THE passing of Tommy Preston sees the link with the truly Golden Age of Hibernian and the Famous Five finally severed.
Preston, or Tam as he was known to his multitude of friends, was an ambassador for that era. He bridged the gap between the Five, the Baker Boy and Pat Stanton and the Sixties.
Known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the game, he had great recall of the European nights and every opponent Hibs played. He could even remember the formations.
A man of the fans, Tam Preston had the gift of friendship and several generations of Hibs players will now remember him with great affection. He loved nothing more than to talk about the game and great players from the past.
An under-rated player himself, due to timing as much as anything, he was still a pivotal figure for Hibs as the Leith team cut a dash as Scotland’s pioneers in European football.
A versatile, left-footed inside forward whose brain made up for his lack of pace, he was a player ahead of his time. And, of course, he will be remembered at Hibs for scoring in both legs of the epic clash with Barcelona in 1960-61.
Preston was a pivotal figure as Hibs cut a dash as Scotland’s pioneers in Europe.
Last season he was in his bowling club when the Champions League game between Barcelona and Bayern Munich came on TV. He turned to the guys he was playing dominos with: “I don’t know what all the fuss is about. I have played against them both … and scored.” He then said he was chapping.
Thomas Baxter Preston was born in the Longstone area of Edinburgh in 1932, “the wrong side of town”. He’d even admit he was a Hearts fan as a boy. Dux at Longstone primary he went on to Boroughmuir High and won an under-18 Scottish Cup winner’s medal with Juniper Thistle. He then played for Edinburgh Thistle before National Service in the RAF.
Several clubs were interested but Hibs manager Hugh Shaw moved for him in October 1953 and he was sent out to juniors Newtongrange Star.
His debut came within a year as he was recalled to face a Celtic half-back line of “Bobby Evans, Jock Stein and Bertie Peacock” as the Glasgow club won the title at Easter Road.
Preston made a good enough impression to start the next season up front for the injured Lawrie Reilly. Unfazed, he scored eight goals in six League Cup ties and then the equaliser in the opening league match against Rangers.
He quickly became a fan favourite and showed early on he relished European opponents, scoring two goals in a floodlit friendly against Sparta Prague. He also established he was a big game player and was part of history when he lined up in the number six shirt for the opening European Cup tie against Germany’s Rot Weiss Essen in September 1955.
Many other young players fell away in the following seasons, failing to handle the transition as the Famous Five era ended but Preston was a stalwart, establishing himself as a “senior” player as Hibs readjusted. New recruits such as Joe Baker, Pat Stanton, Eric Stevenson and Jimmy O’Rourke would all recall with gratitude his guiding hand in their early days at Hibs.
Another highlight was a hat-trick in a 4-2 win over Hearts in the opening floodlit match at Tynecastle in October 1957.
During that season Preston was the vital link to a young striker exploding on the scene, the Baker Boy, and Hibs reached the Scottish Cup final, courtesy of a Preston goal in the semi-final against Rangers, only to lose to Clyde.
The next season, 1959-60, Hibs scored an incredible 106 League goals yet finished seventh as Baker notched up 42. But Preston outgunned him, scoring four in the 11-1 league win at Airdrie.
The two most memorable matches Preston is associated with lay ahead. Barcelona had become the first team to knock Real Madrid out of the European Cup in November 1960, but to outdo their rivals they had re-entered the Fairs Cup to win a European double. In the first match at Camp Nou, Preston shot Hibs into a 3-2 lead with Baker adding another before Barca scored twice in the last six minutes. Back at Easter Road, Barcelona had squeezed into a 2-1 lead before Preston glided in with a late run – finding space was a feature of his game – to head in and the infamous Bobby Kinloch penalty clinched victory. Over 50 years later the names of Suarez (who was European footballer of the Year) Kocsis, Segarra and Martinez would still trip off his tongue.
A special highlight, indeed, of an 11-year career of 313 appearances and 50 goals for Hibs.
He was transferred to St Mirren in season 1964-65 but only played one game.
The ensuing years were to be spent as an integral part of the Hibernian community – fan, friend and hugely popular former player.
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