The goalie in the second-greatest Hibernian team never to win the Scottish Cup is not keeping too well and the other day had to go into hospital.
As he prepared for various tests at Wishaw General including an ECG scan, one of the nurses noticed a familiar name on the admissions board and couldn’t resist asking: “You’re not the vet, are you?” The patient laughed and said: “No, I’m the original Jim Herriot.”
Now 73, Herriot is revered by Hibs fans as the first name in the roll-call for Turnbull’s Tornadoes and remembered by everyone else as the goalkeeper who blackened his eyes with goal-line mud to combat glare – and from earlier in his career it was some televised heroics for Birmingham City which inspired All Creatures Great and Small author Alf Wight to adopt his name as a nom de plume.
“It’s funny how I still get asked about that,” says Herriot. “I mean, the TV series was a long time ago now. I met Alf once. He told me it was after I’d played quite well in a cup-tie against Manchester United that he decided to borrow my name. I gave him one of my Scotland shirts and he gave me a signed first edition. I’m not much of a reader although I quite enjoyed the TV show. Pets? I’ve never been one for animals and Ann was the same.”
This is Herriot’s wife who died three years ago. “She was my biggest fan; I miss her an awful lot,” he adds, and breaks into another chuckle. “When I was at Dunfermline, playing against Rangers, I had to come off with concussion. She was out front at East End as I was being carted into an ambulance. I was in my usual green jersey and a Rangers fan who was passing said something derogatory. Ann bashed him on the head with her brolly.
“Then there was the England-Scotland game at Wembley , the first evening Home International between the countries, and unfortunately we lost 4-1. Afterwards Ann and I were with Jock Stein and his wife; they’d been guests at our wedding. Big Jock was blaming me for one of England’s goals and Ann wasn’t standing for it, no matter the man’s reputation. She gave Big Jock what for.”
Ann wore Jim’s medal round her neck, the badge from Hibs’ December 1972 League Cup triumph, the year’s third Hampden final between the greens. Hibs took the Drybrough Cup as well but in the May, in front of a crowd of 106,101, a Dixie Deans-inspired Celtic ran out 6-1 winners for an 18th Scottish Cup. Stein vs Eddie Turnbull was the classic dugout confrontation of the age and Herriot, who lives in Larkhall, Lanarkshire, played for them both.
“Jock was a great manager and Eddie was a great coach. Jock knew how to motivate and psyche you up, whereas Eddie’s man-management was virtually non-existent.” Herriot had a few fall-outs with the boss, wartime veteran of the Arctic Convoys, and was once reprimanded: “Don’t you dare f****n’ swear at me!” He adds: “But Eddie wasn’t the least bit daunted by the Old Firm and always thought we could beat them with our flair. In training, if the guys made three or four square passes in a row, he’d stop the session.”
Herriot recalls the Tornadoes by nickname: Onion (John Brownlie), Shades (Erich Schaedler), Niddrie (Pat Stanton), Cilla (Jim Black), Sloop (John Blackley), Mickey (Alex Edwards), Biffo (Jimmy O’Rourke), Tosh (Alan Gordon), Nijinsky (Arthur Duncan – “or the Roadrunner; there was a guy in the Easter Road enclosure who aye shouted ‘Beep, beep!’ whenever we sent Arthur away from our kick-off”). Pung (John Hazel) deputised for the injured Alex Cropley in the Scottish Cup final, but Sodjer was back for the League Cup. And Herriot? “At Dunfermline I was Kookie after the detective in 77 Sunset Strip [a hotrod-driving hipster with a heavy personal grooming regime] because I was aye combing my hair like him. At Hibs I got another name. Alex Edwards said: ‘You walk just like Robert Mitchum – dead suave.’ So I became Big Bob.” Edwards is one of the old team-mates who regularly checks on his well-being. “I aye know it’s him on the phone. He’ll go: ‘Is that the world’s worst goalie?’ I’ll tell him: ‘And you’re the crankiest wee bugger there’s ever been’.”
But here’s a funny thing. Instead of picking the ball out of the Hibs net six times 43 years ago, Big Bob could have been Celtic’s ’keeper, replacing Ronnie Simpson. “Big Jock had saved my career at Dunfermline. We had five goalies and I was heading out the door but he decided to keep me and Eddie Connaghan. Then he tried to sign me for Celtic when I was at Birmingham, only they wanted a bigger fee than Stoke paid Leicester for Gordon Banks, and he eventually cooled on the idea. I was amazed when he went for Evan Williams, who at that point was in Wolves’ reserves.”
Williams smiles at his rival’s recollection when I track him down in Dumbarton. “I wouldn’t doubt Jim’s version of events. Yes, I did wonder why Wolves had bothered buying me [from Third Lanark] but when I was out on loan to Aston Villa, Sean Fallon told me not to sign for anyone else because Celtic would be coming.” Was he intimidated by having to fill Simpson’s gloves? “No, because I’d had to follow Jocky Robertson at Thirds, while at Wolves all I heard was the name Bert Williams.”
To show Stein what he was missing, Herriot always wanted to put on a show against Celtic. “Sometimes that was my downfall. I did have some good games against them but other times I tried too hard and made a fool of myself.” In May ’72, he was undone by an old trick. “Billy McNeill scored from a header from a corner. Jock knew from Dunfermline that I liked to come for crosses so he had Bobby Lennox block me off. Exactly the same thing happened when Billy scored in the ’65 final [Celtic 3, Pars 2] and if I remember right it was that bugger Lennox again.” Alan Gordon equalised but Celtic regained the lead before the interval. Herriot again: “In the second half Eddie had us really attack them, leaving just three at the back. We had as many chances as them, possibly more, but they were so clinical. I know this might sound daft, given it finished 6-1, but we were quite unlucky.”
Williams would not disagree. “Hibs had a great team back then. Even before that final, after I’d played my first ten games for Celtic and we’d won them all, we went to Easter Road and they beat us with two Joe McBride goals. That brought us down to earth. I can name their entire ’72 side. [He does]. Not bad, given I’m 70 this summer. It tells you the quality they had, at a time in the Scottish game when every team had some rare players. I’m not being patronising, but even at 4-1 Hibs were still in that final. I was pretty pleased with my saves from wee Jimmy O’Rourke and that bag of tricks Alex Edwards. Even at 5-1 they kept coming at us.”
Celtic had a great team, too: five Lisbon Lions plus Kenny Dalglish, Lou Macari, George Connelly, Tom Callaghan and Hibee nemesis Deans (18 goals in 13 games against them). “We were lucky back then,” continues Williams. “Well, not lucky, but we had Jinky who could beat the opposition on his own and Dixie who on that day couldn’t stop scoring.” For one of his goals Deans seemed to have been fired from a circus cannon to connect with a wayward Johnstone shot with his head. His next trick was impossible but – rounding Herriot twice and dumping three international defenders on their backsides – he pulled it off. The somersault celebration was less Olga Korbut, more Harry H. Corbett.
At Hibs’ post-final dinner, Turnbull took the blame for the defeat through his gung-ho tactics and vowed the Tornadoes would be back; they were. At Celtic there was no real celebration, as was customary. Williams again: “The club won so much at that time and Jock didn’t want us getting blasé. I won four league championships but never once got to hold the trophy and my four medals were given to me in a oner. Maybe that’s why, until recently, every one I won was kept in a Safeway bag. Sorry to Hibs fans for that!”
What’s in a name? Evan Williams was christened Samuel. Dixie Deans is really John. The Hibs goalie in ’72 has been called many things, and seen “Jim Herriot” grow into a highly successful literary brand. He hopes Hibs will win on Sunday, writing their own famous story, and his old opposite number agrees they’ve got a chance.
Celtic: Williams, Craig, McNeill, Connelly, Brogan, Johnstone, Dalglish, Murdoch, Callaghan, Macari, Deans.
Hibernian: Herriot, Brownlie, Black, Blackley, Schaedler, Edwards, Stanton, Hazel, Duncan, O’Rourke, Gordon.
Referee: A Mackenzie. Attendance: 106,102