Interview: Lawrie Reilly retraces journey to Leith

Lawrie Reilly awaits the No 1 bus on Dundee Street. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Lawrie Reilly awaits the No 1 bus on Dundee Street. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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ANYONE who takes the No 1 bus from Gorgie to Easter Road for tomorrow’s Edinburgh derby is sure to be in the company of other supporters, but will almost certainly not find themselves sitting next to Paul Hanlon or Marius Zaliukas.

There was a time, however, when, if you timed your journey right, you would be on the same bus as one of 
Hibernian’s most celebrated sons, Lawrie Reilly.

Now 84, and the last surviving member of Hibs’ Famous Five, Reilly still 
attends his old club’s home games, travelling by car from his home in the east of the city. But he grew up in the family home just a five-minute walk from Tynecastle, and during his early years as a professional would hop on a bus in Dundee Street. As a legend of Scottish football, Reilly often gets asked about his favourite games or goals, his toughest opponents and most highly respected team-mates. But one of his fondest memories is not about any on-field action at all. Instead, it is of a spring evening in 1948, of waiting at a now-vanished bus stop for the 1, and of learning that a new phase in his career was about to begin.

“The stop I used to get the bus from was just round this corner, but it’s been moved now,” he says. We are standing at the nearest bus stop to the old one, barely 200 yards from his old home in Bryson Road, and waiting for the 1.

“It was when I was standing there one evening, waiting to get a bus down to Easter Road to play against Manchester United, that a man came up to me holding a paper and said ‘Congratulations’.

“I said ‘What for?’ and he said ‘You’ve been picked to play for Scotland’. I didn’t believe it till I saw it in the paper – it had printed the team that had been picked in the stop press. I didn’t know him: he must just have recognised me. We weren’t a well-to-do family and we didn’t have a phone, so publication in the press was always going to be how I heard the news first.

“I was in a quandary. I thought I should run home and tell my mum and dad, but if I do that I’ll be too late for the game. Both my dad and my mother were right football fans.

“We had a family whistle. When I was playing a game out on the streets when I was younger, if my mum or dad wanted me up for my meal they would give this whistle and I would know to go up.

“And just as I was wondering what to do I heard this whistle. It was my dad – he had seen in the paper too that I had been picked to play for Scotland.”

Proud and delighted though he was to be selected for the first of what would be 38 appearances for his country, Reilly simply resumed his normal routine and got on the bus, then as now a single-decker.

“It would have been midweek, and it must have been a friendly against Manchester United. We were very friendly with them then, because Matt Busby had played for the Hibs as a guest player during the war. When I was on the bus people were quiet as usual, and I was just another passenger. But when I got off the bus at Easter Road everyone was saying congratulations, because they’d all heard by that time. It was always fine on the bus. I never got any hassle at all.”

Having grown up as a Hibs fan in a staunchly Hearts-supporting area, Reilly has always been sure the two clubs can coexist peacefully within the one city. “I was always good friends with Willie Bauld, who played for the Hearts,” he recalls.

“He must have lived not too far away, and we travelled a lot together. People asked how could I be friends with someone who played for our rivals, but we got on very well. We were both footballers.”

Although often disillusioned by 
aspects of the modern game, Reilly retains his good-natured optimism – qualities he has needed all too often in recent decades given Hibs’ record in the derby. He knows from long experience never to expect a Hibs win against Hearts, but this time he is perhaps a touch more hopeful.

“I think we should win this one,” he says. Cautiously, like someone suggesting the next bus will be along any minute now.

• Lawrie Reilly was speaking in support of the Weatherseal SPL Charity Weekend on 8 and 9 December, which is supporting the Football Memories Project.