In the three league games Rangers have played against Hibs this season, we have lost all three, losing 9 goals and only scoring once. New Rangers manager Stuart McCall has his work cut out to get his battle weary troops lifted to take on the high flying Hibees who have now won seven games in a row. Since McCall came in there has been a marked improvement in the Rangers play but as in many games this season defensive frailties have divorced him from turning any improvement in play into winning games of football.

Many Rangers supporters have been shouting for the ever present club captain, Lee McCulloch, to be dropped, but it would seem big Jig has nine lives when it comes to getting his name on the team sheet. McCall is the third manager this season to remain faithful in picking him. Even although his performances have been far below par, his name remains to be one of the first written down on the team sheet. Kris Boyd is also on the fans list for redundancy as the big striker has had a very poor season. He looks to be carrying more weight than Red Rum did in the Grand National. If only he could run as far and as fast it may have helped Kris get over his goal scoring hurdles.

On a positive note young Tom Walsh has made the step up from the youth team and has been a breath of fresh air. He’s brought a new phenomenon to Rangers play in that he is actually able to pass to another Rangers player and can cross a ball pretty accurately with both feet. He also has the speed and fitness to run past opposing players, something that has been missing from our team this season.

Haris Vuckic has been another player that has impressed since moving up from Newcastle and one would think he’ll be a certain starter if fit. This gives the complication of who will drop out from the team that drew with Livingston in midweek. My choice would be to drop Kris Boyd and move Nicky Clark to the central striker role with Vuckic coming in on a roaming advanced midfield position with David Templeton on the left and Tom Walsh moving to the right wing. This would be a very attacking team but I feel it’s the best option at the moment. As I don't rate Kyle Hutton the only other option open to me would be to bring in Ian Black in place of Nicky Law. I feel after Tuesday’s game Dean Shiels deserves another chance to prove himself.

As Foster, Faure and Smith will all be out injured I would like to see the highly thought of Ryan Sinnamon get a chance at Right back. I have never seen him play and it may be a big game to blood him, but he is highly tipped as a future star and sometimes getting thrown in at the deep end is the best way to get a player to hit the ground running.

My team would be:

Bell
Sinnamon – McGregor – Zaliukas – Wallace
Walsh – Shiels – Law – Templeton
Vuckic
Clark

This of course is hopefully not the last time we’ll meet Hibs this season as we’ll probably meet them in the play-offs for promotion at the end of the season. Many feel Rangers will have no chance of beating Hibs on a home and away basis, but history tells us it is never over until the fat lady sings. We only have to think back exactly ten years when we played the last game of the season at Easter road. Very few thought we had a chance of winning the league back then. We had to beat Hibs at Easter Road, and Celtic had to lose at Motherwell. Rangers won 1-0 through a goal from Nacho Novo and the game at Motherwell was nearing the final whistle with Celtic winning 1-0.

A helicopter circled above Firpark carrying the league trophy waiting for the game to end so as it could land and the trophy be handed to the Celtic skipper. With only minutes left to play, including injury time, Scott McDonald scored twice to give Motherwell a 2-1 win. The Helicopter then circled away from the almost suicidal Celtic support to carry the trophy to Easter Road where the Rangers players and support had been catapulted into ecstasy. That is the feeling this Rangers team has to reproduce from Sunday until the end of the season. We can then put the most disastrous time in our history behind us, and again look forward with renewed pride to taking on the cream of Scottish football in the SPL next season.

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