A Lawrie load of goals to thrill a nation

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LAWRIE REILLY is revered as a living legend by Hibs fans thanks to his record-breaking 187 league goals which helped the club to a hat-trick of titles in the late 1940s and early 50s.

Throw into the mix the fact he snubbed Capital rivals Hearts to sign for the Easter Road club and it's no wonder he is held in such high regard among Hibs supporters!

The Edinburgh-born player, born in the city in 1929, grew up just a stone's throw from Tynecastle yet would go on to become a thorn in the Jambos' side as part of one of the greatest forward lines ever to grace the Scottish game - The Famous Five.

As a youngster, Reilly first displayed his obvious talent with a football at North Merchiston school before shining in spells at Merchiston Boys' club and Murrayfield Athletic.

His eye for goal brought him to the attention of crack juvenile outfit Edinburgh Thistle and it was his decision to sign for them as a young teenager that would eventually pave the way for a move to Easter Road. For in charge of Thistle was Harry Reading, who also doubled as head groundsman at Hibs.

And, in 1946, when Reading was tipped off that Reilly had held signings talks with Hearts manager Dave McLean, he quickly informed Hibs boss Willie McCartney of the player's potential and lifelong Hibs fan Reilly was left with an easy decision.

"I signed for Hibs when I was just 16 in 1946," Reilly recalled.

"That was actually against the rules as you had to be 17 to go professional but Willie kept the form in his desk until I became eligible."

A week after his 17th birthday, Reilly made his league debut for Hibs in a 4-3 victory over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park. Soon afterwards he grabbed his first senior goal against Queen of the South.

The following season, however, 1947/48, Reilly was only a fringe player and found top-team opportunities difficult to come by.

The Hibees looked odds-on for the championship at the turn of 1948 but the club was stunned by the sudden death of manager McCartney following a League Cup win over Albion Rovers on January 31 of that year.

Hugh Shaw, who Reilly later described as "a gem of a man", was appointed as the new boss and, with him at the helm, Hibs went on to record their first league championship victory for a quarter of a century.

Reilly, though, wasn't eligible for a winners' medal after failing to play sufficient games.

But in 1948/49, Reilly was handed his big chance when Willie Ormond broke his leg and he was drafted into the first team and given a run of seven consecutive games.

And his displays during that time were so impressive that he was named in the Scotland squad by the national selectors for the first time for a match with Wales at Ninian Park.

Reilly was given the nod to start the game and, although he wasn't on the scoresheet, he helped the Scots to an impressive 3-0 win.

Later that season, Reilly was selected to play in a Home Nations international against England at Wembley and scored in 3-1 win. He would grace the hallowed turf on four further occasions during his career and would score on every one.

In terms of his career, perhaps even more significant than those international exploits, was the emergence of the Famous Five.

Gordon Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond first featured together on April 21, 1949 in a friendly at Sanquhar against Nithsdale Wanderers.

Their appearance was eagerly anticipated and they didn't disappoint, netting eight goals between them.

In October of that year, they came together in a competitive match for the first time against Queen of the South and remained in place thereafter.

They would go on to become the most feared forward line in the country, scoring some 500 goals between them over the next decade.

"We just knew how each other played," recalled Reilly. "There were tactics - but not a lot. It was all instinct really."

Season 1949/50 was the first full campaign the five players had together and, as it got underway, Hibs were overwhelming favourites to go on and defend the title that they had worked so hard to win.

However, despite notching 49 points, more than in any of their other championship- winning seasons, they were beaten into second place by Rangers, who clinched the title thanks to a last-day draw against Third Lanark, who missed a late penalty.

April 1950 would provide Reilly with one of the biggest disappointments of what was otherwise a highly-successful career.

The centre-forward was by now a regular internationalist but injury precluded him from taking part in a Home Nations clash with England at Hampden.

Scotland went into the final match of the group needing just a point to pip their rivals to the title with the SFA deciding that only in the event of such a result, or better, would the Scots travel to the World Cup in Brazil later that year.

In the end, Scotland slumped to a 1-0 defeat, Hearts legend Willie Bauld coming within a whisker of securing the result Scotland needed when he hit the bar.

Scotland could still have gone to the World Cup as England had opted to travel anyway regardless of the outcome of the game but the SFA stuck to its guns and denied the likes of Reilly the opportunity to test himself on the biggest stage.

Four years later, a serious bout of pleurisy would again prevent him from competing in the World Cup finals and he would never get the opportunity to play at that level.

Domestically, however, there was no stopping him and, in 1950/51, Reilly's goals helped the Hibees to regain the championship title which they won at a canter finishing a whopping ten points ahead of Rangers.

The following season they retained their title and the campaign marked a run of seven consecutive seasons during which Reilly would finish as top marksman at the club.

In 1952/53, Reilly's eye for goal could only help the Leith outfit to runners-up spot in the table and, although his personal fortunes never dipped, Hibs' were on wane as the trophies began to dry up.

Shortly after this time, Reilly almost saw his love affair with the club come to an end when he enquired about a testimonial match and was met with an abrupt rejection of the proposal. Manager Hugh Shaw, by now a firm friend of Reilly's, didn't believe in the merits of such occasions and refused to bow to the player's demands.

A bitter split between player and club ensued and supporters were stunned when a transfer request by Reilly was accepted by the board of directors.

Reilly was frozen out of the game and was forced to take on a job outwith football for a number of months in order to support himself and his family.

But, much to the relief of the Hibs support who adored Reilly, the matter was resolved and he was invited back into the fold. He took no time in adjusting to playing again and continued to rattle in the goals as though he had never been away.

"I never actually wanted to leave but felt it was a player's right to have a testimonial written into a new contract," he later revealed.

"I ended up spending four months out of the game but, thankfully, it ended up being sorted out."

In 1955/56, Reilly was part of the first British side to play in the inaugural European Cup, at this time an invitational event organised by French sports magazine L'Equipe.

He was among the goalscorers in the first outing in the competition when he played in a 4-0 thrashing of Rot-Weiss Essen in Germany.

Hibs' form would carry them all the way to the semi-finals of the tournament where they were finally eliminated by Stade de Reims of France, who themselves were beaten in the final by eventual winners Real Madrid.

Injuries were by this stage starting to ensure that Reilly's outings in a green-and-white jersey were becoming more and more intermittent.

Eventually he was forced to call time on his career, aged 29, as knee problems took their toll, his final match for Hibs coming against Rangers at Easter Road in April 1958. Reilly scored and helped Hibs to a 2-1 win.

Later that year he was finally awarded his testimonial match which brought the curtain down on a career that had produced 234 goals in all competitions for Hibs and an incredible 23 for Scotland in 38 appearances.

Despite hanging up his boots at such a young age Reilly's enthusiasm for the game never diminished.

He was a regular visitor to Easter Road in the years after finishing his playing days and, in 2005, became a match-day ambassador for the club, meeting and greeting corporate guests.

His playing days may be long gone but the goals he scored and the trophies helped win will live long in the memory of all connected to Hibernian Football Club.

The facts

1929: Born in Edinburgh.

1945: Signs for Hibs. Plays in first team within months.

1948: Scores on Scotland debut against Wales. Helps Hibs win league title.

1949: Scores against England at Wembley in 3-1 victory - the first of five goals he notched against the Auld Enemy.

1951: As part of the Famous Five helps Hibs win league title

1952: Secures second consecutive title with Hibs.

1953: Earns nickname "Last Minute Reilly" after netting dramatic equaliser against England at Wembley.

1956: Loses European Cup semi-final to Reims in first year of competition as Hibs become the first British side to enter the tournament.

1958: Retires at 29 due to knee injury after scoring 234 goals for Hibs and 23 for Scotland.

2005: Becomes a matchday host at Easter Road.

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