Pat Stanton reflects as he hits iconic age.. 7-0

The legend walks into the football club in a favourite jumper and is asked to sign the visitors’ book like everyone else. You want to say to the girl behind the desk, “Do you know who this is?”, but Pat Stanton would probably prefer it this way. Not for nothing was the story of his life titled The Quiet Man.

Pat Stanton receiving a shirt from Alan Stubbs for his 70th. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Pat Stanton receiving a shirt from Alan Stubbs for his 70th. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

You have to be careful with Paddy. Careful that when you ask about his great games for Hibernian he doesn’t try and get away with telling you about the lesser ones. “I remember we played Hearts in the East of ­Scotland Shield,” he says. “My ­father was at all my matches but it was special when my mother came too.

“I took the ball full in the face that day and was knocked out. To add insult to injury, we lost. Then to add more insult, Mum asked me that night: ‘Son, how’s the lad who got hit with the ball?’ Now, I’m pretty sure I had indentations: ‘Hand-stitched in Pakistan’ back to front down one cheek.”

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Or you have to be careful he doesn’t try to tell you about someone else’s great games. “Joe Baker, coming through from Wishaw for a European night, got off the train at Waverley station and walked to Easter Road, still in his overalls from his day job. The opposition – I can’t quite remember who they were – had already filled the corridors under the stand with their fancy fragrances. Then Joe shows up minutes before kick-off to be told he was playing. That just wouldn’t happen now.”

It wouldn’t, and neither will Hibs’ European nights be happening for the foreseeable, but the club in their reduced status have found good cause to turn Saturday’s modest fixture with Cowdenbeath into a kind of party. The reason: it’s Stanton’s 70th birthday.

Seven thousand tickets are being given away free for the game and the modest Stanton is suitably impressed. “It’s a ­terrific gesture,” said the captain of Turnbull’s Tornadoes. “I played here a long time ago now and when you think of all the years which have passed, the fact that some people think it’s worth doing this kind of thing for you is really humbling. This one has kind of crept up on me,” he continued, referring to the big 7-0, as he looked out across the pitch he once graced with elegance and power from the old-fashioned wing-half berth. “It’s hard to believe that all those years ago with my pals – all Jambos, by the way – I used to climb over the wall at the old Dunbar End to watch Lawrie Reilly score goals. But, after how he used to treat me on the golf course later, I don’t know why I bothered!

“When I made the first team, Jock Stein, the manager at the time, said: ‘You won’t have to sneak in anymore.’ I played in two great Hibs sides. Under Eddie [Turnbull] was a special time. John Blackley and I were reminding ourselves about this only the other day. We had some rare players: Jimmy O’Rourke, Alex Cropley, Alan Gordon and John Brownlie, one of the best right-backs in the world who was so unlucky with injury. But Jock’s Hibs were a ­tremendous team, too, with guys like Willie Hamilton and big John McNamee.”

Mention of the latter had Stanton reflecting on the travails of Hibs now. McNamee was an inspiration to our man, who marked the first of his 617 appearances in 1963, against Motherwell, with the first of his 78 goals. “Big John was a good player but it was his attitude to getting beat that was so impressive: he didn’t fancy it at all. He made sure a young guy like me went along the same lines. He was too big to argue with, anyway, so I just listened.

“Maybe Hibs don’t have a player like that at the moment,” added Stanton. “Their manager [Alan Stubbs] certainly was and you need one or two of them on the park. They may not even be your best players but they’re vital to the team. I have to say that some of the guys Hibs have had in recent seasons got away with murder. But I think you’d have your work cut out kidding this manager. That’ll be a big ­disadvantage to anyone who thinks they can just go through the motions.”

So far this season Stanton thinks Hibs have been unlucky in some of their defeats but interestingly he didn’t include the recent derby, won by Hearts 2-1, in that category. “I felt watching that one that they didn’t think they could win. They did all right up to a point but I’d like to have seen them taking it on further, showing that they ­fancied their chances. Where does that come from? From within. A player must bring that with him.”

Stanton was given a birthday-edition strip by Stubbs. “Everybody looks up to icons,” said the manager. But when the shirt number, containing as it does a seven and a zero, was pointed out to him, Stanton was too dignified to boast about a famous victory over Hearts.

“That was a long time ago as well and there have been a couple of derbies since when it looked as if Hibs were going to get a real doing,” he said.

There was just enough of the afternoon left for a few more reminisces from the Stanton Years. He spoke of Buck McGarry, maybe St Johnstone’s version of John McNamee, and Tiny Wharton, the gigantor ref. Once, after a skirmish with McGarry, he was irked by the sight of Tiny, pencil poised. “You had to give your name. I tried to be smart: ‘P-a-t-r-i-c-k … ’ Tiny said: ‘If we’re having a spelling test, Mr ­Stanton, here’s one you might manage: ‘Ta-ta.’”

And what of those European nights of blessed memory? Stanton scored on maybe the greatest of them all, when Dino Zoff no less had to pick the ball out of the Napoli net five times in 1967 as Hibs sensationally overturned a 4-1 first-leg defeat. “Bobby Duncan got the first, a great goal which really lifted the place. Mind you, I was speaking to Bob recently and the yardage just gets longer and longer. Next time we meet he’ll be telling me he was outside the old Hawkhill bakery when he hit it!”

The following season, again in the old Inter Cities Fairs Cup, Hibs played SV Hamburg when Stanton and his men were surprised not to have been ­forewarned about the Germans’ winger who was turning in a performance as shining as his bald head.

“That was because our dossier on Hamburg had a photo of him with a full head of hair. He always took off his wig before going on the pitch!”

This was almost certainly Gert “Charly” Dorfel who after hanging up his boots joined a circus.

Patrick Gordon Stanton stayed thirled to his beloved Hibs, as imprinted in the club’s story as he ever was in Tiny Wharton’s notebook.