The name Stanton is mentioned in reverential tones around Easter Road today, even if it is some 38 years since Pat pulled on the green-and-white jersey of his beloved Hibs.
Given the passage of time, the younger generation of Hibs fans have to rely on the word of their fathers – or possibly grandfathers – as testament to just how good a player Pat Stanton was, a Hibs icon with 617 appearances for the club to his name, who can trace his links with the Capital outfit back to their very formation in 1875.
He wasn’t just a great player over the course of 14 seasons, but also captain of Turnbull’s Tornadoes, the side which had Jock Stein’s Celtic not been around at the same time would, almost certainly, have lifted more than the League Cup of 1972. He also managed the Easter Road club.
Undoubtedly, Stanton’s legacy will live as long as Hibs continue to play football, rightly considered to be one of the club’s greatest servants. Therefore, anyone coming on to the scene bearing his name will carry a burden, of that there is no doubt. Nineteen-year-old Sam Stanton – no relation, it’s been checked and double-checked – finds himself in that very situation, the comparisons inevitable despite the pleas of the great man himself that the young midfielder be allowed to make his own name in football.
In one regard, there’s no match, young Stanton having started just three games for Terry Butcher’s side as opposed to the hundreds of his illustrious predecessor, but team-mate Paul Hanlon appreciates just why everyone is getting so excited about the teenager after he claimed a goal for the second match in succession, a stunning free-kick against Ross County on Saturday which paved the way for Hibs’ first win in six matches.
Like Stanton, a product of the Easter Road club’s renowned youth system, Hanlon revealed he’s had his eye on Sam for a few years now.
Noting that Stanton actually made his debut as a substitute against Rangers more than two years ago, almost three months shy of his 18th birthday, Hanlon said: “When Sam first came in full-time, everyone was talking about him. They knew there was something special about him.
“It’s as if he’s just burst onto the scene, but he seems to have been kicking around for ages. He made his debut at a young age, but he’s been unlucky. He’d got close to starting games, but then picked up a couple of injuries which set him back a bit.
“He has great confidence in his own ability. He has quite a good mental toughness for his age, he believes in what he can do, he’s focused and we are seeing the benefits of all that on the pitch now.
“Sam has every skill in the book, but does the simple stuff as well. He has the lot. He can sit in the middle of the park, as he did against Ross County and dictate the play, but he can also burst forward in to the box, score goals and create chances as we’ve seen in the few games he’s played. Two goals in two games – what more could you want?
“Obviously Sam has the added bit of pressure that other people have put on him being called Stanton, but that’s a bit unfair because it is not as if he is a relation of Pat’s. However, he’s dealt with it and he’s making his own name for himself.
“You don’t want to put too much pressure on him. He’s still at a very early stage of his career and has only started three games, but the signs are highly promising. He has so much potential that if he keeps working hard, then hopefully he can progress to wherever he wants in the game.”
Having been almost exactly the same age as Stanton when he made his debut for Hibs in 2008, Hanlon, who is now closing in on 200 first-team appearances for the club, is well aware of the pitfalls which can await such a precocious young talent – not least the alarm bells which his eye-catching displays will have set ringing among future opponents.
The former Scotland Under-21 captain, now 24, said: “I remember those days. The adrenalin gets you through your debut, but the second, third and fourth games are more difficult. Sam has come through these three games with flying colours.
“Sam is lovely to watch on the ball – just look at that turn which almost took him away from four County players in a tight space – while he’s also willing to burst forward in the way that earned the free-kick which led to his goal on Saturday. It’s inevitable people will start flying into tackles to try to stop him.
“What I like about Sam is he’ll just brush it off, get up and get on with it, very much the way [fellow Hibs player] Duncan Watmore did the previous week against Raith Rovers.”
While everyone was, naturally, raving about Stanton yet again, the fact Hibs had ended a five-match winless run with a third successive victory over the Staggies was almost overlooked but, Hanlon admitted, it was a huge result for Butcher’s players. He said: “It was terrific to get the win and the three points. We’ve been on a bit of a bad run recently and conceding too many goals. We’d been finding ourselves on the back foot by losing a goal early in games, but this time it was the other way round. Sam’s free-kick was brilliant. He didn’t even hit it hard, just guided it into the top corner. It was a great start, but just shows his confidence is through the roof at the moment. Then Tom Taiwo’s goal gave us a bit of a cushion, although we put ourselves under a bit of pressure by conceding a goal.
“We were disappointed not to keep the clean sheet, but we were more than delighted to get the win.”