HIBERNIAN AT HAMPDEN – THE LAST HOODOO
Hibernian have failed to win any of their last nine encounters with Celtic in the semi-finals or finals of Scotland’s two major cup competitions. Eight defeats and one draw against the ‘Hoops has been the best that the Hibees could do in such fixtures in almost 50 years, ever since Eddie Turnbull’s Hibees defeated Jock Stein’s Celtic in the 1972 League Cup Final at Hampden. Beating Celtic in a major Hampden encounter remains, for many Hibs fans, perhaps the last Hibernian Hoodoo.
To succeed against Celtic in the final at Hampden on December 19th Jack Ross must try to succeed where the sides of Eddie Turnbull, Alex Miller, Alex Mcleish, Pat Fenlon, Neil Lennon and Paul Heckingbottom all failed – to varying degrees. Hibs have the measure of the blue side of Glasgow when it comes to Hampden encounters yet down the last 49 years, no matter which bosses and groups of players have been involved the green jerseys have toiled against Glasgow’s greens. The Glasgow side have gone on to win every trophy in which they have encountered Hibs at Hampden since 1972 – that luck surely can’t last forever.
Were Jack Ross and his side able to triumph at Hampden and lift the trophy, not only would that near 50-year hoodoo against Celtic be shattered ; such a result would mean that Hibernian have won four major trophies in the last 30 years – no other non-Glasgow Scottish club has managed that in a generation. Hibernian would, in effect, be Scotland’s third force – when it comes to trophies won in the modern era.
To achieve that, while Ross and the players must focus on the present, it’s also important to look at the historical context in order to truly see the magnitude of the task before the ‘Cabbage.
The final on December 19th will be the tenth such encounter at Hampden between the sides since goals from Pat Stanton and Jimmy O’Rourke earned Turnbull’s Tornadoes that famous League Cup Final win over Celtic in 1972. Hibernian fans will hope to wash away the memories of the previous nine matches with their own heroes making it a ‘Perfect Ten’ against the Hoops. Those preceding nine Hampden meetings? Okay, let’s do this.
After Hibs had bested the ‘Hoops in the 1972 League Cup Final, the two sides next did battle at Hampden in the same fixture in 1974, in front of almost 54,000 fans. Joe Harper scored a hat-trick for Hibs yet still ended up on the losing side, as Stein’s Celts beat Turnbull’s Hibs 6-3. Dixie Deans of Celtic also bagged a treble that day, while the other Celtic scorers were Jimmy Johnstone, Stevie Murray and Paul Wilson. Despite the heavy scoreline, that was no drubbing for Hibs – it was a classic cup final contested by two of Scotland’s best three teams at the time. Could Hibs have won this one? Certainly.
Six years passed until the two sides met at Hampden once more. This time the encounter was in the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup. Billy McNeil’s Celtic were chasing the league title while the Hibs side that confronted them was already all but relegated. 33456 fans at the national stadium in April 1980 saw a very one sided scoreline. The Tornadoes were almost all gone but Hibs did have a useful side, the star of which was Irish veteran George Best. Only a Bobby Lennox goal for Celtic separated the sides at the interval, but a four-goal blitz in the second 45 left Hibs with a 5-0 defeat, despite having many chances to score themselves. The four second half goals came from Murdo Macleod, John Doyle, Tom McAdam and Davie Provan. The Hoops went on to lift the trophy. Could Hibs have won this one? Highly unlikely, but they could have scored a couple of goals, with better luck.
Nine years would elapse before the two sides would meet at Hampden again. April 1989 saw Alex Miller’s Hibernian side take on Billy McNeil’s Celtic in front of a crowd of around 42,000 in the Scottish Cup semis. Both sides wore their home kits. The match was played the day after the Hillsborough Disaster, so both teams wore black armbands. Miller’s men had a real chance to win this match as Celtic had injury and suspension problems. The Hibs side included great players like Andy Goram, Steve Archibald and John Collins. As a contest, however, it was all over in just 29 minutes. The Hoops scored early then quickly added to their tally while the Hibs defence was still stunned. Celtic youngster Steve Fulton terrorised the Hibs defence that day down the left flank and set up two goals. Hibs did improve a little after the interval and even bagged a consolation goal, courtesy of Steve Archibald, but it was too little too late. McCarthy, Walker and Mcghee had netted for Celtic. It ended 1-3 and Celtic went on to lift the trophy. Could Hibs have won this one? On paper, yes, but considering how the team performed on the day, no.
Season 94/95 brought the next encounter between the sides at a neutral venue, however, due to the fact that Celtic played their home matches at Hampden Park during that season, the match was played at Ibrox. The Friday-night Scottish Cup semi-final on April 7th 1995 at a green and white Ibrox drew a crowd of just over 40,000 – though much of Ibrox’s main stand was closed for the match. At the time there was very little between the two sides – both had mounted half-hearted title challenges and matches between the two sides that season had been very close. It was an entertaining match, the biggest talking point of which was a dubious penalty awarded to Celtic but which was superbly saved by Jim Leighton, Andy Walker failing from the spot. Both sides had chances but the match ended 0-0 and went to a replay.
The replay – just four days later at the same venue - was watched by just over 32,000 fans. In a more open game than the first one, Hibs ended up losing 1-3, Keith Wright scoring for the Hibees. Phil O’Donnell, Willie Falconer and John Collins scored for Celtic. Steven Tweed missed a great chance early on at 0-0 and but for that and a superb Michael O’Neill effort in the second-half which somehow didn’t go in, the Hibees might have taken things to extra-time and penalties. Celtic went on to lift the trophy. Could Hibs have won this encounter? Absolutely, but the Hibees missed their best chance to do so in the first match.
In 2001 a treble-seeking Celtic under Martin O’Neill faced off against Alex Mcleish’s Hibs side in the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden. Hibs had enjoyed an excellent season and had finished third in the SPL, however, with talisman Russell Latapy having been sacked for off-field misconduct in the weeks before the final, and with captain Franck Sauzee playing with an injury, the final was too much for the Hibees and they lost that match 3-0, without even managing a notable goal attempt. A goal by McNamara and a double from Larsson settled the match. The 52,000 strong crowd at Hampden that day saw the teams given a 50/50 ticket split, so that the match wouldn’t be like a home match for the Hoops. Fairness in finals where teams who are capable of selling 22,000 tickets are given that allocation, would continue until 2021, though it remains unclear if the SPFL will relent and continue that tradition for the upcoming Hampden showdown. Could Hibs have won in 2001? Quite simply, no, not without Russell Latapy. To be fair, not many teams in Britain could have beaten Celtic that day.
Twelve years after that encounter, Hibs faced Celtic in the 2013 Scottish Cup Final at Hampden. The Hibees’ on form striker Leigh Griffiths played with an ankle injury. Hibs’ best and indeed only chance of the match was an early Eoin Doyle header. Neil Lennon’s Celtic won comfortably against Pat Fenlon’s men, 3-0, Gary Hooper bagged a brace in the first half hour and it was all over, long before Joe Ledley delivered the coup de grace in the second half. Could Hibs have won this one? The Hibees had beaten Celtic 1-0 at Easter Road five months earlier, with a Leigh Griffiths goal, but with Griffiths carrying an ankle knock in the final, much of Hibernian’s forward threat was neutralised, so, no. It wasn’t a rout but Hibs never looked like winning.
2017 saw newly promoted Hibs , under Neil Lennon, take on Brendan Rodgers’ excellent Celtic side, this time in the League Cup semi-finals at Hampden. An early Lustig goal for Celtic looked to have initiated ‘Groundhog Day’ for the Hibees against Celtic at the national stadium and another goal from the Swede had the Hoops 2-0 up at half-time and looking strong. Lennon’s Hibs side rallied in the second-half and gave the Hoops what had been Rodgers’ toughest domestic test to date. Anthony Stokes and Oli Shaw scored for Edinburgh’s green and white but the introduction of Mousa Dembele in the second half tipped the scales – just – the striker bagging a brace. It ended 4-2 to Celtic and they went on to lift the trophy. Could Hibs have won this one? Undoubtedly – they at least deserved extra time and had Celtic rattled at times.
Two years later in 2019, Paul Heckingbottom took his Hibs side to the national stadium to face Lennon’s Celtic side, again, in the League Cup semi-finals. Once again against Celtic at Hampden, Hibs found themselves 2-0 down early on. This time, though, there was no heroic attempt at a fightback, and Heckingbottom’s side was trounced 5-2, Melker Halberg and Florian Kamberi netting consolation goals for the Hibees. Despite the two goals for Hibernian, this was no close run thing and Hibs were well-beaten and indeed fortunate not to lose more heavily. Could Hibs have won this match? No, probably not. The Hoops went on to win the trophy.
Nine matches over those eight ties brought Hibs no wins. Hibernian’s Hampden hoodoo against Celtic is nothing like on the scale of the old Hibs Scottish Cup curse, yet there are now two generations of Hibs fans who have never seen their heroes beat Celtic in a major cup semi-final or final. That could all change on Sunday 19 December at Hampden when the two sides contest the League Cup Final. Hampden will be awash with green and the semi-final performance against Rangers proved that the Hibees can focus and win big matches at Hampden under Jack Ross. As history has shown, if Hibs avoid losing the first goal, then there’s every chance in the world that the trophy will be heading back to Edinburgh.
This may well be Hibernian veterans Lewis Stevenson and Paul Hanlon’s last chance to win more silverware with Hibs, and how fitting would it would be were they to do so in the 30th anniversary year of Hibernian’s 1991 SKOL Cup Final triumph. As for Jack Ross, he has a wonderful chance not only to make the Hibee faithful delirious with joy, but to also become the first Hibs gaffer since Eddie Turnbull to beat both of the big Glasgow sides en route to winning a major trophy. Such a victory would be an amazing achievement for Ross and would show the footballing world that Jack Ross, does, indeed, have the goods as a top manager.
Hibs have met Celtic in major cup matches 23 times since 1972 and have won just three of those encounters, in 1985, 1986 and in 2003 – all three wins coming at Easter Road - but it’s in semi-finals and finals where the green jerseys seems to be bereft of luck against the ‘Hoops. However, 2016’s triumph over the Rangers at Hampden showed Hibernian’s fans that Hoodoos are there to be shattered.
The Hibbies await their final against Celtic eagerly and their manager and his players stand on the threshold of immortality – every Hibs fan expects that their heroes can persevere and defy the odds to lift the trophy –Celtic stand in their way ; Hibernian are due a rub of the green against the Hoops at Hampden. A win for Hibs would ensure that this Christmas, despite the cold and dark, will see lashings of festive Sunshine On Leith cascading over the green side of Edinburgh.