IF HEAVEN has a first XI, it can now call upon the most divine of forward lines.
Lawrie Reilly, the Hibernian legend who was one of the Edinburgh’s club’s esteemed Famous Five collective, died overnight on Sunday in the city’s Western General Hospital after a short illness. He was 84.
The most capped player in Hibs’ history, he had been the last surviving member of the illustrious group who dominated the Scottish game in the post-war era, helping the Easter Road club to three league championships in five years.
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan led the tributes to the much-loved centre forward, who scored 238 goals during his 12-year career at Hibs, describing Reilly as a “real gentleman and a great player”.
Strachan, who grew up as a Hibs supporter, recalled: “I used to see Lawrie regularly when I went to Easter Road. He was a big hero of my father and it’s not great news. But he has left us with some fantastic memories.
“He scored five times [against England] but, even though I met him so many times, he never mentioned that. It’s a measure of how much a gentleman he was that he never mentioned that.
“Great players never tell you what they did – people already know. And he was a great player, that’s for sure.”
Born within a few hundred yards of rivals Hearts’ Tynecastle home, Reilly grew up in a family obsessed with Hibs.
After playing with North Merchiston and Edinburgh Thistle, he made his debut for Hibs as a 17-year-old in the 1945-6 season. Initially playing as a winger, he would go on to make the coveted No 9 jersey his own.
Along with Gordon Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond, he helped Hibs win the league title in 1948, 1951 and 1952.
Speaking earlier this year, he said being dubbed the Famous Five did not sit easily with the quintet, when the entire first team had worked hard to bring the team success. “Truthfully, we didn’t enjoy being called the Famous Five because we would rather have been called the famous 11. We had a very, very good defence behind us, but the glamour boys up front got all the glory,” he said.
Such modesty helped earn Reilly iconic status at the Leith club, as attested to by Rod Petrie, the Hibs chairman.
He said: “We all feel the loss of a true Hibernian great, but our hearts must go out first to Lawrie’s widow, Iris, and to his family. Our thoughts are with them at this sad time.
“The term legend gets bandied about, perhaps too easily, but Lawrie was a genuine legend. He grew up as a Hibernian fan and he spent his entire career with the club he loved.
“He was undoubtedly one of the club’s greatest ever players, revered by all who loved attacking and entertaining football. He was also one of Scotland’s greatest ever strikers.
“Lawrie retained his lifelong passion for the club he graced as a player and was a regular attender at matches, a matchday host and one of the club’s champions. He will be sadly missed.”
Reilly was also a prolific goal-scorer for Scotland, having found the back of the net 22 times in 38 appearances for his country, an international strike rate greater than Kenny Dalglish, Denis Law or Joe Jordan.
Late goals against England and Northern Ireland in the 1953 British Home Championship, earned him the nickname “Last Minute Reilly”. He scored five times against England, more than any other Scot. He was inducted into the SFA’s Hall of Fame in 2005.
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