Tom Wright takes a look back at season 1959/60, which included an incredible match against today’s opponents Motherwell.
By the turn of the 1950s, Hibernian were a team in transition. Long gone were the halcyon days of the immediate post war years when led by the magical Famous Five. Hibs had been widely recognised not only as the best side in the country, but one of the best in Europe.
The diminutive Bobby Johnstone was now at Manchester City, Reilly had retired prematurely because of injury aged only 29, Turnbull was now a trainer at Easter Road and at the end of the previous season, the country had been stunned to learn that after eighteen years as a Hibs player the legendary Gordon Smith had been handed a free transfer, leaving only Willie Ormond as the last on field player from the Famous Five forward line.
Worse still, just before the start of the new season, Smith had signed for Hibernian’s great rivals Hearts and he would win a League Championship medal in his first season at Tynecastle to go alongside the three already won in Leith.
Bobby Johnstone would return to Hibernian from Manchester City during season 1959/60
The 1959/60 season, Chairman Harry Swan’s 25th at the helm, had started badly for the Easter Road side. In the opening League Cup game against Rangers in Edinburgh, the Scott brothers, Hibernian’s Jim and Alec of Rangers had been made captains for the day as they faced each other for the first time in senior football. Watched by a huge crowd of over 45,000, Hibs patched-up team played well enough without taking their chances and a solitary Willie Ormond goal scored in the first half would be poor consolation to the six scored by a robust Rangers side.
A poor performance by Jackie Wren had proved to be the beginning of the end for the goalkeeper at Easter Road and he would feature only rarely before a transfer to Rotherham at the end of the season. For the game against Dundee at Dens Park in midweek, Wren would be replaced by the 17 year old former Musselburgh Windsor goalkeeper Willie Wilson who had been signed just weeks before.
Although badly at fault for Dundee’s opening goal, otherwise the youngster had performed well enough on his first start and could do little to prevent Dundee winning a game that could well have gone either way until the future Hibs player Alan Cousin scored the winner just seconds from the end to give his side a 4-3 victory. Before the game, a clearly disappointed Jackie Wren had handed in a transfer request paving the way even this early for the young Willie Wilson to make the first team position his own.
Meanwhile, Motherwell’s highflying ‘Ancell Babes’ who had finished the previous season in third place in the table were unbeaten after a 4-2 home win against Dundee and a 2-1 victory against reigning champions Rangers at Ibrox. With players of the calibre of the Scottish international Bert McCann, centre forward Ian St John and the future Hibernian players Willie Hunter and Pat Quinn in the side, the visitors were sure to provide stiff opposition.
With the young Wilson keeping his place in goal, a hard fought game had been goalless at the interval but with just 18 minutes remaining Desmond Fox had given Hibs a deserved lead that looked liked being enough, until Ian St John created his own piece of football history by scoring three goals in two and a half minutes to put the game beyond the home side.
St John’s hat-trick was thought to have been the fastest in British football at that time beating the previous Scottish best of three minutes and thirty seconds set by Jimmy McGrory of Celtic in 1936, ironically against Motherwell. Although there is some claim that the fastest ‘hat-trick’ in British first class football had been set by Gillingham’s Jimmy Scarth against Leyton Orient in November 1952, the official records show Scarth’s three goals as having been scored in two and a half minutes thereby equalling Ian St John.
Although records are frequently disputed, the official record for a British league game to this day is held by James Hayter who scored three times in two minutes and twenty seconds during Bournemouth’s 6-0 win against Wrexham in February 2014, incredibly only after coming on as a substitute six minutes from time.
Motherwell would eventually top the section unbeaten to qualify for the later stages of the competition, but the disastrous League Cup campaign would prove to be Hibs worst ever, finishing pointless at the foot of the section. In the league however it would be a different story.
Just a few weeks after Joe Baker had scored twice in a 2-2 draw with Hearts at Tynecastle, the sight of Gordon Smith in a maroon jersey almost too much to bear for the huge Hibs support, the former Famous Five legend Bobby Johnstone who had been unsettled at Manchester City for some time would return to the scene of his former glories. Although visibly heavier than his first time at the club, Johnstone would receive a rousing ovation from the fans before his first game, against Kilmarnock at Easter Road, and would soon prove to be an astute signing.
Although Hibs would initially find wins hard to come by, in what would prove to be a roller coaster of a season there would be many highs and lows, Johnstone playing a major part in Joe Baker’s club record haul of 42 league goals in a single season while also creating football history by becoming the first player from outside the Football League to be capped for the full England side, making a goalscoring debut against Ireland at Wembley in 1959.
Considering the circumstances, the Easter Road side would eventually end the season a respectable seventh in the league table, having scored more goals than the league champions.
For the young Wilson, it would turn out to be a season of disappointment. After nineteen consecutive appearances for the first team during which time he had looked a real prospect, he had been injured during a game against Dundee just weeks before the turn of the year and would not play again that season. The injury would seriously hamper his progress at Easter Road and he would spend the following few seasons in the reserves before eventually reclaiming his first team place, and would go on to serve the club well for several seasons before a later move to Berwick Rangers.
For Ian St John, his hat-trick at Easter Road had further enhanced his already growing reputation and he would soon sign for the fast improving Liverpool, then managed by the legendary Bill Shankly, where he would eventually win two league championships and an FA Cup to go alongside his 21 full caps for Scotland.
Written by Tom Wright