With yet another Scottish Cup campaign upon us, we take a look back at the first post-war competition and the final between Hibernian and Aberdeen at Hampden in April 1947.
In April 1939 a Clyde team containing the future Hibernian goalkeeper Jock Brown, father of the famous Scottish rugby internationalists Gordon and Peter, would defeat Motherwell 4-0 at Hampden after overcoming Hibs 1-0 in the semi-final. Although we were not to know it at the time, it would turn out to be the last Scottish Cup competition for eight years. At the outbreak of the Second World War a few months later, although league football would continue, albeit on a regional basis, ironically in the ‘interest of safety’ the Scottish Cup competition would be suspended for the duration.
During the war years Hibs had been the main challengers to Rangers near domination of the Scottish game, winning two of the four finals contested between the sides during this time, one victory on corners and one defeat by the toss of a coin, and despite the Ibrox side winning the Victory Cup 3-1 against Hibs in 1946 with it has to be said a deserved victory, it was generally accepted that the pair would again be the main challengers when peacetime football resumed.
The 1946/47 season would turn out to be the start of an exciting period for Hibs. Gordon Smith and Lawrie Reilly were already at the club although the young Reilly had featured in the first team only occasionally. Eddie Turnbull however, who had been signed at the end of the previous season would make his debut in a League Cup game against Third Lanark at the end of October, making one goal and scoring the other, and already looked a real prospect, with Willie Ormond joining the club only a few weeks later.
It was also around this time that manager Willie McCartney had motored to the borders to sign the young Bobby Johnstone, and although the youngster would not feature in the first team for a couple of seasons, his signing would turn out to be the final piece in the jigsaw of what would eventually turn out to be possibly the best forward line ever produced by a Scottish side – The Famous Five.
A Hibs team featuring Gordon Smith, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond would kick-off that seasons Scottish Cup campaign with an 8-0 victory over Second Division Alloa at Recreation Park watched by a capacity 14,000 crowd, with centre-forward Jock Weir scoring four of the goals in the one-sided contest. On arriving for training at Easter Road on the Monday morning, Weir was told that he was wanted ‘upstairs’ where he was informed that he had been sold to Blackburn Rovers for around £10,000, then a record equalling deal by a Scottish side. He emerged only a few minutes later to collect his boots clutching a one-way rail ticket to Blackburn, the transaction completed later that evening in an Edinburgh hotel. It seemed that if Chairman Harry Swan wanted you to go, you went, and quickly.
After a bye in the next round, the Easter Road side had been handed the daunting task of facing old adversities Rangers in the intimidating atmosphere of a packed Ibrox. With both the Shaw brothers, Davie of Hibs and Jock of Rangers, captaining their respective sides, the best two teams in the country at that time fought out a no-scoring draw, Rangers somewhat fortunate to get a second chance in Edinburgh.
In the boardroom after the game, Harry Swan would be surprised to say the least when he was approached by a delegation from the Ibrox club who suggested that if the necessary, permission could be obtained, perhaps under the wartime regulations that were still in place at that time, and the guarantee of another six-figure gate, that the replay could take place back at Ibrox. Swan’s reply was immediate and blunt when stating that, “not only will Hibs play Rangers at Easter Road we will beat them.” It was promise duly fulfilled when in front of a crowd of almost 50,000, goals by Johnny Cuthbertson and Willie Ormond in a 2-0 victory would be more than enough to earn the Easter Road side a place in the next round.
A few weeks later a crowd of over 30,000 were inside Easter Road to see Hibs take on Dumbarton in the quarter-final, signs that something big was stirring in the east side of town. Due to adverse weather conditions encountered on the way through from the west the visitors had arrived at the ground only shortly before kick-off time, the game starting 23 minutes late.
The delay may well have had something to do with Gordon Smith scoring the opener after just 30 seconds when he finished off a great three man move by smashing an unstoppable 30-yard drive into the top corner off the net, and although Dumbarton made a fight of it in the early stages, another goal by Cuthbertson would see Hibs safely through to the semi-finals.
In the semi-final against Motherwell at Hampden, a goal against the run of play by Eddie Turnbull, who unusually was wearing the number nine jersey, would give Hibs a first-half lead although the Edinburgh side had a magnificent display by goalkeeper Jimmy Kerr to thank for allowing them to change ends at half-time still in front.
In a second-half that was played at breathtaking pace, there had been near things at both ends, when with just over 10 minutes remaining wing-half Hugh Howie was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the penalty area when attempting to protect his face. Motherwell equalised from the resulting penalty kick to force extra time and forever earn Howie the nick-name ‘Hands Howie’ from his team mates.
There would be no more scoring even after an extra 20 minutes, and the ‘Golden Goal’ would now come into operation. In the 142nd minute Hugh Howie would atone for his earlier mistake. The Motherwell goalkeeper Johnstone had advanced right to the edge of his box before clearing from his hands. Howie, just inside his own half caught the goalkeepers punt first time, the ball soaring over the stranded custodian and into the net for the goal that would send Hibs into their first Scottish Cup Final for 23 years. There was some doubt however as to who had been the more surprised, the goalkeeper Johnstone or Howie.
The ‘Golden Goal’ ruling had come into operation because of the ‘wartime emergency regulations’ that had been introduced to reduce travel difficulties in the case of replayed matches. If a game was still level at the end of the 90 minutes, then two periods of 10 minutes would be played. If the game was still level, then a further ten minute periods would take place until one team scored, the goal then deemed to be the winner. The procedure however had proved highly unpopular among supporters and players alike, and would soon be replaced by ‘normal’ extra time and a replay if necessary.
On the morning of Saturday 19th April 1947, the Hibs players were in confident mood as they made their way to Hampden to face Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup Final. Manager Willie McCartney, who had reminded the team at the pre-match meal that, “not only was their personal prestige at stake during the game, but that of the city and the club” had selected twelve players for the squad. Unfortunately, the 18 year-old Lawrie Reilly who had only made a handful of appearances that season was left out of the starting eleven and he watched the game from the stand.
As a huge crowd of 82,140 that had paid between 3/- (15p) - £1.00 for the privilege basked in the warm summer sunshine, Hibs got off to the best possible start when Johnny Cuthbertson gave his side the lead in the very first minute of the game after the Aberdeen goalkeeper George Johnstone had fumbled a pass-back.
However Aberdeen in rampant mood, scored twice in the first half, their second goal scored from what appeared to be an almost impossible angle near the by-line by the South African Stan Williams who had guested for the Easter Road side on several occasions during the war, and only yet another tremendous performance by Kerr in the Hibs goal had prevented the Grampian side from adding to their lead. In the second half Kerr conceded a penalty when bringing down an Aberdeen player in the box only to save the spot kick. There would be no more scoring and in the end Aberdeen were worthy winners, and indeed might well have scored more.
As the disappointed Hibs supporters made their weary way back to Edinburgh wondering if the transferred Jock Weir might have made a difference, the victorious Aberdeen players were presented with the cup and medals on the field. It was the first time that this had happened; previously the trophy had been presented to the winning captain in the dressing room. It was also the first time that medals had been awarded to the runners-up.
For Hibs however, there were still four league games left to play. All would be won, but unfortunately it would not be enough to overtake Rangers at the top of the table, and for the third consecutive season the Easter Road side would finish as runners-up, just two points behind the leaders.
In many ways it had been a satisfying season, but although no one could possibly have known it at the time, better days lay not too far in the future.
Written by Tom Wright