Having finished third in the previous season’s SPL, Hibs drew Greek side AEK Athens in the first round of the UEFA Cup with the first leg scheduled to be played on September 13, 2001 in Greece.
The plane carrying the official party was actually thundering down the runway at Edinburgh Airport the previous morning when the captain was informed that the match, like every other European game to be played that night, had been postponed after the terrorist attacks on New York’s Twin Towers on September 11.
However, hundreds of Hibs fans had already departed, their planes in the air, when that news came through and, given the turmoil and the risk of further atrocities, none were allowed to divert from their flight path and so, they arrived in the Greek capital and were left stranded with no match to attend.
UEFA rescheduled the game in the Nikos Goumas Stadium a week later where the minute’s silence for the thousands killed was marred by the occupants of the notorious skepasti, “The Covered Ones” end of the ground whistling and jeering throughout as they burned the stars and stripes.
Hibs had intended to present their hosts with this crystal decanter bearing the date September 13 while at the return leg – AEK arriving in Edinburgh with a two-goal lead – the Greeks gifted them these two sculptures.
The second game at Easter Road turned out to be a night to remember, Paco Luna finally making the breakthrough in the 53rd minute only to lose Franck Sauzee through injury. He had been injured for first leg and the French ace leaft his stud marks on the wall of the Easter Road dug-out as he vented his frustration.
But Luna added a second to haul the tie level only to scorn a gilt-edged chance to win it for Hibs in the last minute as he sent a header from Ulises de la Cruz’s cross wide.
In extra-time, Vassilios Tsiaratas scored twice and, although David Zitelli claimed a winner on the night it wasn’t enough to see the Edinburgh side through to the next round.
To this day, those who were there remember the stunning rendition of Sunshine on Leith at half-time with Holywood actor and Hibs fan Dougray Scott naming it as his favourite game.
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