DCSIMG

So many Hibby returns for wing wonder Smith

THERE are few players who have successfully crossed Edinburgh's football divide so it's testament to the ability of Gordon Smith that he not only managed to, but is revered as a legend by both Hibs and Hearts fans alike.

But then, as those who witnessed Smith in action would testify to, he was no ordinary footballer.

During an illustrious career the right winger won championship medals with three different Scottish clubs a feat which to this day has never been matched.

Arguably the greatest player ever to grace a Hibs jersey, Smith helped the club to no less than three top-flight title triumphs during the late 1940s and early 1950s and captained them during the most successful period in their history. He wasn't finished there, however, and although he only enjoyed brief spells with Hearts and Dundee his skills were sufficient to propel the clubs to title wins of their own.

Born in Edinburgh in 1924, it was clear from a young age that Smith was a talented footballer.

In early childhood his family moved to Montrose and it was there he first began to shine on the football field as he starred for both primary and secondary school teams.

Indeed, his skills were such that at 14, while playing for Montrose Academy, he was selected to represent Scottish schools.

Shortly afterwards he joined Kirriemuir Harp and from there he moved to the juniors with Montrose Roselea. And, although he didn't know it at the time, it was a move that would pave the way for a transfer to Hibs.

His displays in the juniors with Roselea attracted the attention of Dundee North End and shortly after he joined them he was chosen to play in a friendly against a Hibs/Hearts select.

Smith could hardly have impressed more, grabbing a hat-trick in a 3-2 triumph and dazzling both sets of coaching staff with his display.

The young winger had been brought up as a Hearts fan, despite living many miles from Edinburgh and, when the Gorgie club approached him and invited him to play a trial match, he looked destined to join his boyhood idols.

However, upon hearing of their rivals' interest, Hibs boss Willie McCartney stepped in and offered him terms there and then without asking him to feature for a second time and the faith he showed in Smith eventually persuaded him to turn his back on Hearts.

"I decided to join Hibs because of the trial business," Smith would later recall.

"I had expected to be on my way to Hearts, particularly because I supported them at the time but the faith Hibs showed in me, and the charisma of McCartney, persuaded me to go to Easter Road."

Smith put pen to paper with the Hibees one week short of his 17th birthday in 1941 and received a 10 signing on fee. He would repay it and then some on his debut just days later as he smashed a remarkable hat-trick in a 5-3 win. The opponents were none other than Hearts at Tynecastle and Smith was already writing his way into Hibs' history books.

After beginning life at Hibs as a centre-forward, the irrepressible Smith was quickly converted to a winger, a move that would benefit him as he established himself as a regular in the starting XI over the next couple of years.

Smith's displays were not only catching the eye of the Easter Road crowd and he was selected for the full Scotland team for the first time in 1944.

However, it didn't turn out to be a happy occasion for the 19-year-old as the Scots were hammered 6-2 by England at Wembley.

Domestically things were beginning to gel for Hibs and it seemed only a matter of time before the trophy-starved club were given something to cheer about.

A fantastic run in the Scottish Cup in 1946-47 looked set to bring that much sought after silverware particularly after a tense semi-final victory over Motherwell at Hampden following extra-time.

Aberdeen were all that stood between Hibs and the trophy they had last won way back in 1901 but, as in previous years, luck conspired against them and they ended up empty-handed.

"I really believed we were going to beat Aberdeen in that match," Smith later said."We scored early on in the game but failed to hold onto our lead and ended up going down 2-1.

"It really turned out to be the story of our lives as far as cup competitions went. It must have been psychological as we were good enough to win a cup."

The following season, however, Hibs would finally end their wait for a trophy, but only after everyone associated with the club had been touched by tragedy.

Hibs started the season in irresistible form and in November Smith grabbed five goals as eight were hit past Third Lanark - a record number of goals for a Hibs player in a match that still stands to this day.

But in January 1949 the whole Hibs family was stunned by the sudden death of McCartney following a League Cup win over Albion Rovers.

Hugh Shaw was appointed to succeed him and with the Hibs players vowing to go on and win the championship for McCartney their fine form rarely faltered.

For the remainder of that season Hibs battled it out with Rangers for the championship and a 5-0 thrashing of Motherwell on April 19 put them within touching distance of the league.

The result meant that Shaw's side needed just a point from their final game of the season to pip Rangers to the title although that clash would be rendered meaningless when their rivals dropped another point in their penultimate match meaning Hibs could no longer be caught. "It was fantastic to be involved in the club's first title win in so long," said Smith.

"I think we deserved it over the season as we had played some fantastic football. It was a great experience for all of us, particularly as we had quite a young team."

The following season, 1948-49, much was expected of the Hibs side as they looked to defend the crown they had put so much effort into winning.

However, with one exception, it proved to be a disappointing campaign as they dropped far more points than prospective champions should as they eventually slumped to a third-place finish.

There was, though, one event in 1949 that would prove to be a momentous occasion in the history of the club - albeit nobody knew it at the time - as the group of players that would go on to be dubbed 'The Famous Five' played together in friendly against Nithsdale Wanderers at Sanquhar for the first time.

The combination of Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond produced eight goals and fired out a warning to the rest of Scottish football. They would go on to become the most feared forward line in the country.

Season 1949-50 would also end trophyless although, by the end of it, with a full season under the belts of the Famous Five, the pundits were beginning to believe that Hibs were on he verge of something special.

Smith had been the club's top scorer for the past two seasons, as he would be for the next five, and had also been installed as captain having taken over from Davie Shaw.

And in 1950-51, with Smith as skipper, Hibs realised their full potential as they romped to the championship finishing a whopping ten points ahead of Rangers.

The following season, with the Famous Five again terrorising defences, the Easter Road outfit retained their crown playing some of the best football the Hibs faithful had ever seen.

"Winning the two titles like that was marvellous," Smith said.

"We just had this natural ability to know what one another would do with the ball and it showed on the pitch. It was a great time to be a Hibs player."

Little did he know at the time, however, that it would be the last medal he would win as a Hibee.

THE FACTS

1924: Born in Edinburgh.

1941: Hat-trick on Hibs debut against Hearts.

1944: Scotland debut in 6-2 defeat by England.

1947: Scores five goals in a game against Third Lanark.

1950: Hibs' top scorer for seventh season out of eight.

1952: Hibs beat Man Utd 7-3 in Smith's testimonial.

1955: Named new Scotland captain in his mid-30s.

1959: Freed by Hibs but goes on to win the league again with both Hearts and Dundee.

1964: Retires after 23-year career.

2004: Dies on August 7.

 
 
 

Back to the top of the page