With tonight’s Betfred League Cup quarter-final against Livingston, Tom Wright maps Hibernian’s history in the competition.
In 1946 a new look League Cup competition was launched with a trophy donated by the Clyde chairman and Scottish League president John McMahon, a four week break from the league programme in September and October allowing the initial section matches of the tournament to be staged.
The new competition was actually a continuation of the Southern League Cup which had had been contested during the war by the sides from the Southern League but this time with the addition of teams from the recently reformed Second Division.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, football in Scotland had continued almost as normal but with the leagues divided into East and West sections. Somewhat bizarrely, although leagues games could go still go ahead, although with crowd restrictions, in the interest of safety it had been decided to postpone the Scottish Cup competition for the duration. The regional divisions had proved unpopular particularly for teams from the east who obviously missed the lucrative games against both Celtic and Rangers.
Near normality returned in time for the 1940/41 season with the regional leagues giving way to a 16 team Southern League. This arrangement however would mean exclusion for some sides, particularly Aberdeen, Queen of the South and Kilmarnock who’s Rugby Park ground had been requisitioned by the military.
With the reduced number of games, during the 1939/40 season it had been decided to introduce the War Emergency Cup, a straight knock-out tournament won by Rangers. The following season this would be replaced by the Southern League Cup, the sides split into four groups of four playing each other home and away, the winners of each section going through to the semi-finals. In a group that included neighbours Hearts, Clyde and Queens Park, three wins from the six games would not be enough to ensure qualification for Hibernian, the group leaders Hearts eventually going on to lose in the final against Rangers.
During the war years, Rangers would dominate the Scottish game, only Hibs recognised as credible challengers. All six wartime championships would be won by the Ibrox side and four of the six Southern League Cups, only a defeat by the Easter Road side in 1943/44 interrupting a run of four consecutive victories. It had earlier been decided that in the event of a draw after 90 minutes that no extra-time would be played, the result decided by the side that had won the most corners. In the 1943/44 final at Hampden, the game remained goalless and the flag kick count even. In the 89th minute however, the Rangers’ defence conceded a corner from a Caskie move to give Hibs the cup by six corners to five.
The new look League Cup competition proposed by McMahon in 1946 would normally see the sides divided into eight seeded groups of four consisting of two teams from the First Division and two from the second. Hibs' inaugural game in a tournament that continues to this day was against Celtic on 21st September 1946 when goals from Aitkenhead, Weir, Cuthbertson and Buchanan gave the Edinburgh side a 4-2 home victory.
HIBS' INAUGURAL GAME IN A TOURNAMENT THAT CONTINUES TO THIS DAY WAS AGAINST CELTIC ON 21ST SEPTEMBER 1946 WHEN GOALS FROM AITKENHEAD, WEIR, CUTHBERTSON AND BUCHANAN GAVE THE EDINBURGH SIDE A 4-2 HOME VICTORY.
Celtic had not taken the war years nearly as seriously as many of the other sides and a newspaper article that morning had reported that the ‘Edinburgh public had the opportunity to see this amazing Celtic team which had descended to depths hitherto unknown in the history of the club.’ Topping a group that also included Third Lanark and Hamilton, a Willie Finnigan ‘Golden goal’ against Airdrie in the 125th minute after a thrilling 4-4 draw at Broomfield in the first leg gave Hibs qualification for the semi-finals where they would lose to the eventual tournament winners Rangers.
Eddie Turnbull, a recent signing from Forth Rangers had made his competitive debut for the club in an earlier group game against Third Lanark at Hampden (Cathkin at that time was unavailable).
In 1950 the Easter Road side would face Motherwell in its first post war League Cup Final. Just days earlier the teams had met in a league game at Fir Park. Despite effectively playing for most of the game with ten men after an early injury to Smith, the Easter Road side had ran out convincing 6-2 winners and were red hot favourites to win the cup. However, according to one newspaper report, ‘Hampden once again became the burial ground for Hibs cup aspirations’ as Motherwell ran out easy 3-0 winners.
It would be another 19 years before Hibs would reach another League Cup final only to lose heavily to Celtic in 1969, a game that had been postponed from earlier in the season due to a major fire at Hampden. However, we would not have to wait too long for the club’s first success in the competition when in 1972 the tremendous Turnbull’s Tornados defeated a formidable Celtic side far easier than the 2-1 scoreline would suggest.
That afternoon at Hampden there had been no failures but Captain Pat Stanton, playing perhaps his best ever game for the club had stood head and shoulders above every player on the park. Scoring the first goal and laying on the other for Jimmy O’Rourke it was perhaps only fitting that both goals had been scored by life-long supporters of the club. However, if the 1972 final was one to remember then the 1974 final was one to forget when Celtic gained sweet revenge for the earlier defeat with a 6-3 victory, the Hibs centre forward Joe Harper, one of the very few players to score a hat trick in a senior cup final, still ended up on the losing side.
For several decades the League Cup had proved a popular precursor to the new season but by the 1980s it had lost its appeal, and in an attempt to revitalise the competition it had now reverted into a straight knockout competition. Despite a long standing reluctance to embrace commercialism, the Scottish authorities had finally succumbed to the inevitable with the introduction of the Texaco and Drybrough Cups, and in 1977 Hibs became the first senior side in Britain to wear a sponsor’s name on their jerseys. Between 1979 and 1981 the League Cup had been backed by Bell’s Whisky and now sponsored by Skol Lager, in 1985 Hibs would again reach the final only to lose 3-0 to Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen.
In 1990 the very survival of the club had come under threat after an attempted takeover by the Hearts owner Wallace Mercer. With the tremendous backing of the fans the hostile bid was eventually overcome and just over a year later a Hibs side described as ‘the team that would not die’ defeated Dunfermline 2-0 in the Skol sponsored final at Hampden, Keith Wright scoring in every round of the competition.
However, after defeat by Rangers in the 1993 final at Parkhead, Hibs would not appear at the ultimate stage of the competition again until 2004, a day that would end in bitter disappointment for the Hibs fans after a surprise 2-0 defeat by Livingston.
After victories against Peterhead and Gretna in the earlier rounds of the 2007 competition, a solitary goal by Rob Jones against Hearts at Easter Road would be enough to send Hibs into the semi-final where injury time goals against St Johnstone at Tynecastle would mean yet another trip to Hampden for the CIS Cup final. On a day of changeable weather nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of the Easter Road fans as Hibs eventually coasted to a one-sided 5-1 victory against Kilmarnock, the opening goal scored by the inspirational Captain Rob Jones followed by doubles from Fletcher and Benjelloun, the afternoon made even more memorable with the emotional post-match rendition of Sunshine on Leith by over 40,000 ecstatic Hibs fans inside the ground.
2016 would turn out to be a momentous year for the club. The historic Scottish Cup win against Rangers would overshadow the magnificent feat of also managing to reach the Utilita League Cup final that same season, when only a last minute goal would give Ross County a perhaps undeserved victory.
However, with the recent appearances in two cup finals and promotion back into the top tier of Scottish football, the Ladbrokes Premiership, the club can now go forward into the future with confidence, success in tonight’s game against Livingston in the Betfred League Cup quarter-final the immediate priority.
Written by Tom Wright