By: Hibernian Media on 22 May, 2018 16:25
To celebrate Hibernian’s qualification for the UEFA Europa League, this week we will be publishing some historical content looking back on matches in European competition.
In the Hibernian FC Programme during the 2017/18 season, John Hislop, James Delaney and John Stephens all looked at different matches the Club have competed in during their continental campaigns in the feature ‘We’ve Played There’.
Today, we’re looking at the story of Hibernian’s match against Lokomotive Leipzig.
Hibernian’s European adventures in the mid-20th century saw the Leith club make a number of trips behind the Iron Curtain, though few forays into Eastern Europe proved as arduous as the journey to East Germany to face Lokomotive Leipzig in the second round of the 1968/69 Fairs Cup.
Bob Shankly’s side had already braved the torrential rain of Yugoslavia in round one of the competition to come away with a comfortable 3-0 victory against Olimpija Ljubljana, but on this occasion, the destination played second fiddle to the trek across Europe for the Hibernian squad.
Seven days earlier, a crowd of 11,000 were in attendance at Easter Road for the first leg to watch Joe McBride net a hat-trick in a 3-1 win over the East German side, despite the hosts being reduced to ten men in the second half as Alex Scott saw red for dissent.
But Leipzig were not to be taken lightly on their own turf. Almost 40 years before the formation of RasenBallsport Leipzig - currently flying in the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League - Lokomotive were one of the top sides in the German Democratic Republic, regularly challenging for the East German title and sampling European glory of their own by winning the Intertoto Cup in 1966.
In Henning Frenzel, they also possessed a dangerous striker nicknamed the ‘East German Gerd Muller,’ topping the domestic goalscoring charts in almost every season of his professional career.
The Hibernian squad were buzzing off the back of a thumping 5-0 win over Greenock Morton in league action at the weekend when they arrived at the old Turnhouse Airport on November 18, two days before the match, however their optimism would soon be dented as the journey to Leipzig was beset by travel problems.
While the initial flight to Amsterdam passed without incident, the weather had significantly worsened by the time the squad touched down in the Netherlands, forcing the squad to cancel their plans to fly on to Berlin and spend the night sleeping on the floor of Schiphol airport.
The next morning, with conditions slightly improved, a flight to Berlin was chartered, however, as any aerial activity over the Eastern Bloc was banned at the time, the team continued their travels by bus.
It meant passing through the notorious ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ crossing on the route to East Berlin, where many of the squad were instructed to have their passports checked outside the bus by guards armed with machine guns.
Eventually - over 24 hours later than originally planned - the men in green and white made it to Leipzig on the back of a 125-mile road trip.
Conditions at the team hotel in a large grey tower block in the centre of Leipzig could hardly be described as luxurious. The building had sparse fittings and little in the way of central heating with November temperatures in East Germany regularly hitting zero.
Rolling blackouts across the city also deprived the travelling party of electricity for most of the trip, but the surroundings were nothing compared to the abject poverty of those living in the Eastern bloc.
As the coach pulled into Leipzig, the squad observed lines of hundreds of people waiting outside poorly stocked shops in the city centre as they queued for what little was on offer in the way of food - another world for the Hibernian players compared to life back home in Edinburgh.
The delayed journey meant Shankly’s men only had time for an hour’s training at the Central Stadium the night before the match, before a brief workout at a local park on the morning of the game.
In its heyday, the ground played host to crowds of well over 100,000, with the record attendance at the stadium for a match involving the East German national side exceeding 120,000 spectators. However, with just a fraction of that number in the terraces for the visit of the Easter Road side, the atmosphere would be somewhat less intimidating.
Shankly had been forced into one change from the eleven that took the field in the first leg, with Scott’s red card paving the way for Peter Cormack to return to the starting line-up after spending three games on the bench.
The hosts were also able to welcome back their star winger as Polish international Jürgen Czieschowitz started after missing the first leg due to issues with a travel visa.
The men in green and white expected a tough test from the East German side but were gifted the lead after just three minutes in farcical circumstances.
Cormack broke down the right and clipped the ball to the back post for McBride, but Leipzig stopper Werner Friese, in attempting to come and claim the cross fumbled, spilling the ball at the feet of a grateful Colin Grant who tapped in from ten yards to give the away side an unexpected lead.
It was a crucial early strike for Shankly’s men, but also a poignant one for Grant who celebrated his return to action after two serious knee operations forced him to spend over ten months on the sidelines.
The goal seemed to take the wind out of Leipzig, who never really got going in the first half, with the Hibernian back line rarely troubled before Frenzel bundled the ball over the line from close range, only to see it ruled out for a clear foul on Willie Wilson.
The second half brought a much better performance from the hosts, as they twice went close to levelling matters on the night.
First, Frenzel shot narrowly wide on the angle after throwing off the challenge of Chris Shevlane inside the Hibernian box, before Franke went one closer as he saw his header rebound back off the post.
But the visitors never looked like losing control of the game and could have increased their advantage had Cormack not struck straight at Friese late on.
Grant’s goal proved to enough for Shankly’s men, who boarded the flight back home to Edinburgh - a more direct route this time - safely through to the next round after a 4-1 aggregate win.
The victory equalled our best winning run in Europe, as Hibernian made it four on the bounce, although that run would come to an end in the next round as Shankly’s side travelled to West Germany to face Hamburg.
As featured in Issue 13 of the Hibernian FC Programme on Wednesday 13 December 2017 for the match against Rangers. Written by James Delaney.