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Tom Wright details the 1953 invitation tournament that commemorated Queen Elizabeth II's coronation.

To commemorate the forthcoming Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 an eight team invitation tournament featuring Arsenal, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United from England, and Rangers, Celtic, Aberdeen and Hibernian representing Scotland, took place in May that year with all the games played in Glasgow. Based on a straight knock out formula, the first round would feature only matches between sides from either country.

Fresh from a 4-2 victory over Hearts in the East of Scotland Shield at Easter Road just a few days before, in the first round of the Coronation Cup at Ibrox Hibernian faced a Tottenham Hotspur side containing the English internationals Alf Ramsay and goalkeeper Ted Ditchburn that had not long before become the first ever team to win the English Second and First Division titles in consecutive seasons. In what was described at the time as a wonderful advert for the game, Hibs got off to a great start when Gordon Smith opened the scoring after just nine minutes. The Edinburgh side were more inventive and quicker to the ball, but demonstrating their distinctive push-and-run style of play and inspired by the future Spurs manager Bill Nicolson, Walters equalised for the London club shortly before half time. There were no more goals in the second half and with neither side deserving to lose it was on to a replay the following day at the same venue.


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Hibernian versus Tottenham Hotspur, Coronation Cup 1st Round, 1953


In an uninspiring replay that failed to live up to the intensity and excitement of the first game, Hibs took to the field after the interval a goal behind. Two goals by Lawrie Reilly however, the second in the very last minute of extra-time, was enough to guarantee the Edinburgh side a place in Saturday’s semi-final where they would be up against Newcastle United, who themselves had defeated Aberdeen 4-2 in the opening round.

Facing a Newcastle side that included the future Easter Road goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson and the famous England centre forward Jackie Milburn in its line up, Hibs were described in one newspaper report at the time as playing with ‘Gay Abandon’, a somewhat dubious accolade nowadays, to earn a decisive 4-0 victory and a place in Wednesday’s final against Celtic. In what was said to have been their best performance for some time, the Easter Road men had used the open space and the interchanging play of the forwards to perfection and many felt that it had been a great pity that the game had not been watched by more than the 30,000 inside Ibrox that afternoon.




In the final at Hampden, Hibs would meet a Celtic side that had overcome Manchester United 2-1 on the Wednesday after a 1-0 victory against Arsenal in the first round, both games played at Hampden. The Scottish champions Rangers who allegedly had been on £100 a man to win the competition had made an early exit in the first round after a 2-1 defeat by Manchester United.


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Celtic versus Hibernian, Coronation Cup Final, 1953


Celtic had been in the doldrums for some years. Managing to finish the previous season in eighth place, only several good results in the early part of the previous campaign had possibly prevented relegation for the first time in the club’s history. Described as rank outsiders to win the competition, it had even been suggested in some quarters that perhaps they should not even have been invited to take part in the first place. On the other hand. a tremendous Hibs side had been league champions in 1951 and 1952, and if the present goal difference had then been in operation instead of goal average then a third consecutive league title would have been won the previous season.

The teams took the field on a fine summers evening at Hampden on Wednesday 20th May 1953 in front of a huge crowd of 117,060, all anticipating a feast of football and they were not to be disappointed.

In what has been described as one of the most enthralling and exciting games ever to take place at the famous stadium, Celtic went in at the break a goal in front after Neil Mochan, a recent signing from Sunderland, had opened the scoring after 28 minutes with a tremendous long range drive that left the Hibs goalkeeper Tommy Younger helpless.

Celtic had been the better side in the first half and could well have been further ahead but after the interval it was a vastly different story. With the Famous Five now in full flow, for almost the entire second half Celtic were reduced to the role of mere spectators. It was Hibs against the Celtic goalkeeper Johnny Bonnar, who was having the game of his life as the Edinburgh side laid siege to the Celtic goal, forcing their opponents into an unremitting and relentless rearguard action.

Injured in the first half, Bobby Combe was a virtual passenger leaving Hibs in those pre-substitute days to play with only ten fit men, but even with this handicap the Easter Road attack on the Celtic goal was unremitting and time and again only Bonnar had stood between his side and defeat. Some of his saves were described as bordering on the miraculous. On several occasions, the goalkeeper had been called upon to make tremendous saves from Bobby Johnstone, Eddie Turnbull and Archie Buchanan, Johnstone himself coming close to scoring on three separate occasions including a shot that hit the post.

In the closing stages of the game, a tremendous Johnstone header seemed certain to give his side the goal that would have forced extra time, but somehow Bonnar managed to tip the ball onto the bar and to safety while the Hibs player could only stand watching in amazement.


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Action from the Coronation Final against Celtic


With only three minutes of the game remaining, Jock Stein dispossessed Gordon Smith in the centre of the park, and in one of Celtic’s now rare raids on the Hibs goal, his pass was quickly swept down field. It found inside forward Jimmy Walsh inside the Hibs penalty area, who wasted no time in crashing the ball past goalkeeper Tommy Younger to put the tie beyond the Edinburgh side, giving Celtic a somewhat flattering 2-0 victory.

Centre-half Hugh Howie had been Hibs top player on the day, while for Celtic, Bobby Evans and captain Jock Stein had been immense, particularly during the first half in containing the dangerous Reilly. However, the star of the show had undoubtedly been the Celtic goalkeeper Johnny Bonnar who had had the game of his life.

The teams that day were as follows:

Hibernian: Younger, Govan and Paterson, Buchanan, Howie and Combe, Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Turnbull and Ormond

Celtic: Bonnar, Haughney and Rollo, Evans, Stein and McPhail, Collins, Walsh, Mochan, Peacock and Fernie

Referee: Hugh Phillips (Motherwell)

The same Hibernian side contested all four of their Coronation Cup matches.

Somewhat ironically, only weeks before a bid from Celtic for the Morton and Scotland goalkeeper Jimmy Cowan had been rejected, Cowan electing to join Sunderland instead, and Bonnar’s incredible performance in the final had been perhaps his way of demonstrating that Cowan would not be missed.

Continuing a habit of winning one-off tournaments when the victors had been allowed to retain the trophy in perpetuity, the cup was presented to the Celtic captain Jock Stein after the game and can still be seen at Parkhead today.


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The Coronation Cup remains at Parkhead to this day


The cup victory would prove the start of better days for Celtic. Led by the former Albion Rovers and Llanelli player Jock Stein, at the end of the coming season they would not only win their first league title since 1938 but also the Scottish Cup.

For Hibernian, no sooner had they arrived home after competing in the Coronation Cup than the players were on their travels again, this time to far flung Brazil where they would take part in an eight team tournament involving clubs from Brazil, Uruguay, Portugal and Scotland.

The season ahead however would be disappointing, the club finishing outside the top four in the league for the first time since the war and the halcyon post war years at Easter Road were soon to be a thing of the past.


Written by Tom Wright

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