Jimmy O’Rourke was one of the all-time great Hibs players. During a 12-year spell at Easter Road from 1962 onwards, he represented the club in 325 games and scored 122 goals, including the winner in the League Cup Final against Celtic in 1972. Although he also played with distinction for St Johnstone and Motherwell towards the end of his career, he will always be synonymous with Hibs where he was a favourite with the fans who would serenade him in song “Jimmy, Jimmy O’Rourke, everyone knows his name...”
He himself was a lifelong fan. As good friend and teammate Pat Stanton commented: “He was the fan in a Hibs jersey, he bled green and would run through a brick wall for them.”
Blessed with an intelligent football brain allied to a range of skills, he played mostly at inside forward – attacking midfielder – but also at centre forward where his eye for a goal regularly brought hat tricks. Deadly serious about his football, he always played with total commitment. Nowadays it is difficult to understand how representative honours eluded him, although injuries did not help at a time when Scotland had a lot of good players in the frame.
Jimmy made his debut aged 16 against Utrecht in a midweek European tie at Easter Road on 12 December 1962, making him the youngest player ever to appear for Hibs, a record until 2004. He only learned earlier that day while at work in a local factory that he would be making his debut that evening.
Despite having been playing schools football months previously, he was not overawed by the occasion, one report stating “O’Rourke had an encouraging first appearance and had the finest shot of the game which was brilliantly saved...”. Three days later he set another record, becoming Hibs’ youngest ever goal scorer when he netted against Dunfermline Athletic on his League debut, a record that still stands.
James Francis O’Rourke was born in Edinburgh where he was initially brought up in the Grassmarket along with older brothers Michael, Billy and John. There he joined the local Tweedie Memorial Boys’ Club where he played football and took part in a variety of recreational activities, including camping excursions.
A bright boy, he was dux of his primary school before moving on to Holy Cross Academy, by which time he was living in the Clermiston area. According to his own account, studies took a back seat to football as he sought to emulate older schoolmates Pat Stanton and Davie Hogg, also a future Hibs player, in the school team. With Jimmy featuring well, the team won the Evening News Trophy for local schools, and he was attracting the attention of national selectors.
In 1962 he was picked for Scottish Schoolboys and played in all three internationals against England, Wales and Northern Ireland, recording three wins with Jimmy praised for his performance against England in particular.
By now several clubs were showing interest, including Manchester United and Celtic, but when Hibs manager Hugh Shaw came calling it was an easy decision to make. From a “Hibs daft” family, he had stood in tears on the Hampden terraces in 1958 when his heroes lost the Scottish Cup Final to Clyde. By the end of his first season at Easter Road he had also made his debut in the city “derby” against Hearts, still aged 16, in a 3-3 draw.
However, a few months later Jimmy sustained a serious ankle injury against Dundee United which hindered his progress for a while and matters were aggravated when he injured the same ankle while playing for a Scottish Youth XI in early 1965.
By September he had recovered sufficiently to notch up two goals in the first ten minutes against Hearts, as had teammate Eric Stevenson, leaving the Tynecastle men 4-0 down at that stage, the final score.
Other highlights included scoring in the 1969 League Cup Final against Celtic – a 6-2 defeat – and winning the trophy against Celtic in 1972, clinching the decisive goal, atoning somewhat for their Scottish Cup Final 6-1 defeat by Celtic months earlier.
Jimmy also scored twice to help Hibs lift the Drybrough Cup that year before notching up successive hat tricks later in European ties against Sporting Lisbon and Besa of Albania. And on New Year’s Day 1973, a date writ large in Hibs’ history, he contributed two goals in their 7- 0 defeat of Hearts. His final season at Hibs in 1974 saw them finish runners up in the League, their best placing while he was there.
Although often referred to as one of “Turnbull’s Tornadoes”, Jimmy had been at Easter Road for nine years prior to Eddie Turnbull becoming manager; when Turnbull sold him to St Johnstone to accommodate the incoming Joe Harper from Everton, the decision was not popular with supporters.
As luck would have it, within months he returned to Easter Road as Saints captain to score the only goal of the game. After two seasons at Perth in 1976 he moved to Motherwell for a final two seasons before returning to Easter Road in a coaching capacity, first under Turnbull and then Stanton.
Once finished with football he went into the licensed trade, running pubs as a well-liked “mine host” in Edinburgh, including the Corstorphine Inn and Jock’s Lodge.
Jimmy, an entertaining companion and gifted raconteur, remained extremely popular with Hibs fans and was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in 2012. He married twice, to Helen in 1968 and Anne in 2005.
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