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Tom Wright details the first ever Easter Road player to be listed on the team lines as a substitute in a domestic game, as well as the history of substitutions throughout the world of football.

In the opening league cup game against Rangers at Ibrox on 13th August 1966, Jimmy O’Rourke became the first ever Easter Road player to be listed on the team lines as a substitute in a domestic game, although he would remain unused during the 1-0 defeat. Over the next few months several different players would fill the position, but when replacing the injured full back Joe Davis near the end of the league game against Clyde at Shawfield on Saturday 12 November that same year, Pat Quinn became the first ever Hibs substitute to be used in an official domestic fixture.


Jimmy ORourke Profile

Jimmy O'Rourke


Following a similar move in England the previous year, the new ruling that had been introduced in Scotland only at the beginning of the season, now allowed a single substitute to be used but only in the case of injury. In the past games had regularly ended uneven when one or more of the players had been forced to leave the field through injury, often in important games and much to the dissatisfaction of the spectators who had paid good money to see what had now ostensibly become an unfair contest, and the use of a substitute was now widely welcomed by the fans. 

In England Charlton’s Keith Peacock had become the first ever British player to take the field as a substitute in a game against Bolton Wanderers at Burnden Park on 21 August 1965 when he replaced the injured goalkeeper Mike Rose, St Mirren’s Archie Gemmill claiming the honour north of the border in a league cup game against Clyde on Saturday 13 August 1966. 

The new ruling was a huge leap forward for the game but one that was open to abuse. Managers had always sought ways to gain even the slightest advantage for their sides, and it didn’t take too long for many to start instructing players to feign injury to allow a change to take place. Leeds United were said to be particularly skilful exponents of the tactic, when often one of their players would be forced to leave the field injured, usually around the 70 minute mark. Soon however, the ruling would be relaxed to become an integral part of the tactical side of the game and allowed at any time for whatever reason, and on 16 September 1967 Colin Grant became the first Hibs player to be used for purely strategic purposes when he replaced John Murphy in a 3-0 victory against Raith Rovers at Easter Road in September 1967. 

However, for some time in the 1960’s a potential inequality had existed in this country regarding European games. Then, UEFA regulations had allowed the use of a substitute goalkeeper, again only in the case of injury, but this was anathema to the football authorities in Scotland who frowned upon such an arrangement thereby potentially handing an advantage to the Scottish clubs European opponents. Eventually however reason would prevail, the SFA relaxing their ridiculous ban, and goalkeeper Thomson Allan who had yet to make a first team appearance became Hibs and possibly Scotland’s, first ever substitute in an official fixture, although like O’Rourke remaining unused, in the Fairs Cup game against Valencia in Spain on 12 October 1965. 

In the early years of the game and long before the advent of the Scottish League in 1890, substitutes had often been allowed but normally only in friendly or benefit matches and usually only when a player had failed to arrive in time, rarely, if ever in a domestic competitive fixture. 

Although the practice would not become widespread, the first ever official use of a substitute in an international match took place during Wales’s game against Scotland at Wrexham in April 1889 when the first choice goalkeeper James Trainer had failed to turn up after being refused permission to play by his club Preston North End. In a quandary, the Welsh officials had been forced to play an amateur recruited from the crowd until another goalkeeper arrived 20 minutes after the game had started. 

In Scotland Partick Thistle had fielded a substitute player in a game against Rangers at Firhill in 1917, but this was an isolated case and had probably only been allowed because the game had been classed as an unofficial wartime fixture. Another occurrence of this kind would take place near the end of the Second World War during Scotland’s game against England at Hampden Park in April 1945 when only 40 seconds after the kick-off and before he had even touched the ball, the then Hibs player Tommy Bogan was carried off with a broken leg after a clash with the England goalkeeper Frank Swift. Again, as it was classed as an unofficial wartime fixture, the Clyde player Leslie Johnston, who was soon to join Hibs, was allowed to balance the sides, the game eventually ending 6-1 in the visitors favour.

During the qualifying games for the 1954 World Cup Finals in Switzerland, West Germany are said to have been the first side to have used a substitute in the game against Saarland in Stuttgart in August 1953, but that record had already been taken by Saarland in the game against Norway in Oslo in June that same year. Several other sides would also take advantage of the spare man although substitutes would not be allowed in the Finals itself, and would not be officially recognised until the World Cup Finals in Mexico in 1970. In the game against Russia at Hampden on 10 May 1967, Celtic’s Willie Wallace became Scotland’s first ever official substitute when he replaced the injured Denis Law at the start of the second half in the home side’s eventual 2-0 defeat.  

By the beginning of the 1972-73 season two substitutes were now be allowed to be used in a game, both Jimmy O’Rourke and Tony Higgins the extra-men in Hibs home Drybrough Cup game against St Mirren. One common feature throughout the years however appears to have been be a reluctance by players to wear what was considered by many to be the ‘unlucky’ number thirteen jersey. Perhaps a throwback to the middle ages when the number thirteen was believed to be the portent of doom, the majority of players nowadays still prefer not to tempt superstition or fate.    

In the past many top class players have made their last ever outing for their respective sides wearing the substitute’s jersey. At Easter Road the legendary Joe Baker would wear the number twelve shirt in his last ever appearance as a Hibs player in Hibs 2-1 defeat of Rangers at Hampden in the Scottish Cup semi-final replay in April 1972, while the fans favourite Pat Stanton would also make his own final appearance for the Easter Road side as a replacement for the injured George Stewart in Hibs 9-2 victory over St Johnstone in a league cup game on Saturday 28 August 1976, bringing to an end an illustrious career in Edinburgh before his move to Celtic a few weeks later.



Joe Baker in action against Rangers in 1972


Ironically, it was not only the players that sometimes required the use of a substitute; it also applied to officials. Perhaps the most high profile example came during Arsenals game against Liverpool at Highbury in September 1972 when a linesman pulled a muscle and was unable to continue. An appeal to the crowd for a qualified replacement resulted in the appearance of the former Fulham player, now TV pundit, Jimmy Hill who had only been at the game as a spectator. Hill, a qualified referee took over the running of the line for the remainder of the game despite the good humoured banter of the crowd. 

Today substitutes are an accepted and important part of the game, the number that can be used now increased to any three from seven. In 2016 experiments took place at that year’s Olympic games in Rio, the FIFA Woman’s under-20 World Cup in New Guinea and the World Club Championships in Japan regarding the use of a fourth substitute, but only in the event of extra-time being required to settle the issue, so who knows just what the future holds for our ever changing game?


Written by Tom Wright

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