Jimmy O’Rourke interview: ‘Only room for one wee fat barrel at Hibs’

Jimmy O'Rourke, now 71 and living in Loanhead, is best remembered as a prolific striker in Hibs' great Turnbull's Tornadoes side of the Seventies. Picture: Neil Hanna
Jimmy O'Rourke, now 71 and living in Loanhead, is best remembered as a prolific striker in Hibs' great Turnbull's Tornadoes side of the Seventies. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Wow, this is spooky, and rather unnerving, though at my age I should be over the fear. Jimmy O’Rourke has just flashed his index 
finger and pinkie at me, a sign I haven’t seen for almost half a century.

As a middle-class boy from Edinburgh’s New Town in the early 1970s I occasionally had to venture into the capital’s outlying schemes to get a game of Subbuteo. This was when the street gangs rooled OK ya bass and, negotiating Clermiston, you were fortunate if your only exposure to this sign was from glancing up at the top deck of a corporation bus as it disappeared safely over the hill.

“The Clerrie Jungle,” confirms O’Rourke, Hibernian hero and a Clerrie native. Similar societies in the capital at that time – Crombie-coated, Clockwork Orange-apeing, little in common with Algonquin Round Table – were Young Mental Drylaw and Niddrie Terror. “I wasn’t in the Jungle but my three older brothers might have been. I was much more interested in chasing the lassies.”

Phew, that’s a relief, but I’m actually pleased to see the sign again. It adds weight to my theory about a connection between the current Hibs and O’Rourke’s men as Darren McGregor has been known to contort his fingers to make “YLT”, the hail-fellow greeting of the Young Leith Team. Lots of nice things are being said about McGregor and the rest of Neil Lennon’s Hibees. The best since the Tony Mowbray era, the best since that of Alex McLeish. But really, the side 
to aspire to be like are Turnbull’s Tornadoes. See what you think of my Leith links ...

Strong local presence of fans-turned-players – check. Occasionally shaky goalkeeper – check. Irresistible forward-motion surging from the midfield, none of your sideways-or-back nonsense (Pat Stanton, John McGinn). Raking diagonal passes to a flying winger (Alex Edwards to Arthur Duncan, McGinn to Martin Boyle). Playmaker who seems too slight for the pell-mell but dances over the top (Dylan McGeouch, Alex Cropley). Finally, one tall, blond striker (Alan Gordon, Flo Kamberi) and for his sidekick a short, dark, bustler and snaffler (Jamie Maclaren, our man).

The Tornadoes finished top-flight runners-up in 1973-74, which is what this team are trying to emulate with today’s crunch clash at Aberdeen. O’Rourke nods when I point out the similarities. “I like this team, I like what Neil Lennon has done to them. I used to hate it during that long spell when we couldn’t beat Hearts and folk said Hibs were soft. This side has only just arrived. We were together for longer and I’d been at Easter Road for ten years before the Tornadoes. You’d expect me to be biased and say that team were better but McGinn, McGeouch and these boys are playing some really lovely football.”

O’Rourke is 71, a solid-gold, £35-a-week, thunder-thighed, goal-plundering Hibee legend and a quirky character who will break off from our chat in a pub in Dalkeith, Midlothian, to ask one of the staff: “Would you happen to have a wee custard cream?” Unusual requests are a favourite of his, designed to brighten up a slow day. He’s certainly brightening up mine.

A grandfather, he lives in nearby Loanhead with his second wife Anne; his first, Helen, died of septicaemia. He moves slowly – “Even slower than when I was a player, if that’s possible” – and new knees are on order. Having suffered a stroke a while back, he apologises in advance should his memory fail him, but it seems snappy enough to me.

“Dominguez, Marquitos, Santamaria, Pachin, Vidal, Zarraga, Canario, Del Sol, Di Stefano, Puskas, Gento.” Give the man a custard cream for he’s just named the Real Madrid 7-3 team from the 1960 European Cup final at Hampden, a match he attended, although it wasn’t the first final to thrill him.

“When Hearts won the Scottish Cup in 1956 my mother took me over the back of Clerrie and down to Corstorphine Road to meet the open-top bus and acclaim the great Alex Young.” So he could have been a Jam Tart? “Dinnae print that! I went turnabout to Easter Road and Tynecastle, everyone did in those days. I went to Tynie when Eusebio came with Benfica. I saw Standard Liege who had a centre-forward called Bonga Bonga. I probably preferred Tynie because you got a halfpenny more there when you took back the empty beer bottles but dinnae print that either. Mr [Tommy] Walker [manager] had me in his office but I only ever wanted to play for the Hibs and thankfully I got to live the dream. You can mention that I cried on the slopes of Hampden in 1958 when Hibs lost the cup because that’s dead true.”

It had to be football for O’Rourke. “I was dux of my primary school but murder at Holy Cross Academy,” he admits. “All I wanted to do was kick a ball. And I had someone to look up to there: the great Paddy Stanton who was two years above me. Folk have asked me: ‘What kind of captain was Pat?’ I think they expect me say quiet, which he was, as if that couldn’t be inspirational, and he was definitely that. You know there used to be a ground called Broomfield which we knew as the Bullring, and it was hellish to have to play Airdrie in November if the wind was howling down the park. But Paddy took games like that by the scruff of the neck. That’s what kind of skipper he was.”

O’Rourke supplies some more Clerrie colour: “My brother Michael was a master at no’ paying for anything. He was at Wembley for every England-Scotland game and he’d hop on the midnight special for free. Outside the stadium he’d wait for the pipe band to turn up. ‘Can I carry your drum, mister?’ ‘Aye, son!’ Funnily enough, he ended up working for the Inland Revenue. But his best trick was when he used to take along a bell to Hibs games and when I was on the ball he’d give it a big bloody ring.”

It would be a while before O’Rourke heard the peel, before the chant “Jimmy, Jimmy O’Rourke – everyone knows his name”. Manager Walter Galbraith handed him his debut in 1962 aged 16 against Utrecht in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. “I was working at an electrical factory. There was a phonecall telling me to report to Easter Road for 6.30pm. I felt overwhelmed – five weeks before I’d been playing school football. Ronnie Simpson was the goalie and Ally MacLeod – he was effervescent even then – played left-wing. I think I only got three touches all night although I did hit the bar.” Three days later at Dunfermline he scored the first of his 122 goals in green and white. Then Jock Stein arrived.

“He lived near my folks, at the old dentist’s at Parkgrove, and would give me a lift into training in his Ford Zephyr. I was petrified, never said a word, just listened. He’d tell me: ‘Don’t turn out like him’ and ‘Don’t you be following his example.’” Who did he mean? “Oh, just about everybody!”

Maybe Willie Hamilton was uppermost. O’Rourke raises his hands to the heavens. “Big Jock loved Willie, me too. He was an absolute genius. Whenever we lost a goal, I would run up to him and he’d aye say: ‘Rourkey, we’re playing with a bunch of cowboys the day.’ I would tell myself: ‘The great Willie confided in me. Maybe that means I’m not one of the cowboys!’”

He remembers others who twinkled before the Tornadoes blew, including the Peters, Marinello and Cormack. The latter was “one of these guys who was good at everything: Scottish boys’ snooker champ, rare singer, great player of course and a handsome bugger as well”. Marinello was no slouch in the pin-up stakes whereas O’Rourke, bless him, was the kind of footballer who’s simply disappeared from the game. “Wee and fat, you mean? They called me ‘Stumpy’.” He laughs and scans the room. “It’s rare that I’m in a pub and don’t know anybody.”

Turnbull took over in Leith in 1971 although O’Rourke didn’t make the most favourable first impression. “I was late back from holiday and missed the start of pre-season training. The previous manager, Dave Ewing, had okayed this but, as Eddie put it, effing Dave wasn’t effing in charge anymore. I was put on double sessions for two months and I was worried Eddie was going to be like Willie MacFarlane who I don’t think ever started me for Hibs.”

Their relationship got better and after some key Turnbull acquisitions and the disappointment of a heavy Scottish Cup defeat to Celtic, the team got better. Fourth in the league became third and then second. The Drybrough Cup was won with a 30-yard O’Rourke piledriver proving crucial, then the League Cup was won, Jimmy scoring what proved to be the winner with a diving header. Then the Drybrough was retained. Each time Hibs had to overcome Celtic. Could they do it in the league?

“Eddie believed we could and so did we. Danny McGrain and Sandy Jardine were great full-backs but we thought John Brownlie was the best in Europe. I never saw a fitter, harder player than Erich Schaedler. John Blackley oozed class and Jim Black was underrated because he was a steady big fellow. Eddie rescued Alex Edwards and Alan Gordon from obscurity and you tell me two better Hibs signings. Alex Cropley was maybe the most skilful of the lot, a little guy with the heart of a lion. Then there was Arthur Duncan – how fast was he?

“And Pat was Pat. He was my roommate on all our European trips and on two tours of America. When we were over in California Pat wanted to see Folsom Prison because he liked Johnny Cash who’d written a song about it. I was more of a Motown man but I went with him. There was a new intake going through the gates as we were stood outside. Pat said: ‘What are you looking at?’ I said: ‘That bus there. I’m sure there are some boys from Clerrie on it.’”

When older fans wax lyrical about the Tornadoes they really mean the first half of season ’72-’73 when this marvellously flamboyant team scored 100 goals before Christmas and O’Rourke netted no less than six hat-tricks. “I was on holiday in Portugal a few years ago. A pal had told a waiter in our local bar that I used to play football. The waiter pretended to chuck me out. ‘I’m not serving you,’ he said, ‘you scored three goals against Sporting Lisbon.’”

Apologies, Hearts fans: there will now be some brief words about the 7-0 game. O’Rourke claimed two in the Ne’er Day thrashing of Hearts and continues to deny nicking a goal off Stanton. Five-nil up at half-time he remembers Eddie Turnbull’s exhortations: “‘This game isn’t over – let not one man jack of you think that.’ I’d never heard the phrase before.” At the end he commiserated with Jim Brown and Dave Clunie, friends to this day. With Stanton and Gordon he celebrated over a couple of pints in the Iolanda, an Italian-run hotel on Edinburgh’s Meadows, scene of the first-ever meeting between the capital clubs. But 7-0 is not his favourite derby memory.

“On 18 September, 1965 I was turning 19 and I had the trip to Blackpool booked, having expected to be playing the reserves derby the night before. But Neil Martin was injured so I was put up to the first team. By the tenth minute, Hearts fans were streaming out of Tynecastle and Hibs fans late in arriving had missed four goals. Eric Stevenson scored two and I got one with my right foot from 20 yards and another with my left from the same distance. I carried on down to Blackpool after the game, my first trip there, and was standing underneath the tower when this Hearts pal, Jimmy Ferguson, shouted: ‘You dirty Hibee bastard!’ He’d been at Bloomfield Road that afternoon. “‘I couldn’t believe what was happening at Tynie when the half-times were put up on the scoreboard,’ he said. ‘In fact, I climbed over the wall and went right up the tunnel to query it. ‘I think you must have that one the wrong way round,’ I said. ‘No,’ I was told, ‘it’s four to Hibs.’”

The Tornadoes benefited from great camaraderie and for O’Rourke’s example of team spirit we’re back in the US, in San Remo: “We had a favourite bar. One night, this local approached us: ‘I’ve been watching you guys, drinking every night. I’m a doctor and have to ask: as professional soccer players, how long is this going to go on?’ So Jim Black clapped his big muckle hands together and said: ‘Another ten days, min!’”

But Turnbull would break up the side. Fresh winds blew through Easter Road as the manager tried to turn runners-up into champions and some Tornadoes departed, including Black, Gordon and goalkeeper Jim Herriot. I’d expected some bitterness from O’Rourke over him exiting as Joe Harper arrived from Everton but there is none. “I remember saying to Alan: ‘That’s it, I’m out.’ ‘How come?’ he said. ‘There’ll only be room for one wee fat barrel and it won’t be me.’ Of course I was sad to leave; Hibs had been my life. But you couldn’t blame Joe. I wasn’t resentful of Eddie either. I think he broke up the Tornadoes 
too quickly but he was a great boss who was doing what he thought was best for the club and he obviously 
saw a bigger picture without me involved. The season after I left Hibs were second again, another great effort.”

O’Rourke moved to St Johnstone – for £15 a week more – and a few weeks into ’74-’75 returned to Easter Road as Saints captain. Hibs had won all their games up to that point and were top of the league. You can probably guess what happened: “It felt odd being on the other side of the park, then going up with Pat Stanton to toss for ends. Hibs liked to shoot down the old slope in the second half but I wasn’t about to allow that. I scored the winner.

“Afterwards, all the papers wanted me to denigrate Hibs, stick it up to them for getting rid of me, but I would never have done that. I loved the club too much and still do. The next day I got a phonecall from the chairman, Tom Hart: ‘See your cut of the transfer fee, Rourkey? I’m going to pay the tax on it for you.”

Maybe footballers don’t look like Jimmy O’Rourke anymore but clubs still crave the near-certainty of him finding the back of the net. Heading home for the near-certainty of a custard cream, he smiles: “I don’t like to bum myself up, so I’ll leave the last word to Sandy Jardine. We’d just beaten Rangers for the umpteenth time and he was heard to say: ‘That Rourkey, all he can dae is score goals.’”