Tom Wright details Hibernian’s involvement in the 1950/51 League Cup, a campaign that included an incredible match at Brockville and the club’s first appearance in the final of the competition.
Hibs had started the 1950/51 League Cup campaign in tremendous form with six straight wins out of a section comprising of Dundee, Falkirk and St Mirren, scoring 19 goals in five of the games without reply. The other was a quite remarkable game at Brockville.
Led by the former Hibs player Angus Plumb, a Falkirk side that would be relegated at the end of the season had surprised the crowd of just under 18,000 by taking a three goal lead inside the first 15 minutes. In a courageous first half fight back by the visitors, two late strikes reduced the leeway and it was now all to play for.
After the interval, another goal gave a spirited Falkirk side what many in the crowd thought to be an unassailable 4-2 lead. However, showing the tremendous character that was prevalent in the side at that time, Hibs eventually capped a marvellous fight back with a hat trick goal by Gordon Smith in the dying minutes of the game to win 5-4.
One newspaper reporter the following day was of the opinion that for thrills, excitement, goals and the tense and exciting climax, it had probably been the best game seen at Brockville for many years.
Several days later at Dens Park, Hibernian’s match against Dundee took place during a torrential storm of thunder and lightning causing the game to be abandoned with 20 minutes remaining and the visitors leading 2-0. With the section already won the game was never replayed and the score was allowed to stand.
Hibs had now been drawn against Aberdeen in the home and away quarter final stage, the first game at Pittodrie proving to be only the start of an intriguing series of events.
The Edinburgh side had been dealt a severe blow just a few weeks before, when Gordon Smith had been injured during a 4-0 victory against Falkirk at Easter Road, an injury severe enough for him to also miss a comprehensive 6-0 drubbing of the Brockville side in the league just a few days before the quarter final match at Pittodrie.
That evening at Pittodrie, Bobby Johnstone had given his side a half time lead but Aberdeen scored two goals just after the interval as the home side turned up the heat in the second half, with the Dons scoring another two goals later in the match to win the tie 4-1. The second half showing appeared to all extents and purposes put the tie beyond Hibs even with the second leg at Easter Road still to come.
It could well have been worse. With only minutes of the game remaining Hather had missed an open goal and almost certainly a four-goal deficit would have been too much even for a side with the renowned fighting qualities of Hibs.
The slender hopes of the Hibs fans among the 35,000 crowd for the return game at Easter Road were lifted with the news that Gordon Smith had been passed fit to play and the player took the field at the start with his leg heavily bandaged. The loudspeaker announcement that the Hibs captain would be playing was greeted by ecstatic cheers from the home fans, an ovation that could be heard in the dressing rooms. It was clear that Aberdeen had been dealt a major psychological blow.
However, if the home side were to have any chance of overhauling the visitors lead it was imperative that they score an early goal and their prayers were answered when right half Anderson put the ball past his own goalkeeper after only three minutes. The own-goal clearly shook Aberdeen but with only 30 minutes left to play the visitors still retained their two-goal advantage until strikes by Johnstone and Ormond were enough to force extra time.
A goal by Reilly only two minutes into the extra period gave his side an overall lead that looked like being enough until with just 30 seconds remaining, Yorston scored after a scrimmage in the Hibs penalty area and it was on to Ibrox for a third game play-off.
In an exciting game at Ibrox there would be several missed chances from either side to settle the tie but even with the advantage of an extra 30 minutes the sides could not be separated with the game ending level at 1-1, although only Gordon Smith could explain just how he had managed to blast the ball over the crossbar while standing almost on the goal line with just seconds remaining.
With the semi finals of the competition arranged for the following Saturday it was imperative that the tie be settled quickly and the second replay took place the following evening at the National Stadium. This time there would be no mistake, the Easter Road side registering a comprehensive 5-1 victory as the Dons were run ragged for almost the entire 90 minutes.
Three goals in a nine minute spell in the first half had knocked the heart out of Aberdeen and although the Grampian side managed to pull one back things might have been different had Boyd not struck the bar when clean through, but in the end Hibs were well worth their victory.
In the semi final against Queen of the South at Tynecastle on the Saturday, Hibs were forced to survive a sticky opening spell during which time Queens took the lead but a trademark Turnbull thunderbolt just before half time, one of the three he was to score that afternoon, one from the penalty spot, would be enough to give the Easter Road side a convincing 3-1 victory and a place in their first ever League Cup Final.
On Saturday 28th October 1950, just a few days after easily disposing of Motherwell 6-2 in a league game at Fir Park, where Gordon Smith was virtually passenger on the wing for most of the game leaving the Edinburgh side to effectively play with ten men, the sides met again in the League Cup Final at Hampden. Even without Eddie Turnbull who had been injured the previous midweek while training with the Scotland squad, Hibs were still red hot favourites to lift the cup, particularly with the psychological advantage of the comprehensive victory over their opponents just over a week before.
However, instead of bringing inside forward Michael Gallagher in as the logical replacement for Turnbull, Willie Ormond was moved to the inside position with the wide berth handed to the young Jimmy Bradley who would be making his first team debut.
The experiment was not a success, as Hampden according to one newspaper reporter ‘once again became the burial ground for Hibs cup aspirations.’ Ormond was a failure at inside forward and with Bradley quite clearly overawed the Hibs forwards this time found the Motherwell defence harder to breach than a few days before. Hibernian goalkeeper Tommy Younger broke down in tears at the final whistle who was quite clearly at fault for two of the goals in the 3-0 defeat.
The teams that day were as follows:
Motherwell: Johnston, Kilmarnock, Shaw, McLeod, Paton, Redpath, Watters, Forrest, Kelly, Watson and Aitkenhead
Hibernian: Younger, Govan, Ogilvie, Buchanan, Paterson, Combe, Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Ormond and Bradley
It was only revealed after the game that in the week leading up to the final six Hibs players had struggled to be fit for the game. However, regardless of the reasons behind the shock defeat, it would be another 19 years before the Edinburgh side would again take part in a League Cup Final and 22 years until finally tasting success.
Written by Tom Wright