Sometimes fate can play the strangest of hands. Today was to be a fairly normal Thursday for me, the only difference was that I wasn’t to be working today but rather had suggested a walk with a friend through some of the villages by the River Trent here in Nottinghamshire.
What has that to do with the leading lights of Edinburgh football you might ask? Bear with me as all shall soon become apparent.
During the country walk, as is the custom on these occasions, there was need for a libation. Not by good fortune but by good planning, a beautiful old public house named ‘The Reindeer’ at Hoveringham village had been planned at a point through the amble in order to fulfil this most welcome of desires.
As I made my way into the ancient bar and met the blazing log fire, a senior couple asked where the lounge might be. I directed them through to the cosy little bar, complete with original beams and extensive view out to a midwinter cricket pitch aloof in its frigid silence and bereft of the summer sounds of willow on leather. Thinking little about the brief encounter I sat with my walking friend and chatted over a couple of pints of excellent Czech lager – perhaps not strictly in keeping with this old English environment, but certainly one modernisation that sat well with my sensibilities.
It was after donning our warm winter coats to hit that first blast of winter fresh air laced with the most welcome yet unseasonable bright sunshine outside, that the few words spoken to the gentleman earlier took another fascinating turn. Leaving The Reindeer Inn, I noted on a small table by the doorway, a single copy of that days edition of The Nottingham Evening Post. The ‘Post’ was inverted with its back sports page with a ‘screamer’ headline reading:
“AT LAST! A WORLD CUP CAP FOR REDS HERO IMLACH!”
The headline referred to FA Cup winner’s medal holder, the late Stewart Imlach, Forest’s Scottish international left winger from the 1950s’. ‘Stewy’ had a very distinguished career on the wing for the Nottingham club – so much so that he was selected to represent his home country, Scotland in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.
Mass Hibsteria has for some time now known about the unjust situation where Stewart and many other former Scotland internationalists were not awarded caps for their country as up until 1975 they were only handed out to players who appeared in matches versus the home countries. Of that number it should be immediately pointed out that our own great inside-forward and later manager, Eddie Turnbull was one of those to end his career cap-less, even though appearing some nine times for his country in what was a much less busy international calendar at the time.
Watch and listen to the story of Stewart Imlach
– The man known as “The Rabbit” by the Nottingham Forest faithful
due to his dazzling speed,
Knowing that my friend – a lifelong Nottingham Forest supporter would be interested in the story as I was, I pointed out the story in the newspaper to him. We had talked about the anomaly of the cap situation previously and at that time he had told me of his times watching Imlach’s memorable days patrolling the left-wing berth for the ‘Reds’.
Looking over the happy news of Stewart’s and the rest’s soon-to-be awarded caps, there came a soft voice with a hint of an accent I know so well from behind us. “Do you remember him?” asked the gentleman I had spoken to earlier on the way in. “I don’t but my friend does, I’m very aware of the story though” I replied. I indicated to him that here in this gentle and quiet spot of rural Nottinghamshire – a most unlikely spot perhaps, he was speaking to a life-long Hibs supporter and that the website I visit and contribute to had alerted the campaign for Stewart Imlach et al’s caps to be awarded.
At this his eyes lit up! “Gordon Smith – The Famous Five, I saw them play!” This man was actually a Hearts supporter all his life and, in the days, when it was quite the fashion to watch ‘the other team’ on opposite Saturdays, had gone along regularly on a Saturday afternoon to watch the great forward line in green and white of his team’s great rivals.
We all are able to wax lyrical about our own team’s heroes. I’m no different when I get to thinking about Joe Baker, Peter Cormack and other personal Hibs idols of mine from the past. There is something different however when you see an old-time opposition supporter glowing about the days when he used to watch your team.
As he spoke the years rolled away as if they never happened. My new acquaintance, Norman, “call me Norrie”, told tale of the Gay Gordon and his dashing, cavalier wing-play. “Make no mistake – there was no one like him”. Norrie went on about how the five forwards would interchange and how nobody had seen this before. He told of how Gordon would run across the pitch to the opposite flank and the whole forward line would shuffle one position across to accommodate his brilliance in another area of the field.
Something I had forgotten about was Gordon Smith’s innovatory ways for the time. Norrie explained that if the surface of the pitch didn’t suit his footwear, the great man would change into a pair of baseball boots at half-time, in order to continue a display of his dazzling footwork.
Norrie loved watching The Famous Five. He explained that his own team were good enough but relatively uninteresting compared to the space-age football on display at Easter Road in that era. No shame on Heart of Midlothian this as surely Hibernian in full flow must have been some spectacle in those days.
It was time to go, the wind was blowing its chilly February blast outside The Reindeer, but my heart was hugely warmed by this man. He made me understand and realise once again that this really is only a game. That he harkened back to a more simple time, when we all understood that, was not lost on me. Given a choice in thinking and talking about Bosman rulings, share issues, pre-contracts and all the rest of the modern paraphernalia of the great game or alternatively talking to a man like Norrie about Gordon Smith there is simply no contest. We parted on a warm handshake but not before we talked of our respective teams and their resurgences and were happy to agree how wonderful that was to see. “Edinburgh forever” was the feeling of the man from Haymarket and myself.
During the course of our conversation, Norrie asked me about the Mass Hibsteria website. He told me he would look out for it and pay a visit. I sincerely hope he does and I’m sure he will be assured a warm welcome.
Over to you Norrie…