Interview: Jack Reilly, former Hibs goalie, on the state of Scottish football

Gerd Muller scores past Jack Reilly in the 1974 World Cup. Picture: Getty
Gerd Muller scores past Jack Reilly in the 1974 World Cup. Picture: Getty
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JACK Reilly is a worried man. The former Hibs goalkeeper, who went on to play for Australia against the great Gerd Muller and Franz Beckenbauer in the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany, is so concerned about the state of Scottish football that he fears the game may never recover unless more is done to breed future generations of home-grown young players.

Breeding has been Reilly’s lifelong passion away from football; a keen lover of horses, the 66-year-old from Stonehaven used to race thoroughbreds in Australia, but these days confines himself to merely breeding. Now a Football Federation Australia Board member and Fifa Committee representative, Reilly has made the trek from the other side of the world to take his seat at Easter Road for Wednesday’s friendly between Scotland and Australia – a match he believes is a must-win for the Socceroos.

Jack Reilly: pen picture from the 1967/68 season

Jack Reilly: pen picture from the 1967/68 season

“I will be at Easter Road for the game and it will be wonderful to be back at my old club,” said Reilly, who spent four years at Hibs between 1963 and 1967, making two first team appearances after signing from Inverurie Locos.

“I’m still a passionate Hibernian supporter and I want them to do well but the state of Scottish football really worries me. For years now, SPL clubs have prioritised the signing of cheap foreign imports over breeding talented young Scottish players. The game has really suffered as a result and that’s been reflected by the performances of Scotland who haven’t qualified for a World Cup since 1998.

“That’s not good enough and what SPL teams have got to realise is that if they don’t breed young players, clubs will go broke. If you consider the current European transfer window, how many big signings have there been? Not many, because big clubs can’t afford to go spending money like there’s no tomorrow on foreign players, instead of investing in youth.”

When Reilly left in 1967, he first headed to the USA to play for Washington Whips before migrating to Australia in 1969. He settled in Melbourne and joined Melbourne Juventus, then had a spell with Sydney St George, before returning south to play with Melbourne Hakoah. He won selection in Australia’s 1970 World Tour squad and had a strong opening game against New Caledonia, followed by games in Iran, Israel, Greece and Mexico.

Reilly was known for his work ethic and never-say-never attitude, and that helped him to earn selection for the 1974 World Cup squad, when he played in all three games at the finals against hosts and eventual winners West Germany, as well as East Germany and Chile.

“I recall watching Franz Beckenbauer training for the match against us,” he told The Scotsman prior to his arrival in Edinburgh this weekend. “We were a 300-1 long shot, and the sweat was dripping off him. He prepared for the match against us like he was preparing for a final. That’s why he was one of the greatest.”

Looking ahead to Wednesday’s international friendly, Reilly believes Scotland and Australia are evenly matched, but with higher stakes for the visitors. “Most people consider Australia to have an ageing squad but there are also proven match winners such as Lucas Neil and Marco Bresciano who have been around for years and matched the best of them during their careers,” Reilly explained. “It’s a crucial game for Australia because we start our world cup qualification programme about three weeks after the Easter Road game (on 15 August) so there isn’t much time for Holger Osiek, Australia’s coach, to finalise his first choice line-up.

“Scotland at home will be a tough game. I would not consider either side to be favourites because they are so evenly matched and it should be a very competitive and close game.

On the face of it, Reilly would appear to have divided loyalties, but he added: “I was born in Aberdeenshire but I’m an Australian citizen now so I want Australia to win!”

Reilly confessed to be “totally heartbroken” after Australia missed out to Qatar in the bidding process to host the 2022 World Cup. Despite the shock, he remains optimistic that the greatest football show on earth will eventually be staged in Australia, during his lifetime. “I just can’t feel enough for everyone in Australia after all the work they put into the bidding process,” he said “It was hard to compete with the Qatar bid and the result was a victory for the politicians in Fifa. The Qatar delegation has been pushing money around for a long period of time. We’ve got to get everybody in Australia behind us again and let’s win 2022 or 2026 and show them (FIFA) what we’re all about.”

Reilly may have only made two first-team appearances for Hibs during his Easter Road career but has never forgotten his roots and follows his old side’s results from Down Under in Sydney. Shocked by the manner of Hibs’ 5-1 defeat to Hearts in last season’s Scottish Cup final, Reilly admits he wasn’t remotely surprised when a close friend, who attended last weekend’s SPL season opener away to Dundee United at Tannadice last week, reported a dire 3-0 loss.

“I am very worried about the state of Hibs in the SPL,” he said. “It’s a great club with loyal fans who deserve better than they are getting. What I am referring to is the skill set of the players. A friend told me they were very poor against Dundee United and the players were still making the same mistakes as last season. They had a difficult SPL season last year so they’ve got to improve on that this term but it won’t happen playing the way they did against Dundee United. Again I would question the youth policy and wonder how many good young players they are going to produce in the next few years because they haven’t got the budget to compete with the big boys. You only have to look at Glasgow Rangers to realise what can happen when a club lives beyond its means.”