Easter Road legend Lawrie Reilly has revealed for the first time how he feared he was being lined up for a move from Hibs to Tynecastle to help arch-rivals Hearts out of trouble.
The teenage Reilly was just beginning to make a name for himself in a green and white shirt when, to his astonishment, he got wind that chairman Harry Swan was contemplating allowing two players to cross the Capital on loan to help bail out the relegation-threatened Gorgie side.
Although his family lived in Bryson Road, deep in Hearts territory, there was no doubt their allegiance lay on the other side of Edinburgh where Reilly was to spend his entire footballing career before being forced to retire at the age of just 29 with a knee injury.
And in his autobiography "Last Minute Reilly," to be launched at Easter Road tonight, the centre-forward makes clear his feelings towards even the merest suggestion of such a shock move.
As Hibs closed in on the League title in season 1947/48, Hearts were struggling to avoid relegation. Reilly takes up the tale: "There was a lot of speculation that we might do them a good turn by loaning them a couple of our players to help them stay up.
"Harry Swan confirmed that talks were taking place and that such a move was a possibility. Imagine my consternation when the press then reported that the two players who were being considered for loan were Johnny Aitkenhead and myself.
"In the event, nothing came of it and I state categorically now, some 62 years later, that nothing ever would have come of it.
"If Mr Swan had asked me to move to Hearts, he would have got a very direct and completely negative response. I just wouldn't have considered it."
While it amounted to little more than speculation, Reilly's response encapsulates his life-long love affair with the Easter Road club, declaring in the book he has penned with Ted Brack: "I was born a Hibee and I will die a Hibee. There's nothing else to add."
Appropriately enough for a star who earned himself the sobriquet "Last Minute Reilly" with his propensity for late, late goals both for Hibs and Scotland, he has left it to the age of almost 82 to recall a career which took him from playing school football on the Meadows to Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium - and most points in between. The 269 pages recount Reilly's place in the Famous Five, arguably the greatest forward line Scottish football has produced - Gordon Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond playing more than 1,600 matches between them for Hibs, scoring 700 goals and earning 120 Scotland caps. But they delve much deeper, recalling his rapid rise from juvenile football with Edinburgh Thistle to being part of those halycon days when Hibs won the league title three times in quick succession; of travelling much of the globe with club and country at a time of post-war austerity in Britain; of how Scotland were robbed of the chance to win the World Cup because of the SFA's intransigence, and how the European Cup came just too late for the Easter Road club. Much to his chagrin, Reilly also recalls the Tynecastle hoodoo which afflicted Hibs even if he always seemed to score in Gorgie.
Reilly also tackles the "scandalous" treatment of Smith who won just 18 caps spread over 13 years when it "should have been 118".
How a mysterious Mr X tried to nobble him before an international match; the story behind his own stand-off with Hibs which saw him out of the game for a few months; the demise of the Famous Five, the knee injury which brought his career to a premature end and being banned from playing in his own testimonial match.
Although they became team-mates and firm friends, Reilly reveals that Smith was his own hero, even idolising him when they shared a dressing room together, his admiration for the outside right coming as his father John took advantage of his entitlement to free travel as a railway guard to take the young Reilly to watch Hibs play at every ground in Scotland.
One cameo illustrates beautifully how times have changed, how the football stars of yesteryear, while still revered, didn't enjoy the trappings of fame which those of today seem to take full advantage.
He recalls: "When I was 12, I was walking along Ardmillan after a derby at Tynecastle and who should walk past me but the great man himself. Gordon was heading for the nearest bus stop to catch his bus home. I can't quite imagine passing Wayne Rooney at a bus stop these days, but that was then and this is now. Anyway, I walked up to Gordon and invited him back to my house for his tea. He looked a bit taken aback but politely declined, like the gentleman he was."
Having made his debut for Hibs a few days short of his 16th birthday alongside Smith, Reilly quickly established himself as a regular in the first team, so-much-so he was attracting attention from English clubs, the player making it clear he had no intention of moving while his own father declaring: "If Lawrie plays for any club other than Hibs, I'll disown him." Reilly also rapidly became a starting fixture with Scotland, to this day Hibs' most capped player with a record of 22 goals in his 38 appearances, of which five were at Wembley where he earned his sobriquet "Last Minute Reilly" and a goals ratio better than that of Kenny Dalglish, Joe Jordan and Denis Law. Together with Smith, Johnstone, Turnbull and Ormond Reilly enjoyed the most halcyon days in Hibs' history although he is quick to point out the Easter Road side, which took the country by storm, wasn't simply made up of the Famous Five although many seemed to believe that to be the case.
As much as he loved Hibs, however, Reilly found himself at odds with the club, refusing to sign a new contract over its refusal to grant him a testimonial match at a time when he was earning around 14 a week despite his prolific strike rate for club and country.
As both sides dug in their heels, Reilly found himself watching from the stand for months, his dispute alerting a host of clubs, Hibs' response to his request to consider offers from other Scottish clubs resulting in the Easter Road outfit slapping a 35,000 valuation on his head, a sum no club this side of the Border could afford. Reilly threatened to quit rather than move to England where Arsenal claimed to have made a bid for him, the sorry episode only drawing to an end when a mystery go-between, later revealed as SFA secretary Sir George Graham, brokered a deal which allowed him to resume playing while continuing with the part-time job he'd taken as a travelling salesman. Hard to imagine such a scenario today, but in a declaration of his love for the only club he played for Reilly insisted: "For me, it was Hibs, first, last and always."
Testimonial ban hit hard
Lawrie Reilly incredibly found himself banned from his own testimonial match by SFA red tape after being forced to bring his glittering career to a premature end at the age of just 29, writes DAVID HARDIE.
He made the tough decision after it became clear he would never be free of a knee injury sustained 18 months earlier despite having had surgery.
In a brief statement he declared: "I can no longer play my best football. I am not prepared to be a second-rater or risk crippling myself."
But, as Reilly looked forward to enjoying the testimonial for which he had fought so hard earlier in his career, the SFA dropped a bombshell on the very day of the game itself, a glamour fixture between Hibs and an international select.
Their secretary, Willie Allan, told him: "You cannot play in the game because you no longer come under the jurisdiction of the SFA."
Reilly was dumbfounded, saying: "What I did know was that I was being prevented from playing in a game which meant a huge amount to me by red tape and bureaucracy."
He was, therefore, forced to join a disappointingly low crowd of less than 10,000 to watch Hibs win the game 9-3 with Gordon Smith, Willie Ormond and Joe Baker each scoring twice.
Lawrie Reilly will be signing copies of his book at the following venues:
WH Smith, The Gyle, Edinburgh: Friday, October 15, 1.00-2.00pm
Hibernian Clubstore, Easter Road: Saturday, October 16, 10.30-11.30am
Waterstone's, Ocean Terminal, Leith: Sunday, October 24, 1.00-2.00pm
Waterstone's, The Centre, Almondvale, Livingston: Saturday, October 30, 1.00pm