JOHN Fraser should really harbour less-fond memories of the Famous Five than most. After all one of them, the great Gordon Smith, kept him out of the Hibernian team, writes Alan Pattullo.
But as a lifelong Hibbie, Fraser was as smitten as anyone else. And he did break into the team eventually, making his debut as a replacement for the injured Smith in a 5-1 win over East Fife in 1954.
Ahead of the broadcast tonight of a film on Hibs’ and, perhaps, Scottish football’s greatest-ever forward line, Fraser, 80 later this year, is a compelling witness to such a remarkable time.
“The first thing I can say [is that] it was such an unbelievable pleasure to play with them,” said Fraser, who then went on to list, one by one, the qualities of his legendary former team-mates.
“Gordon Smith was like a film star as well as being a footballer,” he said. “He had class written all over him. He’d maybe score 20 goals – as a winger.
“Bobby Johnstone, his nickname was ‘Knicker’ because of the way he used to pull his pants up. He was an old-fashioned dribbler, running at defences like some of them do these days, but he could really do it.
“Lawrie Reilly looked so fast on the pitch because he was such a quick thinker. We would do 50-yard runs in training and Lawrie would be last! But the thing was on the park he was sharp, he would move before anyone else.
“Eddie Turnbull was the workhorse, the man with his sleeves rolled up when he was running out. He was quite happy to do all the donkey-work. If anyone was giving Gordon Smith a hard time Eddie would go over and sort them out!
“He was the hard man, the John Greig, the Scott Brown of that Hibs side.
“And Willie Ormond, like Gordon, was a class act. He had a wonderful left foot. He could score goals from the byeline, that was his trick, and goalkeepers fell for it all the time.
“Every one of them would score 20 goals and maybe Reilly and Turnbull would take penalties. They were wonderful.”
Fraser, a forward who later converted to full-back, recalls how the rest of the team, the Not-So-Special Six, would display mock outrage at being forgotten amid the adulation heaped upon the distinguished forward line.
“It was really funny, the papers every week used to be ‘the Famous Five did this and that’,” he said.
“Big Jock Govan, the full-back, would ask: ‘Is the game only about the Famous Five?’ On a Monday morning at training it would be ‘The Famous Five did it again!’ But it was all kidology.
“I mean, if you were a defender with a forward line like that, it must have been a dream job. A lot of the games, the score would be 4-2 and 5-3. They would lose goals, too. But that was because they were an attacking team from the word go. Everything was based on attack.
“Hugh Shaw was the manager. The team talk when I was playing was: ‘Just go out and give them the Reels of Tulloch!’ He was a manager who commanded the utmost respect. If you had a bad game you were apprehensive about being called up to the manager’s office.
“Nobody wanted that.”
Although famous for being able to play in each other’s positions, the Famous Five each had his own character. “Lawrie was the torn-faced one!” smiles Fraser. “He was a nippy sweetie.
“If we lost a goal and the ball was going back to the centre, Lawrie was facing the other way giving the defenders pelters. I remember him and Tommy Younger having an argument one game.
“That wasn’t even fair. Tommy towered over him. But they were going to have a go at each other and that’s the type of atmosphere it was.
“Eddie had his sleeves rolled up, Gordon was quiet, he never said much at all, he just went out and entertained. And Bobby and Willie were the jokers.
“Gordon kept me out of the side. The first game I ever got called in to play, it was against East Fife in Methil.
“That East Fife side had Jimmy Bonthrone, ‘Legs’ Fleming, international players. I went from playing in a reserve team to going four or five gears up, it was brilliant.”
“It’s just a pity there was no television,” Fraser added. “It would have been fantastic for Hibs supporters to have seen them play. The ones who saw them, they feel sorry for the young supporters!
“They won the league three years out of five. It could have been five out of five. But they never won the Scottish Cup, I don’t know why.
“We played Motherwell the week before the Scottish Cup semi-final and we beat them 4-0. We played them the next again week in the semi-final and got beaten! I don’t know why that was. But it [the hoodoo] will end sometime – it could even be this season.”
The Famous Five will be broadcast on BBC Alba tonight at 9pm.