The Hibernian Historical Trust was delighted to acquire the league championship medals belonging to the legendary Hibs and Scotland player Lawrie Reilly at the recent auction at Rosewell.
The Hibernian Historical Trust was delighted to acquire the league championship medals belonging to the legendary Hibs and Scotland player Lawrie Reilly at the recent auction at Rosewell. As expected, the bidding was brisk and soon overtook the auctioneer’s original estimate of between £1,000 - £2,000, eventually reaching £12,000 plus commission and VAT, an announcement that the medals had been acquired by the Historical Trust receiving a completely spontaneous and unexpected round of applause from the packed hall.
The medals that will now remain at Easter Road in perpetuity will go on display at the stadium alongside those of Gordon Smith and many others, and the Historical Trust would like to thank all the supporters and directors of the club, whose generous donations made the acquisition possible.
The 9-carat gold medals were issued to Lawrie Reilly to commemorate Hibs 1950-51 and 1951-52 league championship wins, when the club, led by the celebrated Famous Five forward line was generally regarded as the finest in the country. An official unveiling ceremony, including several other items of memorabilia relating to Reilly’s illustrious playing career, is to take place at the stadium, to which all those who made a donation will be invited.
The only one of the Famous Five to be born a Hibs supporter, the young Reilly had joined the club in the summer of 1944 from Edinburgh Thistle, an amateur side run by the well-known Hibs groundsman Harry Reading. His 106 goals from the centre forward position in Thistle’s unbeaten 55 game run, had also attracted the attention of Hearts where his uncle had an involvement, but there was only ever going to be one destination for the Hibs mad Reilly and that was Easter Road.
Not yet turned 17 and still too young to be registered as a full-time professional, Reilly would make his first-team debut when lining up at inside-right alongside his boyhood hero Gordon Smith in Hibs 4-3 victory against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on 13th October 1945, one of only 10 appearances he would make that season. Demonstrating what was to become his legendary goal-scoring prowess, the first of his many goals for the club, including 18 hat-tricks, was scored in a 6-1 victory against Queen of the South at Easter Road a few weeks later.
It would soon be back to the then unbeaten second-team for the youngster, but he could not be held back for long. After occasional first team appearances over the following couple of seasons, unfortunately not enough to qualify for another championship medal in the 1947-48 campaign, he would eventually spearhead the magnificent Famous Five forward line, his tenacious all-action style immediately making him the scourge of defences the length and breadth of the country and a huge favourite with the Easter Road fans.
First called up for international duty at outside-left in Scotland’s 8-1 victory against the League of Ireland at Ibrox at the beginning of the 1948-49 season, scoring twice, the first of his 38 appearances for the full Scotland side, which is still a club record, came a few weeks later in the game against Wales in a 3-1 victory at Cardiff, this time lining-up at centre-forward.
In April 1949 Reilly would make his first appearance at Wembley, scoring one of the goals in Scotland’s famous 3-1 victory. It was the first of the five he would score in three consecutive appearances against the ‘Auld Enemy’ in London, plus another at Hampden in 1952, a record that is unlikely to be broken. When winning his twelfth full cap in Scotland’s 5-0 victory against Belgium at the Heysel Stadium in 1951, he became Hibs most capped player, overtaking goalkeeper Harry Rennie’s record that had stood for 43 years.
A member of the side that made the groundbreaking trip to Brazil in 1953, he was also part of the Hibs team that became the first-ever British side to participate in the inaugural European Cup competition in 1955, scoring one of the goals in the historic 4-0 victory over Rot Weiss Essen in Germany, Hibs later progressing all the way to the semi-finals.
However, after 334 appearances in all games wearing the famous green and white jersey, a knee injury that required surgery would hasten his premature retirement from the game aged only 29. On Monday 12th April 1958, just six days before Hibs faced Clyde in the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden, ‘Last Minute Reilly’ would make his last ever appearance for the club against old adversities Rangers at Easter Road, when perhaps fittingly, he would score one of the goals in a 3-1 victory. At the final whistle, the players of both sides had formed a ceremonial line as the clearly emotional Reilly was applauded from the field, a fitting tribute to a player who remains to this day Hibs record league goalscorer with 187 goals, 237 in all games.
Held in high esteem by both the club and its supporters, Reilly would later receive a testimonial game when a Hibs XI that included all the remaining members of the Famous Five, faced an International Select at Easter Road. Somewhat bizarrely, however, the regulations at the time had prevented him from taking part in the game as he was not then a registered player, and he watched the proceedings from the director’s box.
He would spend the following 40 years running the Bowlers Rest public house in Leith, a venue popular with both home and away supporters before games at Easter Road, before retiring completely to concentrate on his other passion golf.
A member of the Hibernian Former Players Association, and a valued Trustee of the Hibernian Historical Trust, he was also the ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Football Memory programme at Hampden. Inducted into the Scottish Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Hibernian Hall of Fame in 2012, he was a match day host at his beloved Easter Road until his death in July 2013 aged 84.
Incredibly modest despite all he had achieved in the game, he remained a popular figure with supporters both young and old until the end, and it is perhaps only fitting that his medals should remain at Easter Road in perpetuity for the benefit of those coming after us.