If any of Colin Calderwood’s squad doubt what lifting a cup for Hibs means, they just need to stop for a quiet word with former Easter Road star Keith Wright.
Two decades on since his goals steered Hibs to their first trophy in 19 years, the ex-striker is still revered as Skol Cup hero Wright, a sobriquet he’ll happily carry for the rest of his days.
Thursday marks the 20th anniversary of that memorable day out at Hampden when Wright’s fifth goal of the competition sealed victory over Dunfermline, sparking huge celebrations and seeing the city streets packed with ecstatic fans as he and his team-mates paraded the League Cup, then sponsored by the brewer, through Edinburgh.
Similar scenes greeted John Collins’ squad when they emulated that feat in 2007 with that stunning 5-1 victory over Kilmarnock and, Wright insisted, it’s a welcome awaiting any Hibs team which brings silverware to Easter Road.
It is something Wright, now an SFA football development officer with Midlothian Council, feels today’s players should bear in mind as they prepare for tomorrow night’s Scottish Communities League Cup quarter-final with Celtic.
Although Neil Lennon’s side, with Rangers already out, will be viewed by most as favourites not only to win at Easter Road but go on to lift the trophy, Wright firmly believes Hibs can throw the competition wide open.
Recalling how his goal dumped Rangers at the semi-final stage in 1991, Wright said: “We knew back then that if we could beat Rangers we would have a great chance to win the cup, that game was our final. And likewise, if Hibs can win tomorrow night they’ll find themselves among the favourites to go all the way.
“Again, like 20 years ago, I’m sure that along with the other teams still involved, Hibs would have been hoping to avoid Celtic just as we had our fingers crossed we’d get Dunfermline or Airdrie in the semi-final rather than Rangers. Now that Hibs have drawn Celtic I’d bet all the other teams are hoping they can win because every side will then believe they have a great chance of winning it.
“I think this could be a big turning point in Hibs’ season. They haven’t enjoyed the best of times so far but they are scoring goals. They are going into this game on the back of a good win at St Mirren and if they can tighten up a bit at the back then I don’t see anything in Celtic they need fear.”
While admitting he’ll never tire of being referred to as Hibs’ Skol Cup hero, Wright insisted he’d love to see today’s team share that sort of glory, a feeling already shared by Ivan Sproule and Lewis Stevenson, who were part of the winning team against Killie four years ago.
He said: “I’ll never get sick of it, it’s something to look back on and treasure. I didn’t win a lot of things in my career so it makes the memories all the more special. The fact we are still talking about it 20 years on along with 2007 is something this set of players can enjoy themselves if they can bring a bit of success and see just how much it means to people.
“Hibs fans haven’t had a lot to shout about over the past couple of years so it would be great to see them turn things round, win a bit of silverware which would give everyone a lift and have them coming back to Easter Road.”
No doubt Calderwood and his players dream of such a scenario but even if it should come true, none will enjoy the fairytale that forever will be Wright’s, the lifelong Hibs fan scoring in all five rounds as a club which had been threatened with receivership only a few months earlier became known as “the team that would not die.”
But today Wright revealed how he almost joined Aberdeen rather than his boyhood heroes that summer, as both the Dons and Hibs sought to persuade him to move from Dundee.
He said: “I wasn’t sure of the financial state of the club, I had a young family at the time and had to look at the bigger picture and wonder if things didn’t go right would I find myself looking for another club.
“Jocky Scott was manager of Aberdeen at the time and was on the phone every day asking me why I would want to go to a club which might go out of business, trying to persuade me to go to Pittodrie.
“But there was the emotional pull of Hibs and knowing that I might never get another chance to realise my dream of playing for them. However, I spoke to the chairman Douglas Cromb and the manager Alex Miller, who told me everything had been sorted out so I wasn’t going to let the chance go.”
However, even Wright couldn’t have dreamt of the glory which was to follow. He said: “We won the first match against St Mirren 4-1 and never looked back. I scored in our first Skol Cup match against Stirling Albion, a game that was played at McDiarmid Park, but I didn’t think for a minute it would be the start of a run which would see me scoring in every round.
“The goal against Rangers in the semi-final was, of course, special. We’d gone into the game at Hampden as big underdogs but our performance that night was fantastic. To win 1-0 and score the goal was fantastic, as was scoring the one which sealed our 2-0 victory over Dunfermline after Tommy McIntyre had netted a penalty.”
Wright’s scoring feat won him a watch and a foreign holiday as he finished joint top scorer with Rangers’ Mo Johnston, not to mention a handy £400 “lift” from the bookies courtesy of a team-bonding idea from skipper Murdo MacLeod which saw virtually everyone at Easter Road back the team to win the trophy at odds of 40/1.
He recalled: “It was the result of a bit of banter between Murdo and Gerry McNee on television. It was a one-off, not something we did every week but something to pull us all together after all the club had been through.
“I had a tenner on us but even the boys who didn’t enjoy a bet had a wee interest, a couple of pounds or a fiver. I don’t know exactly how much we won . . . it must have been a few grand.
“When Murdo went to collect our winnings he couldn’t go in himself because it would have come out so he pulled up outside the bookies and got a mate to go in.
“The story did find its way into the public domain and we were told by the SFA it shouldn’t have happened, a wee rap over the knuckles. But it wasn’t as if we’d been backing ourselves to lose, we had to win five matches.”
Hibs, of course, face Celtic twice in four days with a trip to Parkhead on SPL business to follow tomorrow night’s clash, but Wright has no doubts which match he’d rather see his old team win.
He said: “I can see an argument that Hibs could do with the three points but as a fan I know we are not going to win the league. But I do feel we can finish top six or even fourth.
“The bigest chance for Hibs to have success is through the cups so, to that end, I’d rather win tomorrow and lose Saturday than the other way around.