Saturday, April 30, 2011

Eddie Turnbull 1923-2011

The attacking football, the flair game, that Hibs fans are said to hold so dear is oft maligned and often frustrates those managers tasked with satisfying the demands of supporters.

That footballing ideal, which perhaps exists more in theory than in practicality, owes itself to two gilded periods.

In the austerity of the 1950s Hibs shone a light across Scotland with a quintet of attacking talent that will be forever celebrated at Easter Road.

Their most worthy successors arrived in the 1970s when a Hibs team packed with quality endeavoured to craft their own legacy in the shadow of Jock Stein's all conquering Celtic.

Two decades are part of Hibs' DNA. And one man blazed his own legend into both eras.

Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Ormond. And Turnbull.

As a player Eddie Turnbull, who died today, was an integral part of the Famous Five, part of the attacking spearhead of a team that won three championships and led British football into European club competition.

As a manager he detoured to Queens Park then brought a Scottish Cup to Pittodrie before returning to Easter Road to build Turnbull's Tornadoes.

Stanton, Cropley, Gordon, Brownlie, Edwards.

Names that roll off the tongue of even this Hibs supporter who never saw them play.

A League Cup win seems a paltry return for their ability. But their talents and achievements are part of the brickwork at even a redeveloped Easter Road.

The true Hibee will know all about that 7-0 win at Tynecastle before they can even talk.

Today's news has taken me by surprise. Eddie was obviously failing. But he had an indomitable spirit that seemed to stand him in good enough stead to beat anything.

Having been away for the last week I was unaware how ill he had become.

The last time I saw him enjoy the spotlight was in October. On being unveiled as an inaugural member of the Hibs hall of fame, Eddie was helped to the stage and supported himself with two walking sticks.

As the crowd rose to acclaim him a healthy chorus of "Glory, Glory..." broke out.

Within seconds Eddie had hoisted both walking sticks into the air and was using them to conduct the impromptu singalong.

It might have brought tears to the eyes if you didn't know that Eddie would dissapprove. He was, every inch of him, hewn from the old school.

That night, as ever, he was difficult to get off the stage. An old man reliving his glory days, he relished a stage and a ready ear to enthral.

More than that he was never short to offer an opinion on modern football. He was so often on the money in his observations that it made you despair that he was essentially lost to football when he left Hibs in 1980, a couple of years before his 60th birthday.

The Eddie I knew, albeit only distantly, enjoyed the acclaim and embraced the fans.

Those who played with him, against him or for him knew a more cantankerous beast. Punters who used to frequent his pub on Easter Road might also have a tale or four to tell about the legendary Turnbull temper.

Mind you, it wasn't that long ago that I saw him get his jacket on and threaten to walk out of a football forum when someone annoyed him with their line of questioning. The fire still burned.

The Famous Five enforcer with the thunderbolt shot. The first player to score a goal for a British club in Europe. Captain of his country at Scotland's World Cup debut in 1958. The hard, hard man who allowed skill, artistry and elegance to flourish in his Hibs team.

The bridge between the two eras that still bring Hibs fans their most unadulterated joy when celebrating their football club.

Fittingly Hibs' next home game is against Aberdeen on the final day of the season.

There will be a space next to Lawrie Reilly in the stand at Easter Road.

Just as Turnbull himself would never be silenced, so his achievements, his character, his memory - which represent a very different but hugely important time in Scottish football - will echo loudly in Leith that day.

But we'll miss him. If Hibs are indeed a family then it's hard not to feel that the club has lost a grandfather today.