Exactly half a century ago today, Gibson scored the first of his three international goals – and a vital one too, the go-ahead goal in one of Scotland’s greatest victories, the 6-2 Bernabeu Stadium thrashing of a Spanish team which would, a year later be crowned European champions. That win remains the high point of Scotland’s 192 internationals on mainland Europe, mainly because, like Friday night’s in Zagreb, it was entirely unexpected. “1963 was a great year for me,” the Winchburgh-born Gibson, who will turn 75 in September, recalls. “My club, Leicester City had a Scottish management team in Matt Gillies and former Celtic and Scotland trainer Alec Dowdalls. And we had a Scottish core to the side – John Sjoberg and Ian King at the back, Frank McLintock, Jimmy Walsh and me in midfield and Jimmy Goodfellow up front, plus a couple more “Jocks” in the reserves.
“We led the league for a spell, but faded to fourth and reached the FA Cup final, a game I’d rather forget, since I froze on the day and didn’t do myself justice. We lost to a Paddy Crerand-Denis Law inspired Manchester United team which had only just avoided relegation, but turned on the style at Wembley. Then, I made my Scotland debut. That came against Austria, in front of 90,000 at Hampden. I was so-proud, then the Austrians spoiled it, by turning the game into a kicking match, which was eventually abandoned.”
But Gibson had done enough to retain the No 8 jersey, in the absence of Scotland regular John White, for an end-of-season tour to Norway, the Republic of Ireland and Spain. “Denis Law, Jim Baxter and John White were probably the first three names down on the Scotland team sheet at the time, so I consider myself very fortunate to be capped at all, I could hardly believe my good luck to be picked. We lost in Norway, when, after Dave Mackay had to go off and Frank McLintock came off the bench to win his first cap, we conceded two late goals to go from 3-2 up to 4-3 losers. Then, after we lost 1-0 in Dublin – the press slaughtered us, some were demanding the tour be abandoned before we embarrassed Scotland in Madrid.
“There was a bomb scare at Dublin Airport. To pass the time, Dave Mackay started doing his party piece – he would juggle a half-crown coin, then flick it into his top jacket pocket. Jim Baxter joined in and this broke the tension and got us laughing. By the time we got to the Bernabeu, we were ready for anything. We were annoyed at ourselves, annoyed at the press, so we took a collective decision to have a go at Spain,” Gibson remembers.
The plan nearly backfired. Adelardo of Atletico Madrid put Spain in front after just eight minutes but Law equalised eight minutes later, with Gibbo taking an Ian St John pass, laying the ball off to Baxter, before Law tucked it away in typical style, for his 11th goal in seven internationals that season.
Almost from the resumption, Scotland scored again, with Gibson getting the first of his three international goals when he ran on to another Baxter pass to fire home from 20-yards. “That was a special moment”, he recalls. “You grow up dreaming about playing for Scotland, and scoring, then it happens – magic.”
When clubmate McLintock scored his only Scotland goal in a nine-cap career, three minutes later, the Spaniards were reeling. Davie Wilson made it 4-1 after half an hour and, although Jose Veloso of Deportivo La Coruna pulled one back just before the break, it was a far happier Scotland that went off at half-time.
Willie Henderson scored a fifth goal in 51 minutes and the Spanish heads dropped, with Scotland so in command they could indulge in a period of “keep-ball” before St John capped perhaps his best game for Scotland with the sixth goal, seven minutes from time.
“We were a team which liked to get forward and wanted to at every opportunity – that day we did and our attacking plans really paid off, all five forwards scored that night,” said Gibson. “Perhaps we did kick the form book out of the window, after the losses to Norway and the Republic of Ireland we were under pressure to perform, but, that’s how it is with Scotland. But, that Madrid win stands out as a career highlight for me.”
For the record, that Scotland team read: Adam Blacklaw (Burnley), Billy McNeill (Celtic), Davie Holt (Hearts), Frank McLintock (Leicester City), Ian Ure (Dundee), Jim Baxter, Willie Henderson (both Rangers), Davie Gibson (Leicester City), Ian St John (Liverpool), Denis Law (Manchester United, captain) and Davie Wilson (Rangers).
Gibson’s autobiography was partly written, the author reveal “in the hope it makes people smile” and certainly he enjoyed a laugh during his career. “I was a Hearts fan as a boy and I think maybe, when I had signing talks at Tynecastle as a boy, Tommy Walker thought he could get me on the cheap but Hibs offered me a better deal and I have no regrets about signing for the club. I made my debut as a 16-year-old, in a forward line which read: Gordon Smith, Davie Gibson, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond – you might call it: ‘The Famous Four-and-a-Half’. I had my ups and downs, I didn’t make the team for the 1958 Scottish Cup final, but, played in some great European nights. I got a move to Leicester, where I played in two FA Cup finals and two League Cup finals and I played for Aston Villa and Exeter. I had 20 years in football, so, I consider myself fortunate to be paid for so long for doing something I loved.”
• Davie Gibson’s autobiography: ‘Gibbo – the Davie Gibson Story’ is published by Amberley Publishing, list price £15.99.