How George Best missed the Hibs team bus and was then subbed off

George Best at Shielfield, Berwick.
George Best at Shielfield, Berwick.

Sunday’s Scottish Cup tie between Hibs and Berwick Rangers will be played exactly 35 years after the teams last met in the competition – at 
exactly the same stage.

On that occasion – March 8, 1980 –more than 7,000 fans crammed into Shielfield to watch Berwick take on a Hibs team featuring George Best in the quarter-final.

It was the one and only time that the legendary Irishman played at Shielfield. Hibs were a Premier Division side at the time, but were relegated at the end of the season, while Berwick were in the old Division One.

It finished 0-0 on the day and Hibs won the replay 1-0 at Easter Road in front of nearly 10,000.

Best was in the twilight of his career back then, but former Berwick player, and later manager, Eric Tait, remembers it well.

“Georgie was the best player I had ever seen,” said Tait. “In many respects he still is, although I accept it was a different era. He was my hero and it was a great honour to be playing on the same pitch as him, even if he did only play the first half before being substituted at half-time.”

Former Berwick Advertiser editor Tony Langmack, who covered the game, remembers that Best arrived late for the match.

“He had missed the team bus in Edinburgh and had to get a taxi,” said Langmack. “He didn’t play well and was taken off at half-time.

“Another thing I can remember from that game was the retaining wall at the Ducket side of the stadium collapsed under of the weight of the supporters.”

In the replay Tait hit the bar with a free kick in the first minute.

“I can remember it hit the underside of the bar and bounced down either onto or over the line. We all shouted for a goal but the referee waved play on. Where was the Russian linesman when we needed one?

“It was a great occasion,” added Tait. “There was a decent crowd and the game was worth a lot of money to us, just like it will be for the club this Sunday. I can’t wait for the game, I am getting the train up from Newcastle with my son and my only hope is that there is a big gate and that Berwick put up a decent showing.

“Colin Cameron will have the lads geed up for Sunday, I am sure. Hibs aren’t a Premier League club at the moment, but they are on a good run and it will be difficult.

“I was at the last game against Spartans and it was a tricky tie. The quality of football in the replay wasn’t great, but the result was the most important thing.”

Hibs have been a bogey team for Berwick over the years. Berwick have never beaten them in a competitive fixture.

They first met in the second round of the Scottish Cup in 1967 – after Berwick famously beat Glasgow Rangers 1-0 at Shielfield– when Hibs won 1-0 at Easter Road in front of a crowd of nearly 31,000.

The only goal of the game was scored by Jim Scott, but the scoreline didn’t tell the whole story of that game, as Berwick’s Kenny Dowds had a goal disallowed early in the first half and keeper Jock Wallace saved a penalty.

That was followed, in the 70s, by three East of Scotland Shield games, which the Hi-bees won 4-1, 3-0 and 4-0.

After their quarter-final meeting in 1980,when Dave Smith was the manager, the teams met up again in the old First Division in the 1980-81 season, playing each other three times. Hibs won 3-0 and 2-0 with the third game ending in a 0-0 draw.

They didn’t meet again until 2011-12 in the League Cup when the city side triumphed 5-0, and in a pre-season friendly at the start of the current campaign, the Edinburgh side won 4-0 at Shielfield.