'That was our final' - recalling Hibs' famous League Cup semi triumph in Glasgow

Thirty years on, and as Hibs prepare for another Hampden showcase this weekend, Mickey Weir still can’t go out and about without someone wanting to talk about Hibs 1991 League Cup final. Or the semi-final win along the way.

Hibs' Murdo MacLeod is presented with the League Cup in 1991, following the Leith side's 2-0 victory over Dunfermline. Photo by SNS Group
Hibs' Murdo MacLeod is presented with the League Cup in 1991, following the Leith side's 2-0 victory over Dunfermline. Photo by SNS Group

It is a reminder of just how much that victory meant to Hibs fans, not that such a prompt is required.

Three decades may have passed but the living Easter Road legend vividly remembers the scenes as he and his team-mates produced a football fairytale. The previous year, they had stood shoulder to shoulder with fans as they fought to save the Leith club from the grasp of Hearts owner Wallace Mercer and the threat of oblivion. They won that battle in July of 1990 and on October 27 of the following year, the team completed the seismic turnaround, trading disaster for triumph, as they defeated Dunfermline to hoist aloft Hibs’ first major trophy since season 1972/73.

“That had been a horrible time and the thing that sticks with me is the sight of grown men crying,” recalls Weir. “Back in those days, men didn’t show their feelings, not in front of other men, but I saw so many men crying at that time. It was the same when we won the cup. I just remember seeing so many people with tears in their eyes.”

When Mercer eventually walked away from the proposed merger, he claimed it was the “sheer ferocity of emotion displayed by the fans of the Easter Road club” that has sent him packing and, 15 months later, those passions were stoked by a group of players, small in number – “people always forget we only used about 14 or 15 payers and every single one had to play their part,” says Weir – but bloated by a winning desire.

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“There was definitely an edge to us when that season started and we played well in the first few games and we looked on top of our game. As we started to build momentum everything started to fall into place.

“It was a relief more than anything else that we still had a club. A year before we could have been out of business, so to come back from that, that season felt like starting afresh.

“I don’t think anyone who wasn’t involved will realise just how strenuous and stressful that time had been for everyone involved.”

But with a clean slate, fire in their bellies and a point to prove, the club and the squad assembled by manager Alex Miller soon reasserted themselves.

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Safely through the earlier rounds of the then Skol Cup, they were drawn against Rangers at Hampden in the semi-final stage.

“That was our cup final. We all knew that if we could win that one we could go on and win the cup. We were the underdogs so in some ways the pressure was off and we did all we could to turn it on to Rangers. But we were a good team. It was a well-balanced team, players who had played big matches. We had a good defence, a midfield that no-one could outrun and we had players who could create chances and people up front who could score.

“We had winners in that team, players who knew how to get it over the line and we weren’t afraid to go to Glasgow or to play Rangers.

“It was the best team I have ever played in when it comes to a feeling of togetherness and it was the same with the fans. We had all come through a really horrible time and that had brought us all together and you can’t underestimate that.”

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HIbs ran out 1-0 victors and booked their place in the final.

“Everybody thinks it must have been when we beat Rangers [that we believed we could win the cup] but it was a lot earlier than that. There’s the well known story of Murdo MacLeod, really early in the season, collecting £10 from each of us so he could bet on us winning. That’s true.”

Just as Hibs are considered favourites to win this year’s competition, they went into the 1991 final against Dunfermline as top dogs.

“The pressure in the build up was intense. But you have to find a way to deal with it. Hibs are a big club and the fans expect them to be winning cups and playing in Europe. I was the same when I was growing up. It wouldn’t have mattered if HIbs were playing Real Madrid, I would have expected Hibs to win. I’m still like that. That’s the way I was brought up. So, I knew where the supporters were coming from but every time you went out, people would stop you and tell you to win, especially after everything that had happened. I ended up almost hiding away. I wanted to just focus on the game and I knew if we played how we could we would win.”

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But, they had to dig it out.

“We started poorly. The first half was a very nervy game. Dunfermine played OK but we didn’t really settle down. In his half-time team talk the manager just told us to relax. He could feel the tension and he told us just to go out and play.”

The second half was an improvement, thanks to the 49th-minute penalty won by Weir and converted by Tommy McIntyre. “That’s when the reins came off and we started to play,” says the winger. Keith Wright settled it four minutes from time. “And that was it, that was the fairytale.”

The reception back home was remarkable. “You never forget days like that. But that one was special because we all knew how close we had got to not having a Hibernian Football Club.” That was why grown men cried. Twice – in despair and then, a year later, in ecstasy.

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