By: Hibernian Media on 25 May, 2018 16:00
To celebrate Hibernian’s qualification for the UEFA Europa League, this week we have been publishing some historical content looking back on matches in European competition.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 our 1973 encounter against Keflavík in the UEFA Cup, which Hibernian navigated beyond despite tricky conditions in Iceland.
In European competition, Hibernian are no strangers to playing Scandinavian opposition – coming up against sides from the region in no fewer than 11 ties.
Whilst matches against the likes of Brøndby, Malmö, Djurgårdens and Rosenborg are well-remembered, Hibernian also ventured to Iceland for a UEFA Cup tie in 1973 to face Knattspyrnudeild Keflavík.
The town is perhaps better known for being the site of the current international airport that serves Iceland, lying 31 miles to the south-west of the island nation’s capital city, Reykjavik. However, the football team were very successful in Iceland at the time, winning the Championship in 1964, 1969, 1971 and 1973 – which gained them entry into the UEFA Cup.
Prior to being drawn to face Hibernian in the First Round of the UEFA Cup, Keflavík had featured in three editions of the European Cup, now the modern-day UEFA Champions League, and once in the UEFA Cup.
They faced Hungarian side Ferencváros of Hungary in 1965, losing 13-2 on aggregate, Everton in 1970 where they were defeated 9-2, Tottenham in 1971 which ended in a massive 15-1 loss and the all-conquering Real Madrid where they only lost 4-0 on aggregate.
Going into the first leg, which was played at Easter Road, Hibernian were undeniably the odds-on favourites to progress against their opponents, despite their noticeable improvements in Europe.
Now managed by Joe Hooley, formerly a player with the likes of Barnsley, Sheffield United and Accrington Stanley, they were looking to make another step in the right direction against foreign opposition.
Hibernian had other ideas. Managed by the fearsome genius Eddie Turnbull, a side containing the likes of Pat Stanton, Erich Schaedler, Alex Cropley, Jimmy O’Rourke and Alex Edwards were not going to take the task lightly.
The first leg was played almost exactly how many thought it would be; Hibernian well on-top with a resolute side attempting to not concede the barrowload of goals they were accustomed to on their travels in Europe.
The Icelandic outfit were content to sit back and soak up as much pressure as they could, whilst also restricting one of the all-time great Hibernian teams over the course of the 90 minutes, but they clearly had no intentions of launching any counter-attacks.
Although they were part-time amateurs, their tactics were designed to frustrate Hibernian and that is exactly what happened.
Their excellent fitness levels helped them to close out the Hibernian midfield, with their non-stop efforts subduing the immensely talented Hibernian players. Fouls in the midfield area ensured that there was a lack of rhythm in the game, stopping Turnbull’s side from playing the imaginative free-flowing football they were renowned for at the time.
Goalkeeper Thorsteinn Olafsson, nicknamed Thorsteinn the Red after a 9th Century Viking Chieftain in Scotland, also ensured that it would be a difficult evening for Hibernian, pulling off two fantastic saves.
The first came from an O’Rourke header, with the blonde-haired goalkeeper getting a strong hand to keep it out, before pushing away an effort from captain Stanton.
Despite their brave efforts, this was a fantastic Hibernian side packed to the rafters with quality and eventually cream rises to the top.
Whilst it may not have been a crème de la crème performance, the considerable gap in technical ability helped Hibernian to a 2-0 win in Leith.
The opening goal came from an unlikely source four minutes from half-time; centre-half Jim Black.
Supplementing the attack, he strode forward and was able to smash an effort beyond Olafsson at his left-hand post to not only quell any jangling nerves among the 13,652-strong crowd in the terraces, but to also score his only Hibernian goal.
The game was ended as a contest, and seemingly the tie also, when Schaedler’s left-wing cross was headed into the path of Tony Higgins by Stanton and the forward smashed in from close-range with 64 minutes gone.
Iain Munro was then substituted for Arthur Duncan, with his strong running creating several opportunities for the side to add to the score, alas, Cropley and O’Rourke were unable to find the target.
Going into the second leg was virtually a trip into the unknown. The town of Keflavík only had a population of approximately 5,500 in the 1970s, with the now-popular airport mainly used for the arrival of United States military personnel in that era – much to the chagrin of the local populace.
Despite the small local population, 3,514 supporters packed the Keflavíkurvöllur Stadium to see if their team could claim an unlikely scalp.
Average temperatures in the early 70s in southwest Iceland were below two Celsius during Autumn, and rainfall had plagued the area in the run-up to the game on 3 October 1973.
The playing surface was a cause of consternation for the visiting side, with the ire of Turnbull following the game proving to be righteous.
Throughout the game, players had to labour through ankle deep mud, falling on occasion, and the goalmouths were heavily sanded to attempt to dry out the sloppy surface. Even the referee took a tumble when trying to change direction on the boggy surface.
The game ended in a 1-1 draw, but despite the scoreline being even, the match was a proverbial whitewash in Hibernian’s favour in spite of the mud-heap they were playing on.
Once again, the Leith side found Olafsson in excellent form as shots rained in on his goal, making no fewer than four stupendous saves to keep his side in the game.
Two O’Rourke efforts tested the goalkeeper before Alan Gordon’s header was fisted over the bar. Black, who was now positively goal-hungry, forced Olafsson into a save low to his left – described as the best save of the game.
These chances, coupled with a first half goal by Keflavík, only served to frustrate Hibernian, with the hosts’ taking the lead against the run of play with a scrappy goal.
Moments before the opener was scored, Gordon had a goal disallowed for a foul by Black. The striker was honest after the game, revealing that his effort had not crossed the line, despite his celebrations on the field.
One of four Keflavík attacks heralded the goal that gave them hope of an upset. With 35 minutes played, Hjörtur Zakaríasson was able to squeeze the ball fractionally over the line despite Des Bremner’s attempts to hack it clear.
The crowd erupted as they became filled with belief that they could take the tie into extra-time and felt they were on the verge of recording their first victory in Europe.
Hibernian still laid siege to Olafsson’s goal amidst the cacophony of noise that was emanating from the stands and found themselves deservedly level after the hour mark through Stanton.
The captain found a way beyond Olafsson with a strike from inside the box, maintaining his superb goalscoring form, making it four in five games for the skipper.
Turnbull’s men saw the game out on top, but the home fans and Keflavík officials celebrated at full-time as they claimed an unlikely draw – their first-ever they positive result in Europe – despite crashing out 3-1 on aggregate.
After the game, Turnbull asked reporters “Have you ever seen a pitch like that?”, with the simple question revealing his thoughts on the state of the playing surface.
Nonetheless, Hibernian marched into the Second Round and avoided a potential shock defeat at the hands of a stout opposition who had made marked improvements in continental competition.
As featured in Issue 19 of the Hibernian FC Programme on Friday 9 March 2018 for the match against Heart of Midlothian. Written by John Stephens.