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Our First European Outing: The Story Of Jackie Plenderleith

There’s only one surviving player from our first European game against Rot-Weiss Essen back in 1955 and that’s Jackie Plenderleith.

A graceful yet tough-tackling defender, Jackie takes the readers back to 1955 in his new autobiography and describes what it was like for a 17-year-old coal miner's son to witness first-hand the awkward birth of the global phenomenon now known as the Champions League and his role in helping Hibs reach the semi-finals.

The former Scotland international relives his time playing alongside the legendary 'Famous Five' forward line, and reveals how it felt to line up against the incomparable Ferenc Puskás twice in the space of two days while in South Africa.

Captain of the British Army team during his national service, a team-mate to Joe Baker at Hibs and Denis Law at Manchester City, Jackie is the proud possessor of international caps from schoolboy to senior level.

The 83-year-old took time to share his memories of that glorious time with us.

He recalled: “I was born in Bellshill and had the chance to sign for a few clubs including Rangers, Celtic, Wolves and a few top English clubs but my father advised me to go the Hibs as I would have a better chance of getting into the first team and he was right.

“When I was making my mind up Hugh Shaw invited my dad and I to Hampden to watch the Coronation Cup Final between Hibs and Celtic. Hibs were a wonderful side full of attacking players and I decided I wanted to play for a team like that.

“The Famous Five were all older than me and although they were friendly, my best pal was Tommy Preston who was more my age.

“Gordon Smith in particular was helpful when my form dipped and he reminded me that I was a great centre-half and advised me to attack the ball more which I did. I’ve never forgotten that.

“Within a few months I made my debut as a centre-half when I was only 17. I was quite small for that position at 5ft 9in but I was quick and had good anticipation and could read the game.

“When Hibs entered the European Cup I travelled to Germany for the first-leg against Rot Weiss Essen who were the German champions and had some great players in their team. That was the first time I had left Scotland and my first time on a plane so it was an exciting time.

"What many people don’t remember is that Germany were world champions, having won the World Cup the previous year so for us to beat their top team was some achievement.

“Once the game started, I was not nervous. I just played my normal game. I remember that night as it poured with rain and the Germans later blamed the weather for their defeat, but it rains in Germany as well as Scotland, so it was the same for both teams. We won 4-0 across there which was a fantastic result which would be inconceivable today.

“I stayed in the side for the next round against Djurgardens who were also a good team but I missed the semi-final against Rheims. They had a centre forward called Raymond Kopa who was one of the best players in the world, but I firmly believe that I would have been able to deal with him. I preferred playing against good footballers rather than the big bustling type of centre forwards that were around at that time, although I could play against them as well.

“Without being big-headed I believe that Hibs would have won that game if I had been playing and reached the first European Cup final against Real Madrid.

“I stayed in the first team and did well, but never managed to score. I used to see other teams defenders going up for corners and free-kicks but the first time I tried that Eddie (Turnbull) told me in no uncertain terms that I was there to defend and he was there to score goals. He was a rough and ready type but he wasn’t being nasty, I was just because he thought that was the best for the team.

“I did have the chance to score when I was given the responsibility for penalties. I used to practice them and never missed but when my chance game I mishit the ball and it nearly hit the corner flag so I wasn’t allowed to take any more.

“I remember that Hibs signed a young lad called Joe Baker who stayed a couple of miles from me so we used to go through to Easter Road together on the train. Joe was a wonderful player and I actually played against him for the British Army when I was doing my National Service. He was a handful.

“At that time I was earning £12 per week which was a lot of money and the team was playing well. We reached the Scottish Cup final against Clyde and should have won but they scored an ‘in off’ goal and we couldn’t score although Joe put the ball in the net but it was disallowed for handball. I still think about that day and can’t believe that we got beat but that’s football.

“I was dropped at Hibs and asked for a transfer and Hugh Shaw agreed to let me go and I signed for Manchester City where I became good pals with Denis Law who was another terrific player.

“Coincidentally he and Joe both signed for Torino. “I played international football from schoolboy to youths to under 23s and I got a full cap against Northern Ireland but was dropped for the next game against England which ended with a 9-3 defeat, but I don’t think they would have scored nine if I’d been playing.

“I’m proud to have played for my country and still have the strip and cap in a frame in my house.

“I am also proud to have played for Hibs and have no regrets about choosing them over the Old Firm or the top English clubs as I had a great time at Easter Road. It was a great place to play football and we used to get some huge crowds.

“I still follow Hibs' fortunes but don’t get to the games as I live in Aberdeen now, but I was delighted when they won the Scottish Cup. It’s good to see them doing so well.

“I often used to read football biographies and wondered whether people would be interested in my career, so it was a surprise when Tom (Maxwell) contacted me. Writing the book has brought back so many great memories of my time playing for this great club. I hope the fans enjoy reading it.”

Author Tom Maxwell added: “I interviewed Jack and Tom Preston a few years ago and was fascinated with his career and how he played in the first ever European Cup game as a teenager. I wasn’t sure if he’d remember me, so I wrote to him, and his wife told me that he was really chuffed.

“I pitched the idea to the publisher who agreed within days, and I took it from there. Jackie had a great story to tell, and he had a huge suitcase full of newspaper cuttings, old programmes, call-up papers for the British army and menus from old Hibs dinners.

“Jackie played an important part in football's past, and, with typical good humour, he has plenty to say about its future.”

The autobiography of Jackie Plenderleith is available to buy. It’s called “First and Last: How I Made European History With Hibs” and is available to order on Amazon.

by John Hislop.