David Hardie: When the Hibees became Toronto

DELVE into the history books and you'll find no record of Hibs having ever played Belfast club Glentoran, their first opponents in this weekend's mini-tour of the Emerald Isle.

But, in fact, the teams have met just once in the past, the clash taking place in Canada some 42 years ago with Hibs masquerading as Toronto City and tomorrow's opposition going under the guise of the Detroit Cougars.

While it all sounds a bit confusing today, Hibs and Glentoran were just two of a number of European and South American clubs invited in the summer of 1967 to a tournament aimed at generating interest in an indigenous North American League to be launched the following year.

As part of the United Soccer Association, each of the invited teams represented an American or Canadian city, hence Hibs being known as Toronto City while Aberdeen became the Washington Whips, Dundee United were Dallas Tornadoes, Sunderland the Vancouver Royal Canadians, Stoke the Cleveland Stokers and Wolves played as Los Angeles.

Brazil's Bangu Atletico Club became the Houston Stars, Cagliari of Italy were known as the Chicago Mustangs, Holland's ADO Den Haag were rebranded as the San Francisco Gate Gales and Cerro Porteno of Uruguay briefly held the mantle of New York Skyliners while Shamrock Rovers, who Hibs face in Dublin on Monday night, were renamed Boston Rovers.

Incredibly, the 13-game league ran for some seven weeks, from late May through to July with the various clubs criss-crossing the United States and Canada with Hibs finally finishing third in their group while Wolves went on to take the title, defeating Aberdeen 6-5 after extra-time in the final.

While today it would seem incredulous that any club would sign up for such a lengthy tour of duty at the end of a long season, former Hibs captain Pat Stanton insisted the adventure was "the trip of a lifetime."

He said: "You have to remember that way back then people didn't talk about going to New York for a weekend shopping trip or having a fortnight's holiday in Florida, the sort of things we take for granted nowadays.

"We were going to places we'd only ever seen in films, places we'd never have thought we'd ever visit.

"The first inkling we had was when Jock Stein mentioned we might be going to North America previously when he was boss, but by the time it came around he'd left for Celtic and Bob Shankly had taken over.

"I'd imagine Tommy Younger (Hibs ex-goalkeeper] might have had something to do with it as he was coach of Toronto City at the time but it was certainly the trip of a lifetime, we were treated like kings wherever we went, first-class hotels and training facilities.

"I can't imagine that sort of thing happening today, I don't think you'd see any club go on such a lengthy foreign trip today, not when you see Celtic going to Australia for three or four days to play a match. That just shows how much the world has shrunk."

As much as Stanton and his team-mates enjoyed the novelty of exploring North America, he admitted that towards the end of the tournament homesickness and tiredness did creep in.

He said: "We were playing out of Toronto but on one occasion we flew, via Chicago, to San Francisco where we played the Dutch side in the stadium which featured in one of Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry films, back to Toronto and then back out to Vancouver. We wondered why we just couldn't have played the two games on the West Coast at the one time rather than making the journey out there twice. We certainly clocked up the miles, north to south, east to west, but it was a terrific trip.

"But as much as we enjoyed it, it was a long trip. Towards the end there was a bit of homesickness and tiredness and, at one point when it looked as if we might qualify for the final, which was to be played in Los Angeles if results went our way, we had a team meeting to discuss the fact we'd been away so long.

"When you think back on things it was ridiculous but one of the boys was bemoaning the fact that while he was stuck out there being treated by royalty his mates were enjoying themselves at Butlins in Filey!

"The trip certainly gave us the chance to visit places we'd never have thought we'd go to. We went down to Dallas and saw where the assassination of John F Kennedy had taken place, this was less than four years later when it was all still very raw and just to look up to the building where the shots were fired was awesome.

"Or walking down the streets of San Francisco where that epic car chase in Steve McQueen's film Bullit was filmed, to see Alcatraz, tremendous.

"I remember us standing outside San Quentin Penitentiary – I still have photos of it – when a bus load of convicts, dressed in those orange boiler suits and chained together stopped.

"Jimmy O'Rourke (pictured left] was standing staring so much someone asked why. Jimmy replied immediately 'I was just looking to see if there was anyone I knew'.

"There again, coming from Clermiston, he probably recognised a couple of them! It was such an exciting trip, I loved every minute of it. I felt very fortunate and if you think about it, we probably saw more of the States and Canada than many of the people who actually live there.

"In fact, not so long ago I was walking in a street in Edinburgh when a guy came up to me and I had to confess when he said I wouldn't remember him that I didn't. We are both a bit greyer now, of course, but he told me we'd met in a bar called the Edinburgh Castle in San Francisco where he'd been working at the time."

Stanton and Co, of course, were more than mere tourists, as they proved to be the forerunners of stars such as George Best, Pele and Franz Beckenbauer who eked out the final days of their careers playing in the North American Major Soccer League. He recalled: "Over there baseball and American football are still the biggest sports in the States while Canada has ice hockey. They tried to start things from the top down rather than get the kids interested in school and build it from the bottom up.

"But it was a fantastic experience, so much travelling and playing against teams from different countries in all these different stadiums.

"I remember in the Yankee Stadium in New York they'd simply marked out a 'soccer' pitch complete with the pitcher's mound which meant whoever was going up and down the right wing had to watch where they were going!

"Against Cagliari the game ended in a bit of a riot.

"The referee awarded us a free-kick and while they were shouting and bawling at him Pat Quinn took it quickly for Colin Stein to score. Then all hell broke loose."

For the record, Hibs' match against the "Detroit Cougars" ended 1-1, Jim Weatherup scoring for Glentoran, a part-time club, with Jim Scott claiming a late equaliser.