WHEN the clock strikes midnight tonight Johnny Hubbard will have greater reason than most to celebrate as his mind will race back 60 years to a remarkable Ne’er Day Old Firm derby which remains etched in history.
Rangers can boast some sensational strikers in the period since then, from Billy Simpson, through Jimmy Millar, Ralph Brand, Colin Stein, Derek Johnstone, Mark Hateley and, of course, the greatest of them all, Ally McCoist.
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These great men grabbed cup final winners, crucial league strikes and vital goals in the European arena.
However, there is one thing they cannot boast and it is a record which has stood since 1 January, 1955 and held by diminutive South African Hubbard.
Remarkably, the Pretoria-born winger is the last Rangers player to score a league hat-trick against Celtic in what was a 4-1 victory and he remembers it as if it was yesterday.
There is no video evidence of his remarkable achievement but those who were there – including Sir Alex Ferguson – feel privileged.
Ferguson has rated Hubbard’s first goal as the greatest he has ever seen so that gives you some indication of the quality.
Hubbard said: “It’s amazing to think that my hat-trick still stands when you consider all the strikers who have played with Rangers since. I can’t believe it is the last time a Rangers player scored a hat-trick in a league match against Celtic.
“Six years earlier Jimmy Duncanson did the same thing when he scored three against Celtic on New Year’s Day.
“It’s a great record to have and I wonder when it might be beaten.”
So what happened that fateful day? It had been a fairly uneventful Old Firm game with honours even after the first 45 minutes and it was late in the game that Hubbard wrote his name into the history books.
Hubbard said: “It was quite a quiet game. It was 1-1 at half-time and Billy Simpson had scored for us. Then with 14 minutes to go John Little passed the ball to me just outside our box and I just went on a run from there.
“I beat Bobby Evans, Mike Haughney, Jock Stein and Frank Meechan and a couple more besides.
“Suddenly I only had the goalkeeper to beat. I waltzed around him and I walked the ball into the net.
“I heard that Sir Alex thought it was the best goal he has ever seen. That was a great thing to hear.
“The second goal was a little bit unusual too because I didn’t use my feet or head to score it.
“I passed the ball to Billy and he went off down the left wing.
“I followed into the box, he crossed the ball over and I chested the ball into the net.”
Hubbard, of course, built a reputation of being one of the greatest penalty kick takers in history.
He scored 54 out of 57 penalties for Rangers and it was from the spot that he scored his third. He added: “With a minute to go Derek Grierson was pulled down in the box and that gave me my hat-trick.
“Ally scored three in the 1984 League Cup final and the Glasgow Cup final two years later but I’m surprised that no one else has done it in the league since I did it.”
Hubbard, who celebrated his 84th birthday 15 days ago, is still a regular at Ibrox, usually making the journey by bus from his Ayrshire home, and, of course, the tumultuous and calamitous events of the past three years have hurt him more than most.
Rangers and Celtic meet in the League Cup semi-final on 1 February – locking horns for the first time in nearly three years – and more than anything Hubbard hopes the occasion will pass off peacefully.
Many fear a poisonous atmosphere but it is hardly new. Indeed, Hubbard witnessed the ugly side of the rivalry with his own disbelieving eyes as a raw teenager back on 27 August, 1949 when the two sides met in a League Cup sectional match.
He said: “I had just joined the club and to see the Old Firm game was amazing especially as Rangers won 2-0, but I will never forget it because there was a riot in the Celtic end.
“When the final whistle blew they started throwing bottles into the main stand and three mounted police actually went into terracing after them.
“I had never seen anything like that in my life and I still remember it vividly. I was only 18 and I didn’t know a soul. It was a real eye-opener for a youngster from South Africa.
“I think there were 95,000 there and I was used to playing in front of 95.
“I’m not sure if I have missed the fixture or not.
“Although Rangers are having troubles and Celtic are stronger, it doesn’t always work out that way in an Old Firm game.
“I just hope Rangers are lucky on 1 February because if you are unlucky you have lost.”
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