Wednesday, August 04, 2010

SPL In Europe: Hibs Look To History

Where there's a group of football fans, there's hope. Last week Hibs left me thankful that I've not got a gas oven.

Although I wish I'd remembered that before spending an hour with my head in the electric fan oven. This week's lack of blogging can be put down to my recovery period for severely singed hair.

But there's been time to ruminate on the piddling trifle of an obstacle that a three goal deficit represent for a classy footballing outfit. Obviously it's a slightly larger obstacle for John Hughes' Hibs.

But still, all is not lost. Yet.

And, as John Hislop recounts below, it's not like Hibs don't have form in the chasing a European lost cause stakes. Can't believe there's a not song Leith about Dino Zoff:

There’s much doom and gloom down Easter Road way following the first leg defeat in Slovenia on Thursday night, but that’s to be expected. Hibs fans fall into either the ‘glass half full’ or ‘glass half empty categories.’ At the moment, the majority appear to be in the latter.

OK, perhaps Yogi should have played Riordan and Stokes from the start, but that’s water under the bridge now. While I won’t be selling my car and putting the money on Hibs to progress to the next round, I agree with the manager, the tie is far from over.

One of the reasons for my optimism is that I can vividly remember overturning a similar deficit against a team much superior to Maribor.

It doesn’t seem like 43 years ago when the Hibs returned from Naples having been comprehensively beaten 4-1. By all accounts the game had been much closer than the scoreline suggested but it took a last minute Colin Stein consolation goal to give the manager Bob Shankly some degree of hope.

In fact the older Shankly brother told anyone who would care to listen that the tie was still very much alive, but most took his predictions with a pinch of salt.

The Naples manager certainly didn’t appear too concerned as he sipped a whisky in the director's box whilst watching his team train on the night before the game. Legend has it that he had decided to rest his star player, Jose Altafini, for the weekend derby, a mistake he would live to regret.

The return game was played on 29 November 1967 before a disappointing crowd of 21,000. This was my first European match, and I headed for my usual spot in the upper section of the old East terracing.

After 5 minutes, I witnessed the greatest goal I have ever seen at Easter Road, and the place erupted. Not only did right back Bobby Duncan hammer the ball past rookie Italian keeper Dino Zoff (whatever happened to him?) but he did it with his left foot to score his first ever goal.

Various subsequent accounts measure the distance from anywhere between 25 yards and 45 yards, and I appreciate that sometimes your memory can play tricks, but I seem to recall that he hit the ball from just outside the Albion Bar.

In any case Zoff was left helpless and, just before half time, Pat Quinn added a second to the delight of most people in the ground. With Easter Road buzzing, there were still a few moaning faced auld gits predicting we’d throw it away in the second half. I suspect their grandchildren now bombard the comments page in the Evening News demanding Rod Petrie resigns.

In any case, the rest of us couldn’t wait to get the Italians ‘down the slope’ and, sure enough, headers from Peter Cormack and Pat Stanton put us in a great position. Even then some were sure that it was just a matter of time before Naples scored to take the game into extra time and it was only after Colin Stein wrapped things up near the end to make the final score 5-0 that they accepted that we were through.

Being a youngster at the time, I assumed that these games happened every year, and when we returned from Leeds following a 1-0 defeat, I was confident that we would progress.

An early goal from Colin Stein was followed by an onslaught on the Leeds goal, but their defence held out. With extra time looming, Clive ‘The Book’ Thomas decided that he hadn’t received enough attention.

This was the man who blew for full time when the ball was in the air following a corner kick from Brazil during a World Cup match, so awarding the world’s first free kick for breaking the new 4 steps rule was just another notch on his whistle. He had conveniently ignored his fellow countryman Gary Sprake in the Leeds goal taking nine steps on one occasion as later proved by TV evidence.

The rest is history. Johnny Giles floated the ball to the back post and Jack Charlton headed an undeserved equaliser on the night to end another European run.

OK, I accept that we had better players in those days, but I genuinely believe that the current team could give them a run for their money. Especially since most of that team are now in their seventies.

Anyway, an early goal on Thursday night and who knows?

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