Kenny Davidson’s Hibs career may have been short – encompassing just 26 matches in all – but it was, nevertheless, memorable.
Signed from Loanhead Mayflower, Davidson was just 18 when he made his debut away to Swedish side Malmo in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup – the forerunner of today’s Europa League – a game which marked an astonishing time for the youngster. Two goals against St Mirren in his first game at Easter Road just three days later were quickly followed by further European adventures home and away to Portuguese side Vitoria Guimaraes and then Liverpool. He scored a double as Hibs dumped Forfar 8-1 in the Scottish Cup and then came his first Edinburgh derby.
Remarkably that day, February 13, 1971, remains the last time the Capital’s big two went head-to-head in the competition at Tynecastle and Davidson celebrated as team-mates John Hazel and Arthur Duncan ensured a 2-1 victory, Kevin Hegarty having netted an equaliser for the Jambos.
Davidson recalled: “It was a cracking game, with more than 30,000 in the ground. We went one up when John scored with a diving header, his first goal for Hibs, and then Arthur went off on one of those solo runs of his to win it after they’d equalised.
“We had a good team. Joe Baker was back for his second spell with the club – I’d played in his first game against Aberdeen on his return with those white boots – there was Bobby Duncan who’d scored that screamer against Napoli a few years earlier, John Brownlie, John Blackley, Jim Black, Jimmy O’Rourke.
“I’d scored two in the previous round against Forfar – Jimmy O’Rourke got a hat-trick in that one. It was a really good start to my career. I’d come from Loanhead Mayflower and the way in which I made my debut was unbelievable. We’d beaten Malmo 6-0 at home and the club wanted to blood some young players. I remember John Fraser [Hibs coach] asking me if I had a passport. I’d never been abroad before so I asked what did I need a passport for only to be told I was going to Malmo to play in the Fairs Cup. Cecil Graham, the club secretary, had to rush through to Glasgow to get me one. It all happened so quickly. All of a sudden I was playing alongside the likes of Pat Stanton and the rest who I’d only really read about.
“We came back to Easter Road on the Saturday. There was a decent crowd because we’d beaten Malmo again and I scored two against St Mirren, the first coming within the first couple of minutes. It was the sort of home debut you could only dream about. I went on to play in both legs against Vitoria Guimaraes and then Liverpool at home when we lost 1-0 but I felt we should have had a penalty early on when I was brought down by their left back Alex Lindsay. He had such a hold of my shirt he completely ripped it. I showed it to the ref but he wasn’t interested and then they scored on the break.
“But it was a fantastic experience, playing against the likes of Tommy Smith, Emlyn Hughes, John Toshack, Chris Lawler, Steve Heighway and so on.”
Davidson played 21 games that season, his first of the following campaign another Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle, one which Hibs won 2-0 with goals from Alex Cropley and Johnny Hamilton, leading him to laugh: “I bet there’s not too many Hibs players who can say they have a 100 per cent record over there.”
But he began to suffer the effects of burn-out. “Willie McFarlane, the manager at the time, tried to protect me having made such a step up and having played so many games.
“Then, just as I was starting to come back into form, I broke my leg in a reserve match, December 23, 1972, against Celtic. Their goalkeeper, Dennis Connachan, came out and tried to kill the ball, I stretched for it and he came right through me. Oddly enough, he was the St Mirren goalkeeper the day I scored those two goals on my home debut. I had my operation at the Royal Infirmary and got out of hospital on Christmas Day.”
It hardly takes anyone to remind Davidson of the significance of that moment, coming just a few days before Hibs’ 7-0 demolition of Hearts at Tynecastle on New Year’s Day 1973.
Today, though, he looks back at events in a pragmatic fashion. He said: “The week after that, John Brownlie broke his leg. The two of us did our rehabilitation together.
“By the time I was fit again the following August, things had changed, Turnbull’s Tornadoes were in place. But I don’t look back and wonder ‘what if’, you can’t live your life like that.
“I feel I did reasonably well in professional football. I had four years with Hibs, one at Dunfermline and six with Meadowbank although that was part time – 11 years in all.”
Davidson, now a duty manager at Mayfield’s Saltire Soccer Centre, is still a regular at Easter Road, a member of the former players’ association.
He said: “I didn’t enjoy it so much under Terry Butcher but since Leeann Dempster came in as chief executive and Alan Stubbs and his team took over there have been great changes. Everyone is enjoying the football they are seeing. They see things are getting much better on the park and off it. I honestly think Hibs are making big strides towards getting to where they should be, back at the top of Scottish football.”
Another sign of such progress came as Hibs clinched their League Cup final place, beating a third Premiership side in succession and so setting up a day out at Hampden against yet another, Ross County.
Davidson knows though that Sunday’s Scottish Cup clash at Tynecastle will be one by which Hibs fans will again measure the progress made but, as he pointed out, it will be a typical derby in which anything can happen.
“I think it will be a tough, tough game. Hearts have done really well since going up to the Premiership. They’ve got a lot of big players and while Hibs have the likes of Liam Fontaine and Paul Hanlon, they don’t have so many which might be a concern at corners and free-kicks.
“But I do feel Hibs have the better football players, they’ve been playing some really good stuff as they showed against St Johnstone. The atmosphere is going to be fantastic, but it all comes down to who wants to win it on the day.”