Hibs in 50 objects: No.17 – Smith and Co thrill the Maracana

Hibs played three matches in the Maracana
Hibs played three matches in the Maracana
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In the summer of 1953, Hibs were invited to go to Brazil to take part in the inaugural Torneio Octogonal Rivadavia Correa Meyer.

Dubbed by the Brazilian FA as a World Club Championship, the Capital club were drawn in Group A which meant all their games would be played in the world-famous Maracana Stadium which at the time could hold an astonishing 200,000 spectators.

It was a gruelling journey, leaving on the day of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation and just as it was announced Mount Everest had been conquered by Edmund Hillary.

The 15 Hibs players, directors Wilson Terris and Tom Hartland along with manager Hugh Shaw and trainers Jimmy McColl and Sammy Kean flew via Paris, Lisbon, Dakar and Recife before arriving in Rio de Janeiro, arriving in a converted World War Two bomber at the end of a 26-hour journey.

Hibs’ first game was a 3-3 draw with Vasco da Gama – this photograph showing the packed stands retained as a memento by the club.

In the days between matches, Hibs’ players enjoyed golfing and the Copacabana beach – where even Gordon Smith was in awe of the football skills shown by the local youngsters – although Lawrie Reilly ended up in hospital for several days after swallowing a mouthful of putrid water while swimming.

He was released on the morning of their next game against Botafogo to score but Hibs lost 3-1 while their final match with Fluminense resulted in a 3-0 defeat with Bill Anderson collapsing near the end with heat exhaustion.

The skill of both Smith and Bobby Johnstone had astounded the Brazilians with both Vasco da Gama and Botafogo so impressed that offers were made to keep both players in South America. The Botafogo chairman was reputed to have told Hibs to: “Name your price for Gordon Smith” although reports that an armoured car drove up to the tour party’s plane as it prepared to depart with the Vasco da Gama chairman demanding at gunpoint that both Smith and Johnstone leave the plane were somewhat exaggerated.

• For information on Easter Road Stadium Tours, contact bmcgoldrick@hibernianfc.co.uk