How Hibs taught Brazil how to play football

Despite our club's recent troubles, it's important that fans remember that once, only a few decades ago, Hibs were the inspiration for the change in style of play that made Brazil world-beaters.

The following comes partly from a newspaper piece from 1997 by Colin Leslie featuring 'Hibstorian' John Campbell - it's easier than trying to read the full copy of the article that I have, were I to scan it, and I feel that it would be remiss of me both as a Hibby and as a historian, not to put this into the public domain.

You might have thought that Pele and the great Brazilian team that won the 1970 World Cup did it all on their own. You'd be wrong.

You possibly think Brazil's mesmerising, free-flowing, samba style was innate and God-given, a natural gift Brazil have that is devoid of nurture. If so, you're wrong again.

The dominance of Brazil was inspired by none other than our very own Hibernian FC, don't believe me? Read on.

The Hibs 'Famous Five' of Gordon Smith, Willie Ormond, Eddie Turnbull, Bobby Johnstone and Lawrie Reilly were the real inspiration behind Brazil's storm to dominance of international football.

Brazil's football encyclopedia, printed in 1970 just before the world cup in Mexico, contains a whole chapter about Hibs' style of play, highlighting our Famous Five's tactic of constantly swapping positions during a game, and thus beffuddling and confusing opposing teams. In contrast, neither the Scotland national team, or the Old Firm, even get a mention.

Brazil's football manual contained drawings showing Hibs' tactics.

Hibs were included because at the time we were at the forefront  of football with our revolutionary style - much in the same way that the 1970's Dutch team was later showered with praise for its 'Total Football'. Brazil's players and coaches recognised the new dynamic that Hibs had brought to football, adopted it, and then improved on it.

Hibs toured Brazil in 1953, drawing 3-3 with Brazil's champions, Vasco da Gama, in the massive Maracana stadium. Eddie Turnbull scored 1, Lawrie Reilly got 2. The mini-tournament, which also featured Sao Paulo, Corinthians, Fluminese and Sporting Lisbon, was one of the first 'World Club' type tournaments. Vasco de Gama were so impressed with Bobby Johnstone and Gordon Smith that they tried to sign them!

It was, of course, in the 50's, that Brazil became a major footballing force, and their evolution culminated in the 1970 World Cup win in Mexico, Brazil's team back then widely being acknowledged as the best coached of all time.

Brazil's disaster in 1966 in England made the samba stars determined to triumph in Mexico, and in the 4 years between '66 and '70, they adopted a new training regime , based on what they had learned from Edinburgh's own Hibernian FC.

Brazil employed this same style of play right up until  USA '94.

So, this summer, when you see Pele being interviewed, or Brazil playing, never forget that Pele, his contemporaries and their successors, were as good as they were because of their own raw talent, and because of the Hibs.

Good and bad - I mean, their 7-1 thrashing by Germany in the 2014 world cup semi  was itself Hibs-esque - reminiscent of Hibs worst ever modern competitive defeat, which was the 0-7 loss to rangers at Ibrox in 1995.

Almost funny now, isn't it? But it's true.



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© Ian Colquhoun