History

Magical nights

Pat Stanton was a young boy in awe when his beloved Hibernian played in the inaugural season of the European Cup – an unforgettable adventure for the man who later captained the Edinburgh club

WORDS Michael Harrold

You were just mesmerised with what you were seeing,” Pat Stanton recalls. European Cup football had come to town and, for an 11-year-old lad from Niddrie in Edinburgh, there was nothing like it. This was 1955, the first season of the groundbreaking new competition, and this young Hibernian fan was caught under its spell.

“These were new teams coming from abroad, and you’d go to Easter Road on a dark night and the floodlights were on. The atmosphere was tremendous. They were special nights, especially if you were just a kid. I went to the games with my dad and always stood in the same place opposite the main stand. There was a staircase at the back of the terrace and you would climb up and up, all the way to very top. When you looked down into the stadium you could see the bright green pitch under the floodlights. The opportunity to go and see these teams was was not to be missed. For an 11-year-old kid, it was just magical.”

It was a pitch that Stanton would soon be appreciating from a different perspective. Within eight years he had made his Hibs debut and would go on to play over 400 times for the club, captaining them to a League Cup triumph before joining Celtic in 1976. He was also twice a title winner at Easter Road – albeit in Celtic’s green-and-white hoops in 1977, then as assistant manager to Alex Ferguson in the red of Aberdeen in 1980. Ironically that was Aberdeen’s first title since 1955, when they – not Hibs – would have become Britain’s first representatives in the European Cup, had the Dons’ top brass been prepared to take a step into the unknown.

“The whole thing was completely new. [The Hibs] chairman – a chap called Harry Swan – got the floodlights installed because he saw the opportunities. Not everyone had floodlights at the time, but it soon started other clubs into getting them. Things were changing a wee bit on the European scene. Air travel had improved a lot so it didn’t take you so long to get to these places as it had in the past. Teams were starting to go and play abroad a bit more than they had done.”

Hibs v Reims in 1956 (top); Hibs legend Pat Stanton (above); the match programme (above right); the pennant Reims gave Hibs (right)

Hibs were only playing because the great and good of English and Scottish football had declined invitations to take part. They had finished fifth the season before – 15 points behind champions Aberdeen – and weren’t even the best team in Edinburgh: rivals Hearts had come fourth.

The great Hibernian team that had won back-to-back titles in the early 1950s was beginning to break apart following the sale of Bobby Johnstone to Manchester City, but with four of the Famous Five – Gordon Smith, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond – still in their ranks, they remained a force.

And they were certainly strong enough to make their presence felt in the fledgling 16-team competition, beating Rot-Weiss Essen and Djurgården to earn a semi-final against Reims. “I saw all the games at Easter Road and the one that sticks with me is the one they played against Reims,” says Stanton. “They were a really good side. It was a great night. We were playing for a place in the final. They wore a red strip and had a chap playing for them called Raymond Kopa – he was the difference between the teams. He was an outstanding player. You knew Raymond Kopa wasn’t from Edinburgh with a name like that.”

Hibs lost the first leg 2-0 then succumbed 1-0 at Easter Road. “Losing to Reims was very disappointing, but two or three years down the line it would have been an even bigger one because that competition suddenly took off. It was then that it suddenly started to dawn on people that this was a big tournament and it was only going to get bigger and bigger. Madrid just dominated after that, and it was only as time moved on a wee bit that you said, ‘Remember that time we could have been in that final.’”

Stanton would never play in the competition, despite helping Celtic to the title in 1977. A knee injury at the start of the following campaign eventually cut his career short. However, he always seemed somehow connected to it. He played under Bob Shankly – brother of Liverpool legend Bill – and worked with two of Scotland’s three European Cup-winning managers: with Jock Stein as a player at both Hibs and Celtic, and as assistant manager to Sir Alex at Aberdeen. He had a poster of Real Madrid on his wall as a child and still has a scar after being kicked in the ankle by Ferenc Puskás during a 1964 friendly against the then five-time European champions at Easter Road.

"MY VERY FIRST GAME FOR THE HIBS AT EASTER ROAD WAS AGAINST DUNDEE AND WHEN I WENT OUT ON THE PARK I LOOKED OVER TO WHERE MY DAD AND I USED TO STAND FOR ALL THOSE OTHER GAMES. AND THERE HE WAS, BUT I HAD MANAGED TO GET ON THE PITCH"

Stanton recalls Stein’s arrival at Hibs that same year: “The previous managers at Easter Road – and not just at Hibs – wore their suits at the ground, whereas Jock Stein wore a tracksuit. He was one of the first to wear a tracksuit and actually get involved with the players out on the park and talk about tactics, whereas prior to that you just ran around the park. He would just point things out to you. It was a different way of looking at things. He wasn’t a man to argue with, though.

“Alex was terrific. I still speak to him. He’s an old friend of mine. I’ve known him for a long, long time – and he’s done quite well in England. He had a drive about him. When I went to Aberdeen as his assistant, one thing that struck me about the place was he knew everybody. He knew the lady that made the tea, the old chap that tidied the terracing up: he knew everybody. He had a wee chat with them. People might think that’s unimportant – that it’s about what happens on a Saturday and getting a result –but that all went together.

“There were none of these factions with people moaning. He just kept on top of things and treated people well. He looked after the players as well. I could remember him making comments in the paper about the referee. He was just asking for a fair rub of the green, but that put the ref under a wee bit of pressure. When he said these things, I always used to think back to Jock Stein because he was like that; he could stir things up a wee bit. Alex was a real admirer of Stein’s.”

It is now 50 years since Stanton, who could play in midfield or at centre-back, was named the Scottish Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year. And nearly 60 since he first ran out onto that Easter Road pitch. Yet the memories of those famous nights under the lights still feel fresh. “My very first game for the Hibs at Easter Road was against Dundee and when I went out on the park I looked over to where my dad and I used to stand for all those other games. And there he was, but I had managed to get on the pitch – that was the thing, I was playing for the Hibs. That was a big thing. It was hard to believe, actually. You would never have thought that when you were going down to watch the Kopas and all these other guys that one day you’d be out on the park.”

You were just mesmerised with what you were seeing,” Pat Stanton recalls. European Cup football had come to town and, for an 11-year-old lad from Niddrie in Edinburgh, there was nothing like it. This was 1955, the first season of the groundbreaking new competition, and this young Hibernian fan was caught under its spell.

“These were new teams coming from abroad, and you’d go to Easter Road on a dark night and the floodlights were on. The atmosphere was tremendous. They were special nights, especially if you were just a kid. I went to the games with my dad and always stood in the same place opposite the main stand. There was a staircase at the back of the terrace and you would climb up and up, all the way to very top. When you looked down into the stadium you could see the bright green pitch under the floodlights. The opportunity to go and see these teams was was not to be missed. For an 11-year-old kid, it was just magical.”

It was a pitch that Stanton would soon be appreciating from a different perspective. Within eight years he had made his Hibs debut and would go on to play over 400 times for the club, captaining them to a League Cup triumph before joining Celtic in 1976. He was also twice a title winner at Easter Road – albeit in Celtic’s green-and-white hoops in 1977, then as assistant manager to Alex Ferguson in the red of Aberdeen in 1980. Ironically that was Aberdeen’s first title since 1955, when they – not Hibs – would have become Britain’s first representatives in the European Cup, had the Dons’ top brass been prepared to take a step into the unknown.

“The whole thing was completely new. [The Hibs] chairman – a chap called Harry Swan – got the floodlights installed because he saw the opportunities. Not everyone had floodlights at the time, but it soon started other clubs into getting them. Things were changing a wee bit on the European scene. Air travel had improved a lot so it didn’t take you so long to get to these places as it had in the past. Teams were starting to go and play abroad a bit more than they had done.”

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Hibs v Reims in 1956 (top); Hibs legend Pat Stanton (above); the match programme (above right); the pennant Reims gave Hibs (right)

Hibs were only playing because the great and good of English and Scottish football had declined invitations to take part. They had finished fifth the season before – 15 points behind champions Aberdeen – and weren’t even the best team in Edinburgh: rivals Hearts had come fourth.

The great Hibernian team that had won back-to-back titles in the early 1950s was beginning to break apart following the sale of Bobby Johnstone to Manchester City, but with four of the Famous Five – Gordon Smith, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond – still in their ranks, they remained a force.

And they were certainly strong enough to make their presence felt in the fledgling 16-team competition, beating Rot-Weiss Essen and Djurgården to earn a semi-final against Reims. “I saw all the games at Easter Road and the one that sticks with me is the one they played against Reims,” says Stanton. “They were a really good side. It was a great night. We were playing for a place in the final. They wore a red strip and had a chap playing for them called Raymond Kopa – he was the difference between the teams. He was an outstanding player. You knew Raymond Kopa wasn’t from Edinburgh with a name like that.”

Hibs lost the first leg 2-0 then succumbed 1-0 at Easter Road. “Losing to Reims was very disappointing, but two or three years down the line it would have been an even bigger one because that competition suddenly took off. It was then that it suddenly started to dawn on people that this was a big tournament and it was only going to get bigger and bigger. Madrid just dominated after that, and it was only as time moved on a wee bit that you said, ‘Remember that time we could have been in that final.’”

Stanton would never play in the competition, despite helping Celtic to the title in 1977. A knee injury at the start of the following campaign eventually cut his career short. However, he always seemed somehow connected to it. He played under Bob Shankly – brother of Liverpool legend Bill – and worked with two of Scotland’s three European Cup-winning managers: with Jock Stein as a player at both Hibs and Celtic, and as assistant manager to Sir Alex at Aberdeen. He had a poster of Real Madrid on his wall as a child and still has a scar after being kicked in the ankle by Ferenc Puskás during a 1964 friendly against the then five-time European champions at Easter Road.

"MY VERY FIRST GAME FOR THE HIBS AT EASTER ROAD WAS AGAINST DUNDEE AND WHEN I WENT OUT ON THE PARK I LOOKED OVER TO WHERE MY DAD AND I USED TO STAND FOR ALL THOSE OTHER GAMES. AND THERE HE WAS, BUT I HAD MANAGED TO GET ON THE PITCH"

Stanton recalls Stein’s arrival at Hibs that same year: “The previous managers at Easter Road – and not just at Hibs – wore their suits at the ground, whereas Jock Stein wore a tracksuit. He was one of the first to wear a tracksuit and actually get involved with the players out on the park and talk about tactics, whereas prior to that you just ran around the park. He would just point things out to you. It was a different way of looking at things. He wasn’t a man to argue with, though.

“Alex was terrific. I still speak to him. He’s an old friend of mine. I’ve known him for a long, long time – and he’s done quite well in England. He had a drive about him. When I went to Aberdeen as his assistant, one thing that struck me about the place was he knew everybody. He knew the lady that made the tea, the old chap that tidied the terracing up: he knew everybody. He had a wee chat with them. People might think that’s unimportant – that it’s about what happens on a Saturday and getting a result –but that all went together.

“There were none of these factions with people moaning. He just kept on top of things and treated people well. He looked after the players as well. I could remember him making comments in the paper about the referee. He was just asking for a fair rub of the green, but that put the ref under a wee bit of pressure. When he said these things, I always used to think back to Jock Stein because he was like that; he could stir things up a wee bit. Alex was a real admirer of Stein’s.”

It is now 50 years since Stanton, who could play in midfield or at centre-back, was named the Scottish Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year. And nearly 60 since he first ran out onto that Easter Road pitch. Yet the memories of those famous nights under the lights still feel fresh. “My very first game for the Hibs at Easter Road was against Dundee and when I went out on the park I looked over to where my dad and I used to stand for all those other games. And there he was, but I had managed to get on the pitch – that was the thing, I was playing for the Hibs. That was a big thing. It was hard to believe, actually. You would never have thought that when you were going down to watch the Kopas and all these other guys that one day you’d be out on the park.”

You were just mesmerised with what you were seeing,” Pat Stanton recalls. European Cup football had come to town and, for an 11-year-old lad from Niddrie in Edinburgh, there was nothing like it. This was 1955, the first season of the groundbreaking new competition, and this young Hibernian fan was caught under its spell.

“These were new teams coming from abroad, and you’d go to Easter Road on a dark night and the floodlights were on. The atmosphere was tremendous. They were special nights, especially if you were just a kid. I went to the games with my dad and always stood in the same place opposite the main stand. There was a staircase at the back of the terrace and you would climb up and up, all the way to very top. When you looked down into the stadium you could see the bright green pitch under the floodlights. The opportunity to go and see these teams was was not to be missed. For an 11-year-old kid, it was just magical.”

It was a pitch that Stanton would soon be appreciating from a different perspective. Within eight years he had made his Hibs debut and would go on to play over 400 times for the club, captaining them to a League Cup triumph before joining Celtic in 1976. He was also twice a title winner at Easter Road – albeit in Celtic’s green-and-white hoops in 1977, then as assistant manager to Alex Ferguson in the red of Aberdeen in 1980. Ironically that was Aberdeen’s first title since 1955, when they – not Hibs – would have become Britain’s first representatives in the European Cup, had the Dons’ top brass been prepared to take a step into the unknown.

“The whole thing was completely new. [The Hibs] chairman – a chap called Harry Swan – got the floodlights installed because he saw the opportunities. Not everyone had floodlights at the time, but it soon started other clubs into getting them. Things were changing a wee bit on the European scene. Air travel had improved a lot so it didn’t take you so long to get to these places as it had in the past. Teams were starting to go and play abroad a bit more than they had done.”

Hibs v Reims in 1956 (top); Hibs legend Pat Stanton (above); the match programme (above right); the pennant Reims gave Hibs (right)

Hibs were only playing because the great and good of English and Scottish football had declined invitations to take part. They had finished fifth the season before – 15 points behind champions Aberdeen – and weren’t even the best team in Edinburgh: rivals Hearts had come fourth.

The great Hibernian team that had won back-to-back titles in the early 1950s was beginning to break apart following the sale of Bobby Johnstone to Manchester City, but with four of the Famous Five – Gordon Smith, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond – still in their ranks, they remained a force.

And they were certainly strong enough to make their presence felt in the fledgling 16-team competition, beating Rot-Weiss Essen and Djurgården to earn a semi-final against Reims. “I saw all the games at Easter Road and the one that sticks with me is the one they played against Reims,” says Stanton. “They were a really good side. It was a great night. We were playing for a place in the final. They wore a red strip and had a chap playing for them called Raymond Kopa – he was the difference between the teams. He was an outstanding player. You knew Raymond Kopa wasn’t from Edinburgh with a name like that.”

Hibs lost the first leg 2-0 then succumbed 1-0 at Easter Road. “Losing to Reims was very disappointing, but two or three years down the line it would have been an even bigger one because that competition suddenly took off. It was then that it suddenly started to dawn on people that this was a big tournament and it was only going to get bigger and bigger. Madrid just dominated after that, and it was only as time moved on a wee bit that you said, ‘Remember that time we could have been in that final.’”

Stanton would never play in the competition, despite helping Celtic to the title in 1977. A knee injury at the start of the following campaign eventually cut his career short. However, he always seemed somehow connected to it. He played under Bob Shankly – brother of Liverpool legend Bill – and worked with two of Scotland’s three European Cup-winning managers: with Jock Stein as a player at both Hibs and Celtic, and as assistant manager to Sir Alex at Aberdeen. He had a poster of Real Madrid on his wall as a child and still has a scar after being kicked in the ankle by Ferenc Puskás during a 1964 friendly against the then five-time European champions at Easter Road.

"MY VERY FIRST GAME FOR THE HIBS AT EASTER ROAD WAS AGAINST DUNDEE AND WHEN I WENT OUT ON THE PARK I LOOKED OVER TO WHERE MY DAD AND I USED TO STAND FOR ALL THOSE OTHER GAMES. AND THERE HE WAS, BUT I HAD MANAGED TO GET ON THE PITCH"

Stanton recalls Stein’s arrival at Hibs that same year: “The previous managers at Easter Road – and not just at Hibs – wore their suits at the ground, whereas Jock Stein wore a tracksuit. He was one of the first to wear a tracksuit and actually get involved with the players out on the park and talk about tactics, whereas prior to that you just ran around the park. He would just point things out to you. It was a different way of looking at things. He wasn’t a man to argue with, though.

“Alex was terrific. I still speak to him. He’s an old friend of mine. I’ve known him for a long, long time – and he’s done quite well in England. He had a drive about him. When I went to Aberdeen as his assistant, one thing that struck me about the place was he knew everybody. He knew the lady that made the tea, the old chap that tidied the terracing up: he knew everybody. He had a wee chat with them. People might think that’s unimportant – that it’s about what happens on a Saturday and getting a result –but that all went together.

“There were none of these factions with people moaning. He just kept on top of things and treated people well. He looked after the players as well. I could remember him making comments in the paper about the referee. He was just asking for a fair rub of the green, but that put the ref under a wee bit of pressure. When he said these things, I always used to think back to Jock Stein because he was like that; he could stir things up a wee bit. Alex was a real admirer of Stein’s.”

It is now 50 years since Stanton, who could play in midfield or at centre-back, was named the Scottish Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year. And nearly 60 since he first ran out onto that Easter Road pitch. Yet the memories of those famous nights under the lights still feel fresh. “My very first game for the Hibs at Easter Road was against Dundee and when I went out on the park I looked over to where my dad and I used to stand for all those other games. And there he was, but I had managed to get on the pitch – that was the thing, I was playing for the Hibs. That was a big thing. It was hard to believe, actually. You would never have thought that when you were going down to watch the Kopas and all these other guys that one day you’d be out on the park.”

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