Pat Stanton the perfect man to pick Hibs dream team

FEW authors have the patience or self-control to research a book for more than half a century before putting pen to paper. But then, as those who saw him play will recall, Pat Stanton was never one to be rushed or flustered.

• Pat Stanton, sitting foreground with co-author Ted Brack, was joined by, from back left, Neil Martin, Lawrie Reilly, Jimmy O'Rourke, Alex Edwards, Alex Cropley, Eric Stevenson, John Blackley and John Brownlie at Easter Road yesterday for the book launch. Picture: Greg Macvean

And when he finally sat down to select Pat Stanton's Hibernian Dream Team, the former captain of the Easter Road club still took his time. He had to.

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The criterion for inclusion was simple. Anyone who Stanton had played alongside, or watched play for Hibs, would be considered.

Having supported the club since his earliest years, played 680 games for them and also gone on to be Hibs manager, Stanton had a lot of candidates to consider. Born in Edinburgh in 1944, a descendant of Michael Whelehan, the co-founder and first captain of Hibernian, Stanton has been steeped in the club's history all his days, and was fortunate to start watching them during the most successful era in their history.

Indeed, when it came to selecting his team – or rather, a starting 11, seven substitutes, a manager, a chief executive and even a physiotherapist – Stanton could simply have begun by choosing the entire forward line from that era. But instead of selecting the Famous Five en bloc, he opted for just two of their number, Gordon Smith and Lawrie Reilly, fitting them into a 4-4-2 formation more recognisable to today's supporters.

The squad as a whole includes several nationalities from quite a few different generations of Hibs teams. Smith and Reilly go back the longest way, Franck Sauzee is the most recent inclusion, and between them are players from the late 1950s onwards.

Quite rightly declining to indulge in false modesty, Stanton has included himself in central defence alongside Sauzee. Whoever was choosing the team, provided they knew anything about the history of the club, Stanton would be one of their first picks.

For those who grew up watching Turnbull's Tornadoes in the 1970s, full-back John Brownlie would be just as automatic a choice. From the same era, midfielder Alex Cropley also makes the starting line-up, while several substitutes are also drawn from that team shaped by Eddie Turnbull. John Parke is on the other side of the defence from Brownlie, Willie Hamilton joins Cropley in midfield, and George Best is on the other wing from Smith. Up front, Reilly is joined by Joe Baker.

Many of those selected, including goalkeeper Alan Rough, joined Stanton and co-author Ted Brack for the launch of the book at Easter Road yesterday. Stanton admitted it had taken a long time before he had finally decided on his team, and explained how he had arrived at the final line-up.

"It was done over 50 years and it was a long time and a lot of players to consider, so it took a wee while to boil it down," he said. "I picked a team with players who just impressed me. We've all got our views on players. We've got our favourite players. Everybody sees it differently and has their own ideas on what a player should look like or how he should play. By and large these are the players who over the years have impressed me and who I would put in this group."

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As a regular spectator, Stanton is all too familiar with the argument that today's football is technically and athletically superior to the old days. Yet, while he concedes that is true to an extent, he believes that players of decades past had greater versatility, especially when it came to lending a hand in attack whatever position they played.

"People talk about the difference in the game between now and then, but these players had the skill," he said. "I'll say one thing about all these lads and that is they could all score goals.

"Nowadays you get a guy scoring a goal and a bit saying that's his second goal of the season. These guys could all score goals and I would have thought that was the object of the game. But you've got people running about for season after season and hardly scoring a goal now."

If that is one aspect of the game which has changed from Stanton's own playing days, another which he believes has remained constant is the lack of recognition for players outwith the Old Firm. Although his selection includes some of the best players of their generation, he points out that some of them – and, by extension, their contemporaries from other clubs – did not get the number of caps their talent might have merited.

"At the international level you get a lot of players now who are judged on how many caps they've got for their country. A lot of these players in my team didn't get very many, but I would say that is just because they were playing with the Hibs.

"If they were playing for maybe one or two other teams we could mention they would have had a lot of caps. That's been going on for years and it's still going on."

Given he still watches Hibs regularly, Stanton is familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of the present team. Asked which of them would come closest to a place in his dream team, he paused, considered the matter, and then nominated Derek Riordan – but then quickly spelled out why the wide midfielder cum striker would not make the cut.

"Derek Riordan has great ability, but it's no secret that he maybe needs to work a little bit harder off the ball. The number of times you're on the ball isn't a great deal when you think of the 90 minutes.

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"If you've got the ability, add a little bit of work rate to that and it should be a wee bit easier. To be fair to Derek, he's been working a lot harder recently. In the last game here at Easter Road, he really looked up for that game.

"I sometimes feel when they play him wide left he's out of the game and he's easy to mark out there, whereas if you just played him in behind a front man he would be difficult to nail down and he would be nearer the goal. He doesn't have to prove anything to anybody about his ability: he's got plenty of that."

The members of Stanton's dream team have nothing to prove either. They did that long ago, or in the case of those like Sauzee, not so long ago.

• Pat Stanton's Hibernian Dream Team, by Pat Stanton with Ted Brack, is published by Black & White, priced 9.99.