A quarter of a century ago today, Hibs ended a 19-year wait for a major honour by beating Dunfermline Athletic 2-0 in the final of the Skol Cup.
The majority of Alex Miller’s squad will reconvene at an event in the Hibs Supporters Club tonight and then again at Saturday’s home match against St Mirren to celebrate the 25th anniversary of a triumph that helped breathe new life into a club which had been fighting for its existence just a year earlier amid a controversial takeover bid from Wallace Mercer, the Hearts chairman.
“The celebrations afterwards were absolutely incredible,” said Brian Hamilton, who played central midfield on the day that Tommy McIntrye, with a penalty, and Keith Wright, scored second-half goals to sink Jocky Scott’s Pars team. “We had an amazing time on the pitch afterwards and then we got the team bus to the Maybury Hotel and got on the open-top bus through town. At that stage, Hearts hadn’t won anything for a while either and I felt a lot of people in Edinburgh from both sides had come out to see it. It was something else.
“Winning that cup, it wasn’t just about the final. The semi-final was a really big game as well because you look back at that Rangers team we beat and it was really strong, with England internationalists. It was quite an achievement for us just to beat them and get to the final. Even in the final, Dunfermline had a lot of really good players, like Davie Moyes, Istvan Kozma, Scott Leitch and Billy Davies. We were big favourites to win it but, after beating Rangers, our tails were up and we felt like we could beat anybody at that stage.”
If passions had been stirred by the Hands Off Hibs campaign in 1990, vindication for the efforts to save the club came in the form of that Hampden triumph, attended by a crowd of 40,377, a year later. Hamilton, who had moved to Easter Road from St Mirren in 1989, admitted it was an awkward time to be a Hibs player.
“That was obviously a crazy time,” recalls the Paisley-born 49-year-old. “I had come from the west and I don’t think you appreciate the depth of feeling for both clubs until you play in Edinburgh. When something like Wallace Mercer’s crazy idea to take over Hibs happens, it was never going to happen because of the way both sets of fans feel about their clubs. I remember the first derby after Hands Off Hibs and there was a horrendous atmosphere – just real bad feeling all around.
“Players have to be professional but it’s hard not to be affected by what’s going on when something like that [takeover bid] happens. We were hearing from people around the club what was going on, so it’s difficult to completely ignore it, especially when you know your livelihood is potentially at stake. A lot of passionate people had come out to lend support to Hibs to help get the club back on track so it was great that we went on to have success so soon afterwards. We went on to reach the League Cup final again in 1993 and played in Europe so it became a good time for the club.”
Hamilton is looking forward to returning to Easter Road for the first time as a guest of Hibs this weekend and admits he is unlikely to be as well received as many of his old team-mates, after he ended his five-year association with the club by crossing the Edinburgh divide to sign for Hearts in January 1995.
“Without a doubt there’ll be Hibs fans who remember me as the guy who signed for Hearts rather than a Skol Cup winner with Hibs,” he said. “I understand that, but I’ve got loads of happy memories from my time at Hibs – I was very fortunate to play for them.
“Moving from Hibs to Hearts is never going to go down well with either set of fans. Looking back, when I left Hibs it was probably the peak of my career. I was flying at that point and the team were doing well. I never had any intention of leaving Hibs. Tommy McLean spoke to me about going to Hearts, but I thought I would be staying at Hibs. That fell through because of a contractual dispute, which became a bit of a stand-off, and I ended up at Hearts. Although some Hibs fans won’t agree, I feel very fortunate to have played for both Hibs and Hearts – two wonderful clubs. It wouldn’t have been my choice initially to go to Hearts, but it was just one of those things that happened and I enjoyed it there. The Hearts fans were fine with me. Scottish fans be quite critical and I’m sure in the views of some Hearts fans, I’ll always be a Hibby and in the eyes of some Hibs fans, I’ll always be a turncoat.”
Hamilton, who hung up his boots in 2002, has had little to do with football over the last decade or so, aside from being a casual observer. He is looking forward to catching up with old friends at a venue that gave him some of the best memories of his career. “I can’t wait because i’ve not seen many of the guys since I left Hibs,” he said. “I can’t believe it was more than 20 years since I left. We had a really good group of guys but in football everybody tends to go their separate ways. I miss being involved in football – I’ve hardly been to any games since I stopped playing but I still follow it and I’m very interested in what Hibs are doing because they gave me one of the main periods in my career.
“I watched the Scottish Cup final on TV in May and I was getting quite emotional. I could picture the scenes back in Edinburgh that night. I was disappointed I never went to the game because I had thought about it. It was fabulous.”