Obituary: John Grant, ‘The Duke' who played over 300 games for Hibs

John Grant, footballer. Born: July 22 1931 in Edinburgh. Died: January 28 2021 in Edinburgh, aged 89

John Grant

John Grant was a leading Scottish footballer of the 1950s and ‘60s , a significant player in the history of Hibs as captain over several seasons and for whom he played some 300 games. Nicknamed “The Duke” for his smart dress sense and classy play, he earned two full caps for Scotland as well as six League caps, recording five wins, three draws and no defeats, an enviable record in a Scottish jersey. Just over a year after his Hibs debut, he made his debut in European football in 1956 in the first leg of the semi-final of the inaugural European Cup in Paris against Stade Reims marking the famous French international Raymond Kopa – later a European Footballer of the Yea r – and rose splendidly to the task.

An excellent all-round player who could read the game well, pass and tackle effectively, it was not surprising that he filled a number of positions before settling at right back. After fulfilling his boyhood dream by signing for Hibs in 1949 he was not able to make his first team debut for five years – it was the era of the highly successful “Famous Five” side and he was required to undertake two years’ National Service.

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John Grant was born in Edinburgh, the eldest of four children of parents George and Jessie, brother to Eileen, Evelyn and George [also a professional footballer]. Their father was a Civil Service accountant and John attended Colinton Primary School before going on to Darroch Secondary. His football career began with local amateur team Colinton Mains United and then well- known juvenile side Merchiston Thistle, from whom he signed for Hibs.

Initial years were spent in the clubs thi rd team which won the East of Scotland League title in 1951 and ’52, with John a regular goalscorer. Some appearances were made for the reserves as he combined football with a joinery apprenticeship until his National Service in 1952.That was spent as a P.T.I. with the Royal Engineers in Dortmund and the posting yielded regular footballing opportunities, his discharge papers praising him for his conduct, sporting enthusiasm and personal qualities.

On December 4 1954 he made his first team debut in a 2-1 win at Easter Road against St Mirren, attracting favourable press comment before going on to play 14 times that season, gradually establishing himself. By then the Famous Five era was beginning to wind down but John benefited from their influence, especially the iconic Eddie Turnbull, who was a mentor and friend and whom he succeeded as captain.

1958 was a significant year for John. In April he played in the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden against Clyde in front of a 95,000 crow d . Although Hibs lost, he and three teammates were described as “the Hibernian players of the greatest merit”.

In September he played for the Scottish League in a 5-0 win over the Irish League in Belfast, one report describing him as "consistently impressive”. Further League caps followed against Ireland and England [including Jimmy Greaves and Brian Clough] prior to his first full cap under new manager Matt Busby against Wales on October 18 in a 3-0 win, with Denis Law also a debutant. Completing an eventful year, he won his second and final cap, against Northern Ireland in a drawn game in November.

Over the next three years he collected three more League caps but was unable to add to his tally of full caps. He continued featuring as a pivotal player for Hibs, with his final appearance coming in a 5-0 defeat by Celtic on March 14 1964. Months later new manager Jock Stein gave him a free transfer and John wound down his career with a season at Raith Rovers.

In 1951 he married Evelyn McKinlay, whom he had met at Edinburgh’s Palais de Danse and the couple enjoyed 41 years of happy marriage, during which they had Lesley and Karen, living firstly in Albion Road opposite Hibs ground before moving to Corstorphine. Sadly, Evelyn died in 1992.

During his playing career John worked part time for Sims’ Paints in Leith where he continued full time after hanging up his boots, while Evelyn operated a hairdressing salon in Easter Road. Later he joined Crown Wall Coverings, with whom he enjoyed a successful sales career, relocating in the mid-1980s to Bramhall in Cheshire, although he returned north regularly to visit friends and family.

One of his passions was golf. He loved playing at Gullane, which he liked to call “God’s own country”, and he continued as a country member there once based in Bramhall, where he also played locally. Competitive by nature, he succeeded in lowering his handicap to a very respectable four.

He also enjoyed foreign travel, having had a taste of it with Hibs, and used to take the family on holidays abroad, including venues where he had played. In retirement he made trips further afield to the US, Australia and South Africa, where he visited relatives. In South Africa, he achieved the considerable feat of locating his paternal grandfather’s unmarked grave to erect a headstone.

A warm family man, he was in his element wining and dining in the company of family and friends. He was generous, had a great sense of humour and loved life. Latterly, due to dementia, he lived in an Edinburgh care home where despite his limitations he cut an ever- competitive figure in the Exercise and Dance Class, always “a trier”.

He is warmly remembered by many and survived by his daughters and grandchildren Ryan, Mark, Elliot and Lewis.

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