By: Hibernian Media on 24 Mar, 2020 10:00
A Cup Final winner within months of signing for his boyhood heroes.
Keith Wright’s relationship with Hibernian is one he reflects on fondly.
As a youngster Keith dreamed of playing at Easter Road, watching Turnbull’s Tornadoes with his schoolfriends every other Saturday with household names plying their trade when Keith attended matches in the 1970s.
“I stayed in Greendykes in Craigmillar so there were a few of us from school that went to the home games. There was great excitement on a Saturday.
“We got the 14 bus to head to Easter Road and we were lucky enough to watch a great Hibs side, so it made me want to go back week after week.
With a strong team playing throughout Keith’s early years as a Hibs fan he was spoilt for choice when it came to finding idols to look up to.
“The players became my heroes and it was fast-flowing football every week. It was brilliant to watch John Brownlie getting forward as a full-back, Pat Stanton running the show every game.
“Ally McLeod was one of my favourites when he played up front. Guys like Alex Cropley and Des Bremner are names that are impossible to forget.
“It was the team that got me really excited about football. I was lucky to be a young Hibs fan at that time with such a good team.
With forays in Europe a regular occurrence for Hibernian whilst Keith was growing up, he has many great memories of welcoming some of the continent’s biggest and best clubs to Leith.
“Liverpool and Leeds coming to Easter Road are games that stand out. I got to know the Swedish teams and other Scandinavians that came in the early rounds of the cup, then we got the big games against the likes of Napoli.
“We used to get really excited at school looking forward to the midweek games under the lights.
“We watched Match of the Day and all the top English players were coming to Easter Road to play and the Italian teams would visit Edinburgh regularly and we got to see them all.”
As a young player with Edina Hibs, Keith was invited to train with Hibernian on an S-form basis, which allowed him to continue to play for the boys’ club whilst being assessed at Easter Road by a familiar face.
“Jimmy O’Rourke was one of my favourite players and he was one of the coaches that took us for training on a Tuesday and Thursday.
“I played games with Edina Hibs and went to train with Hibs when Jimmy was the coach – one minute I was watching him then the next he was teaching me how to play!
“It was brilliant times with loads of football and getting taught how to be a striker by Jimmy O’Rourke, who I used to watch, was amazing.”
When the time came for Keith to sign professionally, he was given the disappointing news that Hibernian weren’t going to offer him a contract. The decision was made even tougher by the fact it was Keith’s hero who broke the news to him.
“Jimmy O’Rourke told me the club weren’t going to offer me a contract. It just made me more determined because I was going to go away and prove that I could come back and play for Hibs.
“I was released at 16 and ten years later I came back to play for the club after Alex Miller gave me the chance to sign.”
Moves to Raith Rovers and Dundee followed for Keith at a point in his career when he was looking to establish himself in the professional game.
“Between 16 and 18 I had to go away and prove I could play at senior level. Raith Rovers gave me the chance but I was always thinking maybe I had missed the boat at Hibs and that they wouldn’t think I was good enough to play for them in the higher divisions.
With the chances of playing first-team football for Hibs seemingly slim during his time in Kirkcaldy, a steady run of senior games meant a return to Easter Road was still at the back of Keith’s mind.
“I was always a worker and eventually I started getting regular games for Raith Rovers and then Dundee so at that stage I realised that maybe I could play for Hibs one day.”
With Wallace Mercer’s attempted takeover still very raw in Leith when Keith arrived at the club in 1991, he was driven to give the fans a lift and to make his mark after ten years away from Edinburgh.
“There was a bit of turmoil that summer with the Wallace Mercer takeover, things were a bit doom and gloom because there was the threat of being taken over by our local rivals.
“When they realised everything had been sorted out, everyone was determined to prove that we were a good team at the start of the new season.”
A memorable debut was followed by a trip to Fir Park, with Keith delighted to get on the scoresheet in his second game for the club.
“My first game was in front of a massive crowd, it was a league game against St Mirren which we won 4-1 and it was so noisy.
“I didn’t score but I missed a couple of chances and I thought ‘I’m going to love this’ with the atmosphere at Easter Road that day.
“I scored in my second game against Motherwell which gave me a lot of confidence. There was a wee bit of pressure because Hibs paid a lot of money for me at the time. I wanted to prove to people I was good enough and it all fell in place, which was great.”
The highlight of Keith’s time at Hibs came very early in his career when he was part of the squad which lifted the Skol Cup against Dunfermline at Hampden in 1991.
“We went on an early run in the cup and that got the fans right behind us. I never thought it would happen. I was just trying to make sure I was good enough to play in the Premier League and good enough for the Hibs fans.
“We were playing well before going on a good run in the cup with the final in October – I couldn’t have asked for a better start.
“It was hard work but there was good team spirit and great management with Alex Miller. To win the cup within three months of arriving was amazing.”
Adored by fans to this day for scoring in every round of the Skol Cup run, the striker made his mark on the team he supported as a child within weeks of re-joining the club.
“I didn’t go into the final thinking ‘I need to keep this run going’. I just felt that every game I would either assist goals for my teammates or I would score myself. It’s just the way I was at the time.”
After Murdo McLeod raised the trophy above his head the Hibernian team bus made its way along the M8 and back home to Edinburgh. Keith says it was then that he realised the true scale of the squad’s achievements.
“For all the years I supported the club I didn’t realise until the cup win what it meant to so many people. Half of Edinburgh were on the streets celebrating when we came back and we went to the stadium and that was full as well!
“Even just going about my normal business it was clear how much it meant to people. You probably don’t realise until those things happen how much it means to the fans – the club is their lives.”
Being inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in 2012 ranks alongside Keith’s greatest achievements in football, with his name mentioned in the same breath as some of his boyhood heroes.
“It’s amazing to be a part of the club’s history. From training as a 12-year-old and watching them from an even younger age, never in a million years did I think I would be part of the Hall of Fame where I got inducted to be alongside the names I looked up to growing up.
“I love it and my family love it because we are all Hibs fans.
“Even when I go to Easter Road now I walk past the West Stand and I see the Hall of Fame. It makes me so proud to know that’s me up there!
“Looking through the windows and seeing my photo up next to the likes of Pat Stanton, John Blackley, John Brownlie and Lawrie Reilly – sometimes I’ve got to pinch myself that I’m part of it.”
Keith still has a special place in his heart for Hibernian, with personal and professional ties to the club meaning Hibs play an important part in his life.
“I’ve got three sons and a daughter and my wife’s family who are all Hibs fans so it’s never far away from our thoughts. The chat in the house is always about how Hibs are getting on, it’ll forever be a part of our life.
Away from the pitch Keith enjoys visiting Easter Road to watch games as a fan when he can, with a season ticket in the West Stand allowing him to attend regularly.
“I don’t go every week but I’m a member of the Former Players Association and I’ve got a season ticket so I always make sure I get along to the games I can.
“After watching Hibs and becoming a player it’s brilliant to be able to consider myself good friends with guys who were my heroes. It is a bit surreal to be able to call John Blackley, John Brownlie and Pat Stanton your friends!”
Despite playing his last game for Hibs more than 20 years ago, thanks to his efforts during his time in green and white fans still react fondly when Keith’s name is mentioned at Easter Road.
“My son gets a bit embarrassed – not so much now because less people recognise me with my grey hair – but when I was still ginger I used to walk to games and the fans would chant and my son would walk away from me!
“I still enjoy it, it’s all great memories so it’s good to share them with Hibs fans when they want to talk about them.”
Words: Daniel Shields.