By: Hibernian Media on 23 May, 2018 16:00
To celebrate Hibernian’s qualification for the UEFA Europa League, this week we will be publishing some historical content looking back on matches in European competition.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 Olimpija Ljubljana.
In the 1968/69 season, Hibernian were looking to mount another charge into the latter stages of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup after the narrow defeat over two legs to Leeds United the season before.
The tie afforded to Bob Shankly and his team in the opening round was against NK Olimpija Ljubljana of Yugoslavia, a trip that was not as easy to make in the late 60s, with Hibernian not making a profit on the first round after spending £2500 to travel to and from the city.
On paper, this seemed like an easy route into the next round for Hibernian. Olimpija’s only previous European escapade ground to a halt in the first round of the same competition at the hands of Ferencvaros 6-3 on aggregate.
In the modern era, Slovenia’s capital city is easy to reach, and the last time Hibernian faced a Slovenia side in Europe a lot of supporters ventured over to the country. However, in 1968 only a handful of hardy supporters made the trip across and those who done so were to be rewarded with a fine victory.
Hibernian had struggled away from home in Europe since defeating Utrecht in 1962 and were facing a tough prospect at the Bežigrad Central Stadium.
Whilst maybe not much was known of Olimpija at the time, their squad contained players such as Danilo Popivoda, Radoslav Bečejac and Branko Oblak.
Popivoda was a forward who featured 20 times for the Yugoslavian national team and went on to play at the 1974 World Cup and the 1976 Euros, midfielder Bečejac was part of the Partizan Belgrade side that reached the final of the European Cup in 1966 and was signed by Olimpija for a record YUD65m, whilst Oblak enjoyed a hugely successful career after his time at Ljubljana, plying his trade for both Schalke and Bayern Munich.
Despite the fear of going into the unknown and only having the faintest of ideas about a handful of players, Hibernian set about the task in Yugoslavia was a great amount of gusto in the first leg and ended that six-year winless streak in Europe in the process.
Olimpija were excellent hosts, providing Hibernian with a civic reception in Ljubljana’s Town Hall, before each player presented his opposite number with a pennant ahead of kick-off to celebrate the occasion.
Despite the niceties, Hibernian turned on the style as the hosts proved to be novices in terms of European experience and it showed in their tactics as they sought to defend early on, starting with five defenders at the back. Ultimately, this curtailed their attack and allowed the men from Leith to dominate.
Conditions were far from ideal as the rain poured from the sky before kick-off, which then transpired into a thunderstorm as the match took place.
This would have been enough to stop many teams from playing entertaining football, but not Shankly’s side. The ball remained on the deck and the Scottish side battered Olimpija on their home patch amidst the rainfall and roars of thunder.
As was often the case domestically, the midfield trio of Pat Quinn, Peter Cormack and Pat Stanton were able to dictate the pace of the game as they gained control of the all-important midfield battle, dominating the experienced Bečejac.
Olimpija Ljubljana, backed by a crowd of around 4,000, were only able to force a handful of corners during the opening period of the first half, which were dealt with comfortably by Hibs.
Eventually, Hibernian clicked in gear and started zipping the ball around the sodden-surface and deservedly took the lead with 32 minutes on the clock.
Peter Marinello, making his first appearance in Europe, was crudely stopped as he jinked his way to goal. From the resulting set-piece, Quinn picked out Eric Stevenson to steer the ball home from close-range.
Only four minutes elapsed before the attacking verve of Hibernian paid dividends once again. Pressure was put on Milovan Nikolić and his mis-kick fell to the feet of Colin Stein, who needed no second invitation as he strode towards Borut Škulj’s goal and calmly scored his fourth goal in five Fairs Cup appearances.
By this time, the supporters of the home side were jeering their players as they struggled to match Hibernian, with the finer touches of the men from Easter Road also being applauded by the fans enjoying what they were watching.
After the break, Škulj was taken to hospital with a leg injury and was replaced by Anton Žabjek in the 55th minute who produced two good saves to keep his side in the game.
His resolve was eventually broken when a cross from Marinello was headed into the back of the net via the head of defender Miloš Šoškić in the 71st minute to make it 3-0.
It could have been four as well, but for a tight offside call given against Cormack just moments later after he had found the back of the net, but Hibernian were in no mood to quibble as the match ended with their biggest European away win since a 4-0 drubbing of Rot-Weiss Essen.
Following the game, Shankly was delighted to have racked up such a comprehensive victory away from home in the Fairs Cup.
He said: “This is a tonic result and just what we needed. I doubt if we saw Olimpija at their best in the rain, but any European win away from home is good in my book.
“I am always happy with a draw in the away leg, so things look good for us.”
Hibernian required a crowd of 12,000 to breakeven on the £2500 spent getting to and from Ljubljana, but, with the second leg now just a formality, 10,445 showed up at Easter Road Stadium.
Olimpija sprung a surprise in the fourth minute when Popivoda was able to fire his side in front, although Shankly’s team remained in total control of their own destiny despite going behind.
The home fans had to be patient and they were rewarded as Joe Davis scored two penalties in seven second half minutes to win the game 2-1, sending Hibernian through 5-1 on aggregate.
As featured in Issue 23 of the Hibernian FC Programme on Sunday 13 May 2018 for the match against Rangers. Written by John Stephens.