THE PLAYERS

 

Players to wear the green and white of the Hibees.

Here is a growing collection of players and internationalists to feature for Hibernian throughout the years.

Position Inside Forward

Hamilton's best years were perhaps at Easter Road under the guidance of manager Jock Stein, having a starring role in Hibernian's famous 2-0 victory over Real Madrid in 1964.

 

Willie Hamilton Profile

 

National team Scotland
International debut

 

Labelled by former Hibernian boss Jock Stein as the most talented individual he ever managed, Willie Hamilton was both a symbol of footballing excellence and a rebellious enigma.

There was a carefree swagger about Hamilton that made him an irresistible figure to the Easter Road crowd.

At the peak of his powers - under the watchful eye of Stein - he was an extraordinary talent capable of perceptive, penetrative passes and single-handedly changing the outcome of a game.

Drifting elegantly past opponents, Hamilton lived for the moment and the bigger the stage, the better the performance served up by the extravagantly gifted lad from Airdrie.

The charismatic inside forward was an ingenious, instinctive passer and a crowd-pleasing improviser, full of flicks and backheels.

Bubbly and easy-going, Hamilton had bags of talent and was a tremendous footballer, deserving lofty acclaim for his mastery of the ball.

But his career was tinged with a sense of remorse and sorry anti-climax; his genius should have seen his name immortalised amongst the game's all-time greats - on a par with the likes of 'Jinky' and 'Slim Jim'.

Sadly his disdain for authority and a self-destructive streak meant his immense potential remained largely unrealised. He could have been even better.

From an early age, he was saddled with the tag of being a golden boy - a rare, unique talent, who could make the ball talk.

Demonstrating glorious skills with Coatbridge-based boys team Drumpellier Amateurs, Hamilton signed for Sheffield United as a 16-year-old.

For five seasons in south Yorkshire, Hamilton proved to be a captivating player, but also unpredictable and inconsistent. A couple of blinders could be followed by a stinker.

He was also homesick for Scotland, so moved closer to the border by signing for Middlesbrough in 1961 for £12,000, although his stay on Teesside was disrupted by aggravating injuries.

Slight and frail-looking, Hamilton struggled with a stomach ulcer and eventually moved to Edinburgh, albeit for Hearts for £2,500 in June 1962.

With his carefree exuberance and ability to think on his feet, Hamilton quickly became a big favourite of the Tynecastle crowd.

He scored on his debut against Dundee and helped the team in maroon to win the League Cup, but Hearts manager Tommy Walker found trying to control Hamilton an awesomely demanding proposition.

Disputes about his behaviour led to a suspension from club duties before Walker felt he was left with no alternative, but to place Hamilton on the transfer list - shipping out his infuriating star act.

In the end, city rivals Hibernian handed Hamilton a career lifeline and in October 1963 he headed east to Leith in a £6,000 transfer.

Never a model professional, Hamilton needed a strong-minded manager to handle him and Stein duly knocked some discipline into his life.

Team-mates will testify that, although Hamilton had profound respect for 'Big Jock', he was also absolutely petrified of the man.

This fear factor meant there was no room for messing about - Hamilton had to play the Stein way and it resulted in the brightest passage of his eventful career.

His form flowered luxuriantly in the heady atmosphere of Easter Road; the perfect setting for his prodigious flair.
In a friendly match against Real Madrid at Easter Road in October 1964, Hamilton was at his most irresistible.

In the number eight shirt, Hamilton ran the show against one of the greatest club sides in European football history; some beautifully-weighted passes characterising his performance.

The display also highlighted arguably his greatest attribute - his spontaneity. Not famed for his forward planning - he once only took tiny bag with him on the club's seven-week tour of Canada - Hamilton would always react to the situation he found himself in.

Forced into a tight corner by two opponents, Hamilton instinctively swivelled his hips and in one smooth movement he was away off up the pitch to instigate another Hibernian attack.

Then three days after outclassing Real's Ferenc Puskas, Hamilton took centre stage at Ibrox to help Hibernian defeat Rangers 4-2 - outshining the Light Blues' leader Jim Baxter.

With Hamilton occupying the role of chief playmaker, Hibernian were on the threshold of replicating the glory achieved by the Famous Five.

On his day, his form emitted echoes of the great Bobby Johnstone - arguably the club's greatest ever inside forward - Hamilton was a world-beater.

His exquisitely-taken goal against Hearts in the New Year's Day derby in 1965 was a guarantee of Hibernian immortality.

A quickly-taken free-kick on the left flank was followed by a quick exchange of passes with his close friend Pat Quinn before Hamilton slotted the ball into the top corner of the net from an impossible angle.

At that point, Hibernian were flying high, but the wind was taken out of their sails when Stein quit his post in March 1965 to take charge of Celtic.

The manager's departure from Easter Road was a catastrophe for Hamilton; without tough taskmaster Stein prodding him, the tricky ball-player lost his way.

Stein, then in charge of the national team, handed him his solitary Scotland cap in May 1965 in a World Cup qualifying win in Finland.

Celtic were apparently keen on signing Hamilton, but a move west never materialised and without the controlling influence of Stein he was deemed surplus to requirements at Hibernian and sold to Aston Villa for £24,000 in August 1965.

A true match-winner, Hamilton was sorely missed by both his colleagues and the supporters at Easter Road and sadly the player's career dramatically plummeted into a downward spiral.

His time at Aston Villa came to an abrupt halt after he was involved in a horrific car crash and he headed back to Edinburgh to sign for Hearts again in the summer of 1967.

As his once celebrated career wound down, Hamilton experienced spells in South Africa and Australia plus brief stints with Ross County and Hamilton Academical.

In 1975 - almost exactly 10 years after he had represented his country - Hamilton and his young family emigrated to Canada and he returned to his original trade as a bricklayer.

Sadly tragedy followed and he died at the premature age of just 38; a heart attack depriving him of the fresh start and new life he had craved.

Blindingly brilliant, Hamilton's association with Hibernian only extended to 74 appearances.

But his glorious ability gave the crowd a treasure trove of pleasure and undying memories.

Those fortunate enough to have seen him perform in his prime know he had so much more to offer.

But even if he didn't come close to realising his full potential, Hamilton deserves to be remembered as a class act and a genuine star.

If you can add to any historical article, perhaps with special memories, a favourite story or the results of your original research, the Hibernian Historical Trust would love to hear from you.
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