Hillsborough, April 15, 1989

Hillsborough – 19 years ago today, Saturday, Apr 15,1989

It hardly seems possible that this disaster happened the best part of two decades ago.
Living in Nottingham, I had quite a few friends at the game following the Forest that fateful day. They all told the same tale – that they knew little of what was going on down at what became the infamous Leppings Lane end.

As the tragic events unfolded, many Forest supporters began to boo as they had falsely imagined that the Liverpool fans were merely causing a crowd disturbance. A friend told me that the first he realised that a tragedy was unfolding in front of him was when a young man was brought around the pitch in front of where he was, apparently dead, laid out on an advertisement hoarding which was being used as a makeshift stretcher. Soon there was a frightened hush amongst the Forest support as the hapless struggle went on to release the poor souls trapped behind those high fences.

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Peter Barr Cormack – Rock and Roll Footballer!

An unusual title you might say but allow me to explain as all will be revealed! Peter Barr Cormack was one of my three favourite Hibees of all time along with Joe Baker and Alex Cropley. All very different players but owning a little genius each in their own way.

cormack hibs

Like the aforementioned Joe, I had the great pleasure of watching Peter play both with Hibernian and Nottingham Forest to whom he was transferred to for £80,000 in 1969.

From a very early age Peter displayed a maturity beyond his years. His legendary debut against Real Madrid in which he debuted with a goal in Hibs’ 2-0 victory is well-charted in the history of notable moment in the club and what an amazing feeling that must have been for the young Peter Cormack. Much more was to follow in a distinguished career for the good-looking young man with the shock of dark hair, bursting into Hibernian’s ranks.

I have often talked with interest about Peter with other Hibbies who managed to watch him in his prime. It seems that everyone who saw him had an opinion about him, particularly about the unique way in which he moved about the pitch. One friend, a Portobello man, related to me once about how he would watch Peter Cormack at Easter Road from the East Terrace and skip all the way back home to Porty after the game, imitating Peter’s trademark high-stepping gait. Peter had this appearance of kicking his legs up high behind him when he ran – a run that was always instantly recognisable amongst a group of players in the middle of a game. I recently spoke to another long-time supporter who likened Peter’s run to that of a racehorse galloping! Here was far more to Peter Barr Cormack than an unusual run however as he was to show.

Whatever persuaded Hibs to offload their talented young player I’m not really sure. I’ll make the standard conclusion that the board at Easter Road wanted or needed to ease Hibernian’s cash flow – there could be little other reason as Cormack began to show, growing in stature in the original English Division 1, firstly with Nottingham Forest, then with a powerful Liverpool side, led by the legendary Bill Shankly – perhaps no mean judge of a player one might say.

cormack forest

Peter was one of those players that represented a certain era for me personally – along with George Best and a select few he seemed to be part of a vanguard of young footballers who were part of the generation that I looked up to. Georgie Best had just been crowned ‘El Beatle’ after his exploits in the European Cup, and seemed a lifetime away from men like Bobby Charlton and the old guard. There was an awful lot happening in society at this time – The Beatles had grown their hair long and were taking drugs for one thing! ‘Flower power’ had been all around and young people were seeking the route back to San Francisco – with or without flowers in their hair.

The footballers that I and my pals at school were most avidly collecting bubblegum stamp cards for were of guys that looked like Georgie…and Peter. Bobby Charlton and his generation were definitely ‘square’. A ‘Peter Cormack’ could be worth up to five ‘Alex Stepney’s’ on he bubblegum card black market!

Peter had a very good time of things at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground by the banks of the River Trent. Although toiling in a poor and degenerating Forest side, years away yet from the new messiah Clough and just after an, at their best Joe Baker and Ian Storey-Moore – both golden boys to the Forest faithful, Peter played in midfield and scored creditably from that position for two seasons. He also added to his final tally of nine full caps in the dark blue of Scotland.

The point that most of the local media and supporters picked up upon was the fact that many of those goals had been headers. Perhaps at first glance (no pun intended) this might have seemed unusual. Certainly Peter though by no means being a small man was certainly no towering giant in the penalty box either. His height alone was not the reason for his menacing ability in the air, but rather his perfect timing. Peter was one of those players that could put his head in where it mattered first. His exquisite timing also dictated that in a melee of players going up for a high ball in the box, his would be the one that appeared to ‘hang’ there in the air – often being at the peak of his leap, with his head on the ball when other lesser players were already on the way down to earth. At odd times in history these unusual players have identified themselves to the public eye but very rarely so.

Other Hibs friends have told me just what a good goalkeeper Peter was ironically. The same talent and technique that gave him great jumping ability he could also use in the goalies shirt. One Hibby whose opinion I respect greatly is of the opinion that if Peter hadn’t become an International outfield player, he certainly would have been capped as a goalkeeper.

Peter was neither a one-trick pony of a player either. His graceful play, passing ability and nimble footwork were a joy to watch. He had an array of crowd-pleasing tricks on the ball too. I have heard people say he wasn’t notable for his tackling ability but I’ve never necessarily subscribed to that notion having seen him dig in during midfield battles well.

Of course whilst showcasing all this talent it became quickly impossible for Peter’s situation to remain the same. Bill Shankly at Liverpool had noticed the young Scot’s sparkling displays and wanted him as the last part of the jigsaw at Anfield. Peter was introduced to the Liverpool team after an, expensive for that time, fee of £110,000 and furthered a very successful career on Merseyside. for five seasons before being transferred to Bristol City. Similarly it has been my experience to note that those fans of Liverpool FC that ever saw him play, like those of Hibs and Forest have only very fond memories of his captivating style of play. A cursory check though any Liverpool website will confirm that.

When I sometimes see the all-too-few pictures of, and information about Peter Cormack, in books and on the Internet I have to say I often wonder why others at times are more spoken of. Perhaps it’s simply that his years at Hibs were not more extensive. This however could be quoted in the case of Joe Baker and many other great and very good players at Easter Road. Those that do talk about him however usually glow about his skill and style – the way he played. Peter Barr Cormack’s way was the Hibernian way.