Lawrie Reilly statue calls grow as funeral held

Pallbearers Jackie McNamara, Paul Kane and Alex Cropley. Picture: Greg Macvean
Pallbearers Jackie McNamara, Paul Kane and Alex Cropley. Picture: Greg Macvean
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A TRUE gentleman with a heart so big it could have burst out of his jersey. This is how Lawrie Reilly – the final member of the fabled Famous Five to be laid to rest – was remembered by fans, former players and family yesterday.

The moving send-off for the Easter Road side’s most capped player came as calls for a statue to be erected in honour of the star quintet gathered in volume and intensity, with pallbearer Paul Kane leading former players in their widespread support for immortalising the group in bronze.

Up to 500 dedicated supporters – some who had even skipped work – gathered behind the East Stand at Hibs home ground to say farewell to a footballer rated by many as the club’s greatest player.

They were surrounded by swathes of memorabilia – football shirts, scarves and even Scotland tops fittingly bearing Reilly’s synonymous catchphrase: “I was born a Hibee, I’ve always been a Hibee, and I’ll die a Hibee.”

Heartfelt tributes had earlier been delivered at St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church on George Street for a funeral service that celebrated the man, as much as the legend.

Hibs manager Pat Fenlon and the club’s first team were among mourners regaled with tales of a big-hearted footballer who was a “man in a million”.

Reilly, who appeared 235 times for Hibs between 1946 and 1958, died on July 22 at the age of 84 after losing a battle with bone cancer in the Western General Hospital.

His passing closed the final chapter on the Famous Five – a once-in-a-lifetime group of players that included Gordon Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond.

Together, the group steered Hibs to three league championships in the late 1940s and early 1950s during a golden period for the Edinburgh club.

Among them, Reilly was the jewel, with 238 career goals.

His extraordinary output was not limited to Hibs, with another 22 goals in 38 appearances for Scotland, including five goals against England alone.

Magnificent footballer

Close friend Ted Brack, who co-wrote Reilly’s autobiography, recalled the “great” man during a detailed tribute at the service as Reilly’s wife, Iris, and son, Lawrence, watched on from the assembly.

He said: “Lawrie Reilly was a magnificent footballer, but if he’d never kicked a ball in his life he would still have been a great, great man. He was intelligent, cheerful, determined – very determined – full of interest, full of opinion, completely loyal to those who found his favour, an absolute pleasure to be around.”

The Famous Five star’s nickname, “Last Minute Reilly”, was born from his uncanny knack of scoring goals in a match’s final seconds.

Nineteen of his career goals for Hibs came in the last minute to either save or win games. Of those, eight were scored in just one season.

Mr Brack said those competitive qualities had remained with Reilly until his last breath.

“During Lawrie’s last few weeks in hospital he was clearly becoming weak and unwell, but he never stopped fighting,” Mr Brack said.

“One day one of the nurses came into his room and she said to me ‘I can see why they call that man Last Minute Reilly. He just doesn’t know how to give up’. She was absolutely right.”

Mourners including former Hibs players Tommy Preston and John Fraser said Reilly would have been a multi-million-pound player in today’s market. He received lucrative offers to move to Cardiff and Newcastle during his playing career, but rejected both without hesitation.

“After his wife and family, Hibs was the greatest love in Lawrie’s life,” Mr Brack said.

DJ Grant Stott, who worked with Reilly in Hibs’ match-day hospitality, struggled to hold back tears in an emotional testament in which he described the man as a “gentleman, in every sense of the word”.

“I can still see him now looking out towards the Easter Road pitch,” Mr Stott said.

“The memories he must have had there.

“Easter Road will never be the same again. We all miss him.”

Worked as decorator

Amongst the tributes were the quirky details, giving a lesser known glimpse into Reilly’s life. Unlike the modern generation of footballers, he worked as a painter and decorator during the week in an age where his original signing fee with Hibs was £20.

It was during that “second” job that he inspired a young Bruce Findlay, who would go on to become manager of Scottish rock group Simple Minds, by painting his room.

Reilly had attended every Hibs home match until recent years, watching the games from his preferred seat in the upper tiers alongside former Scotland manager and close friend Pat Stanton.

Stanton said: “I saw Lawrie at the end of his career. I got to know him well as a person and being a hero of mine as I was growing up, alongside the great Joe Baker.

“He was a really nice man. A terrible loser – he loved to win, loved to beat you, but a nice man. It was a pleasure knowing him.”

Paul Kane carried Reilly’s coffin into the church alongside former players Stanton, Jackie McNamara, Alex Cropley, John Fraser and Eric Stevenson. He said: “What would be fitting would be for the club to put up a statue of the Famous Five outside Easter Road. That team won the league championship three times out of four years and just missed another by goal average. It’s doubtful whether that will ever be repeated by Hibs again.

“The Famous Five were revered all over the world for their forward play and it would be very fitting, even if it was the fans and the club together, if we could erect a statue to some of the greatest players ever to play in Scottish football.”

The pallbearers wore the ties of the Hibs Former Players’ Association – an organisation of which Reilly was made honorary president following the death three years ago of Famous Five teammate Turnbull.

For former Hibs player Gerry Baker, 75, who narrowly missed out on playing alongside Reilly, the club legend was an immediate role model. “He was an inspiration for me,” he said. “We were the same height and fast. I got my first Hibs badge off him. They’re small things that mean a lot.”

Well-wishers

Led by a police escort, the funeral cortege made the slow journey from the George Street church to Easter Road Stadium about 12.30pm. The hearse passed by hundreds of well- wishers, who gave their club icon a round of applause.

Hibs season ticket holder Neil Munro, 49, from Craigentinny, said it was the least he could do after Reilly once spent half an hour standing in the sleet to speak to his 11-year-old son, Niall.

“It’s a very sad occasion for the club and for his family,” Mr Munro said.

“If he had the chance, he would always stop to speak to you. He was really the nicest person you could meet.”

Bill McGeachie, 79, was a regular visitor to Reilly’s Leith pub, The Bowler’s Rest, for years. He said: “We used to play darts and dominoes with him. He was competitive – and that was, of course, his great asset on the park.”

Long-time season ticket holder Greedy Reid, 40, from Leith, said Hibs had organised exactly the right tribute.

He said the next step was to erect a statue at Easter Road and re-name Albion Place, which runs alongside the stadium, as the Famous Five Way.

“One club, one man - a legend,” Mr Reid said.

Stanton backs statue

SCOTTISH Football Hall of Fame inductee Pat Stanton says he can’t think of any group more deserving of a statue in their honour than the Famous Five.

The 68-year-old, who made 397 league appearances for Hibs, said of erecting the mem-orial: “They’re synon-ymous with the history of the club. Their name will live on as long as the club is here – and the club’ll be here for a while, despite one or two results recently.”

Alan Herriot, a lifelong Hibs fan and sculptor, has offered to build the memorial. Estimates have put the cost at £200,000. Deputy council leader Steve Car-downie has also backed the idea, saying that the authority would do everything it could.