CALLS were made today for a statue of the Famous Five to be erected outside Easter Road following the death of Hibs hero Lawrie Reilly, the last of the legendary quintet.
Reilly died peacefully at the Western General Hospital early yesterday, aged 84. He helped Hibs to three league titles in the late 1940s and early 1950s and boasted an international strike rate better than that of Kenny Dalglish or Denis Law. He appeared 235 times for Hibs between 1946-1958 and was crucial to the club’s most successful forward line-up: Gordon Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond.
Fans of both Capital clubs today paid tribute to the man who remains Hibs’ most-capped player and said a statue to Reilly and the others would be a fitting tribute.
Mike Riley, chairman of the Hibs Supporters Association, said: “I sometimes cringe when I hear players being referred to as legends, but the Famous Five really are legends for Hibs.
“I’m sure a majority of fans would support the idea of a statue to honour the Famous Five.
“I would be happy to chip in towards it. I’m sure the club and members would be happy to do so too. There are areas at the main entrance at Easter Road where it could go.”
There is already a stand named after the Famous Five at Hibs’ Easter Road stadium and the main hall of the supporters’ club at Sunnyside is the Famous Five suite.
Radio presenter and dedicated Hibby Grant Stott got to know Reilly well through hosting the hospitality at games and often sat next to him at matches.
“For a Hibs fan, being asked to sit next to Lawrie Reilly was like a music fan being invited to hang out with The Beatles,” he said.
But he said Reilly was a very humble man. “If you asked him about the Famous Five he would talk about the super six behind them – he was always very conscious it was the whole team who played.”
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, who grew up a Hibs supporter, also paid tribute.
He said: “I used to see Lawrie regularly when I went to Easter Road. He was a big hero of my father. He has left us with some fantastic memories.
“He scored five times [against England] but, even though I met him so many times, he never mentioned that. It’s a measure of how much a gentleman he was that he never mentioned that.
“Great players never tell you what they did – people already know. And he was a great player, that’s for sure.”
A minute’s applause is expected before kick-off at Hibs’ next match, in the Europa League against Malmo at Easter Road on Thursday. Players are also due to wear black armbands.
But the club said it was still finalising details of the tribute with the family.
Independent Lothian MSP and well-known Hibby Margo MacDonald said she had attended last year’s Scottish Cup final with Lawrie Reilly and his wife, and had been due to go to this year’s with him too, but he had been admitted to hospital before the game. “He was a very nice, unassuming man,” she said.
She said a statue to the Famous Five would be “absolutely” appropriate and believed there would be strong support for such a tribute.
“It would show they were very much part and parcel of the ordinary life of Leith and of the city,” she said.
“Today’s superstar footballers are on another planet, surrounded by security so you can’t get near them, but that wasn’t true in their day. They were fantastic footballers but when they came off the park they were the same as everyone else.”
Deputy council leader and Hearts fan Steve Cardownie backed the idea of a statue of the Famous Five, and suggested another for his own club’s Terrible Trio – Jimmy Wardhaugh, Willie Bauld and Alfie Conn.
He said: “These are people whose fame reaches far beyond Edinburgh and Scotland. It comes down to a question of funding, but I’m sure the council would like to be involved and would do everything it could.
“Although I’m a Hearts supporter my uncle and his family were Hibs fans and used to regale me with stories about Lawrie Reilly.
“These were guys at the top of their craft when people like me were growing up. They didn’t get the iconic status when they were alive which players nowadays get, but they were still known throughout the UK and further afield. I think a statue in their memory would be entirely fitting.”
Leith Labour councillor and lifelong Hibs fan Gordon Munro also backed the idea of a permanent memorial.
“It would be a great thing and a publicly popular move as well. Other clubs have done it,” he said.
“I know Hearts supporters who say they’re proud to have seen the Famous Five. They were remarkable in their contribution not just to Scottish football, but to British football and they influenced the great Brazilian teams through the 1960s and 70s.”
Ted Brack, who co-authored Reilly’s autobiography, said a Famous Five statue would be a “magnificent” move. He said: “It would be a wonderful tribute. At Old Trafford they have statues to Denis Law, George Best, Bobby Charlton, Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson.
“It would mean everything to the fans and to the families of the Famous Five.”
Mr Brack said he had visited Reilly in hospital recently on the same day as former Hibs player Billy Hunter was there.
“Billy told him he had been speaking to Sir Alex Ferguson and he had asked for Lawrie and said how highly he regarded him and to pass on his best wishes.
“I thought the world of Lawrie. As a schoolboy I went to see him play and it was a huge honour for me as a Hibs author to be co-writer for his autobiography.”
There was strong support for a statue in and around Hibs’ heartland at Easter Road.
Pub owner James Colvine, 58, from Leith, said: “They were great men, they deserve to be acknowledged for their participation and commitment to the game.”
Government officer Colin Baxter, 53, agreed. “I think a statue a good idea because he was a legend, along with the other four.”
Brian Allan, 53, from Tranent, said: “My wife is related to Lawrie and I used to play golf with him. They were the best at their time and so it would be nice for them to be remembered.”
Student Brodie Baxter, 21, said: “Yes, it’s the right thing to do. I heard many stories about the Famous Five from my dad.”
A spokesman for the club said the idea of a statue was “something we would need to discuss further down the line”.
The last of the legendary line
By John Gibson
Truly unique. Never smoked. Never drank. Never swore. A credit to football. A credit to himself, Lawrie Reilly. The one and only Lawrie Reilly.
They’ve asked me here to add my tuppenceworth to the richly-deserved tribute the News is printing today. Frankly, I’d have been miffed if they hadn’t. After all, and I relish writing this, as much bragging as respectful, few mourners today actually witnessed Lawrie doing his stuff as I did season after season, home and away, in the faboulous – yes, fabulous – Famous Five. My good fortune.
These past few seasons we sat close together, Lawrie in his green blzer, in the stand. He could summon a smile as naturally as he’d trap a ball, latterly tempereing the happy face with scathing critisim. Brutal but justifiable criticism of the players brazen enough to don the jersey. Still, he wouldn’t swear but the words he had in my ear for the latest crop saw him shake his head in despair.
Privilege and a pleasure to have rubbed shoulders and exchanged so much patter.
They all chorus that finest hours were at Wembley. No they weren’t. In my book his finest two hours were spent in a head-to-head over lunch at Gordon’s Trattoria in the High Street (more of that later).
My last-minute words on Lawrie are: what more can you ask of a man who used his football golden handshake on a pub in Leith where, as ever-present landlord for years, he drank only orange juice.
Aye, Lawrie Reilly . . . last of the legendary line.
Former Hibs striker Keith Wright @keithwright47: “A very sad day RIP Lawrie Reilly an absolute Hibs legend. I was very lucky to meet the great man and loved his goalscoring stories. #Hero”
@jamiekborthwick: “Reilly was a total gentleman, a fantastic ambassador for the game, a proud Hibee and the last of the Famous 5.”
Forth One DJ Boogie
@BoogsTweets: “Sad loss of #Hibs legend Lawrie Reilly today. I met him a few times and he was a nice man. He scored for Scotland at Wembley 4 times!”
@DeanBallantyne: “Lawrie Reilly was not just a legend to Hibs fans, but also to Scotland! Scored 5 goals at Wembley against England! RIP”
Jack Moffat @JackMoffat6: “Rip Lawrie Reilly. Hibs and Scotland legend”
Ex-Hibs star Joe Tortolano @SuperTortolano: “Sad to hear the news of Lawrie Reilly. A true Hibs Legend – a remarkable footballer and even more remarkable man!! May he Rest In Peace”
Paget @rosspaget1: “R.I.P Lawrie Reilly. True Hibs legend”
@HibernianFCClub: “As long as there is a Hibernian, Reilly’s name will be revered. He was the greatest Hibee of them all. His memory marches on . . .”