Emotional ER return for old boy McNamee

FORMER Hibs star John McNamee has paid his first visit to Easter Road since leaving for Newcastle United more than 40 years ago.

The uncompromising centre-half, now 67 and living in Cumbria, was greeted by former team-mates Peter Cormack and John Fraser as he arrived for the SPL clash with Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

And he was immediately struck by the remarkable transformation of the ground, most noticeably the disappearance of the double-tiered terracing which once faced the tunnel and Easter Road's famous slope.

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McNamee, signed by Jock Stein from Celtic, went on to play for Newcastle United where he won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, the forerunner of the UEFA Cup, and settled in the Lake District after his playing career came to an end. Today he said: "I've never really had the chance to come back. My wife died in 1983 so I always had to be there for our children.

"But I've a good friend, Gordon Clark, who lives in Stirling, a lifelong Hibs fan, who has always been asking me to come up. When I signed for Hibs I used to get Gordon tickets for matches and even gave him a lift through from the west. I thoroughly enjoyed my day, meeting up with Peter and John again and reminiscing about the good old days. I also had the chance to have a chat with Eddie Turnbull and Lawrie Reilly.

"Jock Stein left for Celtic shortly after signing me and you can't help but wonder what Hibs might have achieved had he not gone to Parkhead. We all believe we'd have won the league that season but you could understand why he went to Celtic, they'd brought him back from Wales as a player and it was always his ambition to manage them.

"I couldn't get over how the ground has changed, it's a tremendous stadium now and will be even better when the new East Stand is built. It was also a surprise to see the slope gone, it was a great psychological thing for us and, to be honest, it looked as if today's team could have done with shooting down it last weekend.

"That was the big disappointment of the day, that the team didn't play well and were beaten." McNamee returned home promising to make an early return to Easter Road, although his next big reunion will be Newcastle marking the 40th anniversary of winning the Fairs Cup when they beat Ujpest Dozsa.

He said: "I had five terrific years with Newcastle, there were quite a few Scots in the side including Jim Scott, who had also come from Hibs, and Gordon Marshall."