TERRY HIBBITT was a footballer of wily, often beguiling artistry. At his peak in the early and middle 1970s, during the first of two spells with Newcastle United, the slender little midfield general was beloved of the passionate Tyneside fans. They hailed him for the immaculate, imaginative service he provided for his goalscoring cult rival Malcolm Macdonald, and warmed to him for his perky, plucky demeanour. Occasionally his name would be mentioned as an England possible but international recognition never materialised, even at a time when a number of less talented individuals were being honoured by their country.
The Yorkshireman Hibbitt entered the professional game as a school-leaver, joining Leeds United in the season after Don Revie had led the Elland Road club to promotion from the Second Division. For the next 10 years Leeds were a mighty power in the land, and the opportunity was there for the gifted Hibbitt to excel. But such were the playing riches at Revie's disposal that the Bradford-born left-footer could never claim a regular place, understandably being unable to oust Eddie Gray from his flank role or Johnny Giles from his berth as chief play-maker.
Uncowed by the situation - he was known to venture an impudent rejoinder to his magisterial manager, something no one else would dare - Hibbitt battled on as a classy reserve. However, after scoring with his first kick of his first senior match in 1966, he started fewer than 50 games over the next five years, and though he helped Leeds lift the Intercities Fairs Cup (now the UEFA Cup) in 1968, he missed out on their other triumphs.
Clearly he needed a change and in August 1971 a pounds 30,000 transfer took him to Newcastle, where he fulfilled his potential at last. Hibbitt made his Magpies debut on the same day as Macdonald and immediately the two men struck up a rapport. The schemer's sweeping, perceptive passing offered ready ammunition for the explosive 'Supermac' to fire and the upshot was half a decade of memorably exhilarating entertainment.
Together they starred in Newcastle's progress to the 1974 FA Cup Final, being especially irresistible in the semi-final victory over Burnley, only for the big day at Wembley to bring bitter disappointment. In one of the most one- sided finals of modern times, they were outclassed 3-0 by Liverpool, though it is significant that the match was still goalless when Hibbitt's mobility was reduced drastically by a wrenched knee just before the interval. Until then he had represented United's most likely hope of upsetting the rampant Merseysiders.
After missing much of the subsequent term through injury, Hibbitt joined Birmingham City for pounds 100,000 in August 1975 and gave the Blues, then in the First Division, three years of admirable service before returning to Newcastle in an exchange deal involving the winger Stewart Barrowclough.
Now, though fractionally past his peak, the mature midfielder resumed effectively as the brains of the Magpies' attack and became captain. But in the summer of 1981 he was forced by knee problems to retire from top-grade football. He remained close to the game, though, and made a brief comeback as player-coach with non- League Gateshead in 1986, while making his living as a newsagent in Newcastle.
Hibbitt will be remembered as a player of subtlety and skill who, on his day, was a pure pleasure to watch.
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