Following on from Barcelona’s recent Champions League comeback over Paris Saint-Germain, Tom Wright describes Hibernian’s own European revival against Napoli in 1967.
Barcelona’s recent 6-1 Champions League victory against Paris Saint-Germain in Spain after a 4-0 defeat in Paris has been described as the greatest comeback of all time.
A similar situation occurred in December 1962, when Dunfermline Athletic then managed by the future Hibs manager Jock Stein were given no chance in the return leg after a 4-0 Fairs Cup defeat by Valencia in Spain. Dunfermline however defied all the odds to win 6-2 on a cold December evening at East End Park, only in their case to exit the competition after a third game play-off.
However, a European comeback almost as breathtaking took place in a 1967/68 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup game at Easter Road in November 1967.
Hibernian had ended the previous campaign in fifth place, only just failing to qualify for the following season’s Fairs Cup competition but would later be surprised to learn that they had now been included in the cup draw at the expense of Clyde, who had ended the previous season two places above them in the table. The rules of the competition prevented two sides from the same city taking part and with league runners-up Rangers representing Glasgow, the Shawfield side had been excluded from the tournament. The decision obviously delighted everyone at Easter Road and Hibs would now be featuring in what would be their fifth Fairs Cup competition. The first round draw in Frankfurt paired the Edinburgh side with Porto of Portugal.
In the first game at Easter Road, Hibs were in devastating form as they turned on their best performance of the season to date as they cantered to a commanding 3-0 lead. In the return leg in Portugal, Joe Davis extended Hibs advantage from the spot in the very first minute to give his side what now appeared to be an unassailable lead. Even when their opponents scored twice inside a minute in the second half there still seemed nothing to worry about, but when a now rampant Porto scored a third with 20 minutes remaining, Hibs composure evaporated completely and it was backs to the wall for the remainder of the game as the home side threw caution to the wind in search of an equaliser.
Fortunately, there would be no more scoring and Hibs were through to the next round.
In the second round, Hibs had been drawn against the Italian side Napoli who had experienced a difficult start to the 1960s, twice suffering the ignominy of relegation but since the signing of the Brazilian superstar Jose Altafini in 1965 they had flourished and would prove to be extremely difficult opponents.
Despite losing 4-1 in the first leg in Naples, Hibs had been far from outclassed and had been the better side for large parts of the opening period. Midway through the half, Napoli took the lead from a soft free kick that goalkeeper Allan should have saved. Napoli doubled their lead in the second half and another goal soon after left Hibs with it all to do. Ten minutes from the end, the visitors were thrown a lifeline when Colin Stein scored a vital away goal only for Napoli to restore their three-goal advantage a few minutes from the end. Although the scoreline had flattered Napoli, Hibs were given no chance of overturning the scoreline in Edinburgh, the lone dissenting voice that of manager Bob Shankly who was convinced that not only would Hibs win the return leg but that they would go through to the next round.
DESPITE LOSING 4-1 IN THE FIRST LEG IN NAPLES, HIBS HAD BEEN FAR FROM OUTCLASSED AND HAD BEEN THE BETTER SIDE FOR LARGE PARTS OF THE OPENING PERIOD.
Just before the second leg, Hibs received a gigantic boost with the news that the brilliant Altafini would not be travelling to Edinburgh. Having picked up a small injury the previous weekend, the Brazilian superstar could have played but because of what was thought to be an unassailable lead, Napoli decided not to risk the veteran player. It was a decision that they would perhaps live to regret.
Facing what was thought to be an almost impossible task, if Hibs were to have any hope of overturning the scoreline from the first leg then an early goal was imperative. A free-kick in the first minute came to nothing as did an appeal for a penalty a few minutes later. In the fifth minute, right back Bobby Duncan collected the ball on the half way line. Evading a couple of tackles near the stand side touchline, he found himself not far from the penalty area. Without looking up he stunned everyone in the ground, including the Napoli goalkeeper Dino Zoff, when he let fly a tremendous left foot drive from all of 25 yards high into the corner of the net to bring the house down.
Stanton then had a header saved by the goalkeeper before a McGraw shot was diverted for a corner and a Stein lob cleared from the line by a defender. It was all Hibs now and the second goal just had to come. Almost on half-time, Goalkeeper Zoff intercepted a pass from Colin Stein but could not hold the ball and it was swept into the net by Pat Quinn with a shot that went in off the post.
At the start of the second half, Napoli substituted a forward with a defender in an attempt to hold on to their now tenuous lead but it made no difference as the marauding Hibs laid siege to the visitor’s goal. The pace of the game was now hectic and the Hibs attacks relentless.
In the 67th minute, Peter Cormack met a Scott corner to increase Hibs lead to send the home fans in the huge crowd into a frenzy, Stanton added another a few minutes later with a header as the chants of easy-easy reverberated around the ground. The visitors were all over the place now, Stein coming close with a header that was well saved by Zoff. With 15 minutes remaining, the Napoli full back Gerardo was sent off after a reckless tackle on Eric Stevenson.
Pat Stanton fires past Dino Zoff in the Napoli goal
A few minutes later Napoli’s misery was complete when Stein intercepted a clearance before going through to score a fifth goal to give his side a famous victory and the Hibs players a well deserved lap of honour at the end before their ecstatic supporters.
The teams that day were as follows:
Hibernian: Wilson; Duncan, Davis, Stanton, Madsen, McGraw, Scott, Quinn, Stein, Cormack and Stevenson
Napoli: Zoff; Narota, Fagliana, Zuritini, Fanzanato, Bianchi, Cane, Juliano, Orlando, Montefusco (Substitute: Girardo) and Barison
Hibs opponents in the third round would be Leeds United, an extremely skilful side that had attracted many admirers but had also gained a reputation as solid competitors who were not above taking the art of gamesmanship to the very edge.
In the first leg on a treacherous icebound Elland Road pitch, Hibs lost a goal after just four minutes but not to be outdone another fighting performance by the Edinburgh side kept the final score to just the one goal and it was on to Easter Road for the return leg.
In Edinburgh, the enormous interest in the game had attracted a huge crowd of over 45,000. They didn’t have long to wait for the opening goal when Colin Stein lobbed the ball over goalkeeper Gary Sprake’s head from a narrow angle and it was all now to play for.
The big talking point of the evening however came 15 minutes from the end. At the beginning of the season, a new rule had been introduced limiting the goalkeeper to just four steps before releasing the ball. Both goalkeepers had been guilty of taking more than the allotted steps all evening but on this occasion Peter Lorimer nudged Willie Wilson forcing the Hibs goalkeeper into taking one step too many. An over fussy referee awarded Leeds an indirect free kick inside the box, with Jack Charlton scoring what was to be the winning goal from Giles’ free kick, ending the Edinburgh sides brave efforts. But for the controversial decision made by the referee, who is to say that Hibs would not have won the tie in extra time.
Leeds would now face Rangers in the quarter-final stage, winning 2-0 at Elland Road and securing a 0-0 draw at Ibrox. The English side would eventually go on to win the completion, defeating another Scottish side Dundee in the semi-final, before seeing off Hungarian team Ferencváros 1-0 over two legs in the final showpiece.
Written by Tom Wright