In the latest of our Making a Stand series, NICK WELLS looks at a Scottish club who named one of their stands after a group of ex-heroes rather than just one man.
On April 21, 1949 five footballers had gathered from various parts of Scotland. They put on their boots and turned out for Hibernian FC in a friendly versus Nithsdale Wanderers.
Hibs would comfortably win the game 8-1, but those five forwards who played in what seemed like a meaningless friendly would change the fortunes of the Edinburgh club.
Gordon Smith, an outside right, was born in Edinburgh and a boyhood fan of Heart of Midlothian – Hibs’ crosstown rivals.
Willie Ormond, an outside left, signed from Stenhousemuir in 1946 for a reported fee of £12,000
Bobby Johnstone was a reserve team player given a chance by manager Hugh Shaw after scoring in a friendly against Danish side Frem Copenhagen at the start of the 1949 season. The youngster would go on to reward his boss’ confidence.
Eddie Turnbull, who played inside left, had come through the ranks after joining the club after the end of the Second World War.
Lawrie Reilly, like Smith, was an Edinburgh boy who had nearly joined Hearts only for Hibs to swoop in and snag his signature in 1946. Scoring his first goal against Queen of the South that season, he would net his first of 18 hat tricks in the same fixture in 1947.
All but Johnstone and Reilly had been steady fixtures in the Hibernian team that claimed the league title in 1948, edging Rangers FC by two points.
But an October 15, 1949 fixture against Queen of the South showed the true potential of the next few years.
Hibernian won 2-0, with the second coming from a long-range effort by Turnbull. It would be the start of an 11-game unbeaten run that ended in January to crosstown rivals Hearts.
Never before had a group of Hibernian players complemented each other to that degree of success. In his autobiography, Turnbull lays out why the soon to be named “Famous Five” operated so well. The trick, he said, came from their work rate and movement off the ball.
“On the outside-right you had the silky Smith; on the outside-left you had the direct Ormond; inside right you had the subtle skills of Bobby Johnstone; at centre forward there was Reilly, never giving a defence a moment’s peace, always harassing his opponents; and at inside left there was me, the grafter who would never stop – and could play a wee bit too.”
The “Famous Five” moniker is rumoured to have come from the Sunday Mail, earning initial disdain from the players. The feeling was that the moniker ignored the contributions of the entire team, and focused only on those who could hit the back of the net.
However, Turnbull said the larger insult was to be called the £50,000 line, highlighting their large transfer expense over their skills.
In their first full season as a unit, the group notched a combined 79 goals, equal to 91 per cent of Hibs’ goals that season. But it wasn’t enough to pip Rangers for the title.
However, it wouldn’t take long for the “Famous Five” to taste success.
Reilly hit 23 league goals in the 1950/1951 season, including a four goal romp against Falkirk in September, as Hibs stormed to the title, finishing 10 points ahead of second placed Rangers.
Speaking about his teammate, Turnbull pointed to Reilly’s speed over short distances as one of the key’s behind his success.
“Over the first eight to ten yards he was very sharp and could get goal side of the defenders before they knew it,” Turnbull wrote in his biography. “His quick reactions and stocky build ensuring that he got to the ball first more often than not.”
Reilly downplayed his ability, saying he was a hard worker who got the breaks.
“I always played as hard as I could to the referee’s final whistle, it just happened that I got the chances,” he told one interviewer.
While Reilly got the wider plaudits, the group were appreciative of each other’s ability.
“I’ve never played with anybody like Gordon Smith, he was the perfect footballer and the perfect gentleman,” Reilly said of Smith.
Tommy Preston, a Hibernian player during the latter half of the 1950s, called Johnstone one of the finest players he’s ever seen.
Turnbull was known for his fierce shots, while Ormond was praised for his hard work by teammates as well as a creative partnership with Turnbull.
The season was briefly blighted by a Scottish Cup final loss to Motherwell, with an injured Turnbull causing a selection headache before the match. With Ormond shifted from his normal position to cover for his injured teammate, the forwards failed to click.
However, it was a brief blip in a largely successful season.
If the 1950/1951 season was the opening act, the 1951/1952 season was the main show.
The green side of Edinburgh scored 92 goals in the 1951/1952 season, a record that stood for five years. Reilly would best his record the previous season, netting 27 goals. Turnbull and Johnstone grabbed half his total scoring 15 and 12 apiece.
The focus was on scoring goals, with the weight falling on the shoulders of the forwards. Not through chance, but by choice. Unlike today’s marauding centre backs and advanced wingbacks, defenders were encouraged to stay at the halfway line at most, and occasionally berated for going too far forward.
“We always went out on the park knowing we were going to win, that was our attitude. We were going to entertain the public and the public were dying to see goals,” Turnbull said in an interview in the 2000s.
In both the 1951 and 1952 season, Hibernian had double the goals against average of their nearest opponent, and on average triple that of the rest of the league.
However, the good times wouldn’t last.
Hibs finished second in the following season in heartbreaking fashion.
With 17 minutes left in the final game of the season, Rangers scored an equalizer against Queen of the South, tying Hibernian on points.
The title was handed to the Glaswegian club due to their superior goal difference.
Hibernian had peaked, with each subsequent season slipping further away from the top of the table. Subsequent fifth place finishes knocked the sheen off the Edinburgh club, with their dominance slipping away.
The five last played as a group on January 29, 1955 in a match against Clyde.
Two goals up, Hibernian shot themselves in the foot, going on to lose 3-2.
Jonhstone was subsequently sold to Manchester City for £70,000 that season. Smith would leave four years later, joining crosstown rivals Hearts after being released by Hibernian.
Reilly was forced to retire at the age of 28 from a knee injury, with a brief strike over wages causing a rift with management.
Turnbull retired in 1959 at the age of 36, going on to manage Aberdeen and Hibernian in later years.
Ormond signed for Falkirk in 1961, playing a single season with the Stirlingshire club before retiring and trading his boots for the manager’s suit.
All five of them would finish with more than 100 goals for the club, earning their spot as one of the best groups of forwards Scotland has ever produced.
Their dedication and success with the club would be honoured 40 years after they were disbanded.
Facing pressure after the release of the Taylor report, which looked at stadium safety in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster, Hibs looked at the possibility of moving stadiums.
After a series of near misses, and failed negotiations with both the local council and with rivals Hearts over sharing a stadium, Easter Road underwent expensive renovations.
The first to be upgraded was the North and South stands, costing £8,000,000 apiece.
In honour of the “Famous Five,” the North Stand was renamed after them in 1995, with an official opening taking place in 1998 with a friendly against Barnsley FC.
An initial signature of the stand was its higher altitude than the southern part of the stadium. Due to a slope in the pitch that was eventually removed in 1999 the “Famous Five” stand was above pitch level while the South Stand was below pitch level.
With a capacity of 4,000, the stand also contains a function suite designed to host large groups or parties.
With Reilly’s death in 2013, there were calls for a statue of the group to be built at Easter Road.
But for now, the group of five and their contributions to Hibernian’s most successful period in the club’s history are remembered in the hearts of supporters and the stand bearing their name.
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