In the summer of 1946, Hibernian embarked on a trip to Czechoslovakia, becoming the first Scottish team to tour Europe after the Second World War. Trust Curator Tom Wright documents the team’s successful visit as part of preparations for the upcoming season.
On the eve of the Victory Cup Semi-Final against Clyde in June 1946, the 23 year old inside forward Eddie Turnbull had become Hibernian’s latest acquisition. Born in the small mining village of Carronshore just a few miles from Falkirk on April 12th 1923, he had gained early recognition when selected at inside left for the Falkirk and District Primary Schools side that won both the East of Scotland and County Cups during season 1936/37, as well as finishing runners up in the Scottish Cup. His teammates included the future Scottish internationalists Bobby Brown and George Young of Rangers, and also Davie Lapsley who would later star for St Mirren.
Recently demobbed from the Royal Navy, Turnbull had been spotted playing in only his first game for the nearby Grangemouth Junior side Forth Rangers against Dunipace in a local cup semi-final at Brockville. The following day, he was invited to Easter Road for signing talks with the Hibs legendary manager Willie McCartney. On the instructions of an older brother who had accompanied him on the trip to Edinburgh, Turnbull had no intention of signing a contract. However, potent McCartney’s persuasion and the go ahead from the brother, who had meanwhile been fortified by several large whiskies by the astute manager, had convinced him that he would be doing the right thing. With the offer of a £20 signing on fee and a suggestion that he could be taken on the forthcoming tour of Czechoslovakia, Turnbull duly signed, and was promptly left behind as the Hibernian party made its way overseas for the Club’s first continental tour since a visit to Denmark during the 1920’s.
It had been chairman Harry Swan’s idea to take the Hibernian team abroad, and once again he was far ahead of his time. While other sides either stayed at home or arranged pre-season tours to the Scottish Highlands, Swan started a habit that would continue for many years. The chairman felt that playing foreign teams of stature, and Hibs usually played against top class opposition on these trips, could do nothing but enhance the experience and skill of the side, to say nothing of improving the camaraderie among the players. He pictured himself and his team as soccer missionaries, travelling throughout war-ravaged Europe, helping to ‘cement relationships,’ as he often put it. Indeed so often did he use the phrase on one trip, that in the end both the players and the other members of the party were fed up hearing it. The upshot was that the journalist Rex Kingsley of the Sunday Mail deposited a small bag of cement in his bed one night in place of the usual pig-iron hot water bottle. It is not known if Harry enjoyed the joke.
By now the chairman had gained well merited respect and a reputation as a man of vision, and there would be few innovations in the game in which he would not play a major part, right up until the day he retired as a director at Easter Road. Like most mortals, he was occasionally wrong, but far more often right.
THE TOUR OF WAR-TORN CZECHOSLOVAKIA IN THE SUMMER OF 1946 WAS HAILED AS A TREMENDOUS SUCCESS, DESPITE HIBS WINNING ONLY TWO OF THE FOUR GAMES PLAYED.
The tour of war-torn Czechoslovakia in the summer of 1946 was hailed as a tremendous success, despite Hibs winning only two of the four games played. At the time, the Scots were credited with re-establishing the good reputation of British sport after a visit to the country shortly before by FA Cup winners Derby County. The English side had been warmly received by their hosts, however they had proved disappointing guests with displays of petulance and unexpected bad sportsmanship on the field. On one occasion, a game was cancelled at the last minuet despite over 30,000 servicemen having already bought tickets.
According to local newspaper reports, Hibernian, even when losing, ‘never once resorted to rough, foul, or unfair tactics, and maintained a discipline and dignity throughout the four game visit.’ Even this early the club was gaining a fine reputation as ambassadors for the country, and the people of the severely war-ravaged Czechoslovakia took the Scottish side to their hearts. It has to be said however, that refereeing standards had been poor, but the visitors had accepted the official’s decision at all times, although manager Willie McCartney less than diplomatically on one occasion had suggested that perhaps British referees should travel abroad to show their foreign counterparts how it should be done.
The trip itself had started ominously when on the journey between Amsterdam and Prague, the sound of an explosion could be heard accompanied by a blinding flash of flame, the plane suddenly dropping several hundred feet before the pilot eventually managed to regain control. The cause of the explosion was never discovered but the experience had a disconcerting effect on the passengers, most of whom had never flown before, including manager Willie McCartney.
Hibs’ first game ended with an excellent 3-1 victory over the illustrious Sparta Prague. The fixture had generated incredible excitement amongst the local population and a full capacity 40,000 had packed into the Stadium in anticipation. After the game, and also after the final fixture of the tour against Slavia Prague, manager McCartney had broadcast a match report back to the people of Scotland via the airwaves. The other tour results were Brno 3-1 Hibernian, Vitkovice 1-7 Hibernian, and Slavia 3-2 Hibernian.
The Hibernian team lining up against Sparta Prague
Wherever they went the Scots were feted, attending several official receptions and banquets. There had also been a visit to the circus and several of the party had attended the trial of a suspected wartime collaborator in the people’s court in Prague Town Hall. A few weeks earlier, some of the Derby County players had attended the public execution of the Nazi war criminal Karl Hermann Frank ‘The Butcher of Lidice’.
The tour however was not without its humour. On the coach journey between Brno and Ostravia, the party had stopped at a small town for lunch. As there was a local football match in progress, Harry Swan, manager McCartney and some of the players decided to have a look. Their appearance, particularly that of McCartney, created great excitement among some of the young locals who mistook the manager for Winston Churchill, surrounding him brandishing the famous Churchill ‘V’ sign in his direction. Joining in the spirit of the occasion, Harry Swan made a concerted but vain attempt to obtain a cigar to perpetuate the joke.
There would be a sad ending to what had been a tremendous tour for one player. It was only after arriving back in London that goalkeeper Jimmy Kerr would learn of the death of his mother.
Complete list of 1946 Czechoslovakia tour results
Sparta Prague 1-3 Hibernian
Brno 3-1 Hibernian
Vitkovice 1-7 Hibernian
Slavia 3-2 Hibernian
Written by Tom Wright