Lawrie Reilly: One of Scottish football's greatest centre-forwards

 

Lawrie Reilly was among the most prolific international marksmen in the history of Scottish football, with a strike-rate for his country superior to that of both Denis Law and Kenny Dalglish and a gilded Wembley tally of five goals against England in as many games At club level, too, the diminutive post-war predator was a paragon, the spearhead of Hibernian's "Famous Five" forward line, the swashbuckling quintet which fired the Easter Road side to consecutive titles in the early 1950s and which earned widespread approbation as the most entertaining attack the League has known.

With his four comrades – right-winger Gordon Smith, inside-right Bobby Johnstone, inside-left Eddie Turnbull and left-winger Willie Ormond – already laid to rest, the Edinburgh-born centre-forward was the last surviving member of a revered company.

Crucially to the Hibs supporters who idolised him, Reilly was a one-club man. Though his childhood home was near Tynecastle, headquarters of local rivals Heart of Midlothian, and the Jambos attempted to sign him when he left school, he hailed from an Irish background on his father's side, so his enthusiasm was always for the Easter Road brigade. As he put it, "I was born with a green jersey on my back, and that's the only jersey I ever wanted to wear."He was devoted to the cause at an early age, watching his favourites with passionate regularity, visiting every ground in the country as a boy, travelling on trains for nothing because his father was a railway guard.

So it was with alacrity that he enlisted with Hibernian in 1945, spending part of his £20 signing-on fee on an electric carpet cleaner for his mother, and made his senior debut as a 17-year-old in September 1946. In 1947 he scored the first of his 18 hat-tricks for the club, but was not yet a first-team regular when they were crowned Scottish champions in 1948. That status was his in 1948-49, when he was pressed into service on the left wing because Ormond was out with a broken leg.

Thereafter Reilly flourished in his favoured role, leading the attack, racking up 238 goals in more than 350 senior appearances and topping Hibs' scoring chart in seven consecutive seasons from 1950-51. That term and the next he pocketed a title medal and nearly made it a hat-trick in 1952-53, when Rangers pipped the Edinburgh side by a single point. Personally, that was his most successful club campaign as he scored 30 times in 28 League games, breaking the Easter Road record and showcasing his comprehensive range of attributes to vivid effect.

Though standing only 5ft 7in and routinely policed by hulking markers, Reilly at his best was well-nigh ungovernable, a sturdy, pacy, restlessly aggressive goal-hunter, utterly fearless and ready to launch himself into any confrontation when a strike was in the offing, most of his chances being snapped up inside the six-yard box. Potent with either foot and remarkably successful in the air for such a small man, he was also unselfish and an inspired improviser, capable of turning the ball goalwards no matter at what angle it reached him.

Reilly was also immensely modest, maintaining that his goals were laid on a plate for him by his fellow forwards, and it was true that the "Five" consisted of an ideal blend, with Smith's silky elegance complementing fellow wide man Ormond's pace and resilience, while the darting skills and sharp football brain of Johnstone was the perfect match for his fellow inside man Turnbull's powerhouse approach. What bewildered so many opponents was the way they switched positions so fluidly, all of them capable of creating mayhem wherever they popped up.

Reilly's international career was also a thing of rare glory, encompassing 22 goals in 38 matches, a record which would have been even more impressive but for enforced retirement in 1958 at the age of 29 with a knee injury and consequent arthritis. In a reflection of the times, he was told of his initial call-up in 1948 by a fan at a bus stop.

He didn't score on his debut, a 3-1 victory over Wales at Ninian Park in October 1948, but more than made up for it over the ensuing decade, being on the winning side in his first dozen internationals and never going more than four games without scoring. Sadly, though, Reilly was destined never to grace the World Cup finals, even though Scotland qualified three times during his span. In 1950, staggeringly, the Scottish FA declined to take up their allotted place in Brazil because they had not won the Home International title – they had finished second to England, enough to earn them a berth. Then he missed the 1954 tournament in Switzerland through a bout of pleurisy which rendered him dangerously ill, and his chronically gammy knee prevented participation in Sweden four years later.

The highlight of his service to Scotland, perhaps, was his brace of equalisers in the 2-2 draw with England at Wembley in April 1953, a contest in which the visitors had been reduced to 10 men for the last half-hour when defender Sammy Cox suffered a broken leg. The second of those strikes, a fierce rising drive 30 seconds from the final whistle, gave rise to his lasting sobriquet of "Last-Minute Reilly". The Hibs striker, who remains the club's most capped player, burnished his reputation still further with 14 goals in as many appearances for the Scottish League, prestigious fixtures which used to be accorded almost the same status as full internationals.

When he laid aside his boots, Reilly – an affable, wryly humorous, appealingly straight-talking individual – was offered a directorship by Hibernian but decided instead to concentrate on running the Bowler's Rest in Leith, a pub popular with Hibernian fans on match days, even though he was a teetotaller himself.

In 2005 Reilly was inducted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame at Hampden Park, and he was a regular visitor to his beloved Easter Road until the season before his death.

Lawrence Reilly, footballer: born Edinburgh 28 October 1928; played for Hibernian 1945-58; capped 38 times by Scotland 1948-57; married (one son); died Edinburgh 22 July 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine