Honours even as Hibs legends come together for good cause in Hanlon Stevenson charity match
Derek Riordan firing in shots from 20 yards, Kevin Harper dazzling defenders with his footwork, and Steve Archibald burying the ball beyond the ‘keeper. The first 45 minutes of the Hanlon Stevenson Foundation’s Family Reunion charity match could have taken place at any point in the last 35 years.
The enforced absence of Franck Sauzée through poor health might have reduced the attraction but 4,382 supporters eschewed the chance to take in Qatar and Ecuador in the first match of the 2022 World Cup and instead made their way to a chilly Easter Road.
A host of 1991 Skol Cup winners, 2007 League Cup winners, and 2016 Scottish Cup winners were joined by a motley crew of former Hibees from through the years; some more recent than others and some, it has to be said, in slightly better shape than others. Pat Stanton delivered the match ball, wearing his trademark No.4 shirt while the sight of a 70-year-old John Burridge, resplendent in lurid pink jersey and fluorescent yellow shorts and socks, drew a huge cheer from the supporters but he was picking the ball out of the net after just 16 minutes after a trademark Leigh Griffiths free kick went in off the septuagenarian shot-stopper.
Liam Craig had conjured up the first chance of the game, but under-18s goalkeeper Freddie Owens saved easily enough from the midfielder, and Riordan dragged a shot wide from a good position.
Easter Road then paused on eight minutes to honour the life of Jimmy O’Rourke, the legendary Hibs striker who passed away last week with fans and players taking part in an applause for the boyhood Hibee.
Gordon Hunter made way for Ivan Sproule on 17 minutes, with the winger entering the pitch to a rousing reception from the gathered Hibs fans. Taking up a role on the right, he pounded the flank and still showed a fair amount of pace as he scampered down the touchline.
Archibald, who turned 66 in September, looked in good nick in his trademark number eight shirt, and showed his class when he doubled the Hanlon Stevenson side’s lead on 21 minutes, dinking the ball past Burridge from just inside the area. The ‘keeper then denied Griffiths a second four minutes later.
Riordan, prowling the left flank, had had more than a few sights of goal but had been unable to find the net. The impressive Danny Swanson, however, did when he curled in a wonderful strike from the edge of the area following Josh O’Connor’s pass to give the Sauzée Select a lifeline.
Harper was then brought on in place of Garry O’Connor, who had picked up an injury, and the introduction of the newly-appointed Lochee United manager, along with Laura Kennedy’s arrival in place of Willie Miller, brought a spark to the trailing team, and five minutes before half-time, Niklas Gunnarsson pounced on a loose ball after Owens had parried Harper’s effort from close range. Up the other end, Dean Shiels also hit the woodwork as the Hanlon Stevenson team sought a quick reaction but they found themselves a goal down when the sprightly Harper got on the scoresheet on the stroke of half-time. Owens had done well to save Josh O’Connor’s effort and Harper reacted quickest, his effort cannoning off the crossbar before he tapped in the rebound.
It looked very much like the Sauzée Select team would go in a goal to the good at the break but they were’t counting on Leigh Griffiths, who tried his luck from inside his own half following kick-off, and lobbed Burridge to equalise on the whistle.
The eccentric goalie had pledged to play the full 90 minutes, he made way for development squad goalkeeper Tom Carter for the second half. Further changes were made at the break for the Sauzée Select with Dirk Lehmann, Darren Dods, and John O’Neil replacing Josh O’Connor, Gunnarsson, and Riordan, and Owens was called into action five minutes into the second period to tip over a fierce Harper effort.
Unsurprisingly, with regular substitutions disrupting the flow of the game and age perhaps catching up with one or two players, the second half didn’t live up to the first. Archibald, Steven Tweed, and Gareth Evans came off for the Hanlon Stevenson side, making way for Jacob MacIntyre, Craig Brewster, and Colin Nish while Owen Hastie, another youngster, replaced John Hughes on the Sauzée XI.
There was then a rousing reception for Malek Zaid, who replaced Mickey Weir for the Hanlon Stevenson side. The Libyan-born attacker has been impressing for the under-19s in the UEFA Youth League and was the first inductee of the charity’s scholarship programme.
The game livened up when Swanson picked out Harper with a superb defence-splitting pass but the winger slammed his effort into the side-netting. Harper and Craig then made way for Reuben McAllister and Alfie Smith of the under-18s and the latter was involved straight away, teeing up Lehmann for the Sauzée Select’s fourth of the afternoon.
Griffiths, Shiels, Ian Murray, and Stuart Lovell then left the pitch to be replaced by Simon Murray, Joelle Murray, Rudi Molotnikov, and Dylan McGeouch and while Simon Murray had played 81 minutes of Queen’s Park’s 5-2 victory over Raith Rovers 24 hours earlier, he looked lively in attack as the Hanlon Stevenson outfit sought an equaliser. Eventually it came, Nish forcing the ball home after a bit of a stramash in the box to square the game with just over five minutes remaining.
A draw was a fair outcome given the effort the two teams put into the game on what was a memorable occasion for all involved. For Kennedy, it was her first time playing at Easter Road despite a trophy-laden spell with Hibs Women while the O’Connors became the first father-and-son duo to play together at Easter Road. But perhaps most notable of all were the funds raised to help local causes supported by the Hanlon Stevenson Foundation.