The name Joe Tortolano is one which always gets Hibernian supporters talking – with Joe there seemed to be no happy medium in that you either loved him or hated him – but what could never be questioned is the 100% commitment Joe gave to the Hibernian cause every time he pulled on the famous green and white shirt. Joe remains to this day a committed Hibernian man – 11 years at the club will do that to you….
A Stirling lad by birth, Joe arrived at Easter Road in August 1985 on a free transfer from West Bromwich Albion. When Joe arrived at the club he had a reputation as being an out and out left winger who could chip in with a goal or two. The then Hibs manager Alex Miller though had his own ideas about how and where certain players should play and it wasn’t long before Joe was converted from a flying left winger into a left back, although with his natural attacking instincts Joe was still always keen to push forward at every given opportunity. “Where I played didn’t really matter to me” said Joe. “I’ll use the old football cliché of players being willing to play anywhere to get a start. That was definitely the case with me.”
While retaining many great memories of his time at Easter Road, Joe highlighted two moments which instantly stand out for him during his time at Hibernian. The first was a rare headed goal which he scored against Hearts in an early nineties Edinburgh Derby. Further to that, Joe was delighted when we told him that we had actually found a picture of him scoring that particular goal. “I’ve been trying to find a picture of that goal for years! Scoring for Hibs against Hearts is a special moment for any Hibs player.”
The second memory which he recalls with fondness was the Hibs fans chant of Joe, Joe, Super Joe; Super Tortolano! “It’s not every player that gets their own song and with me being very much a player who thrived on confidence, that song really lifted me when the fans sang it. It made me feel ten feet tall and made me feel as though I was a valuable member of the team. It took me a long time to win over some of the Hibs fans but to hear them singing that song signalled to me that hopefully they realised that I always gave 100% for the shirt.”
We couldn’t talk to this Hibs cult hero though without touching on another incident for which he will be remembered, and it’s fair to say that it’s not one he’s particularly proud of. The incident referred to is of course ‘that’ tackle on Manchester United’s Gordon Strachan during Gordon Rae’s testimonial match here at Easter Road in October 1988 for which he was ordered off: “Wee Gordon was just too quick for me and nothing more than that,” recalls Joe. “It was a bad tackle I caught him with but there was genuinely no malice intended in it. I felt the referee that evening spoiled what should have been a great occasion by sending me off. While fully accepting that I couldn’t really complain about it, if he’d applied a degree of common sense, he could have maybe asked for me to be substituted immediately and at least left it as an even sided game. I think the fans and big Gordon Rae were a wee bit short changed that night because of the referee’s lack of common sense.”
To be fair though to Gordon Strachan, he appeared to bear no grudge towards Joe for the tackle. Joe told us “He was back at Easter Road a few years later with Coventry City for I think Gordon Hunter’s testimonial although he turned out for Hibs that evening. When he saw me he smiled and said “Alright Tortolano – I’m glad I’m playing on your side tonight!”
In his time at Easter Road, Joe made a creditable 222 appearances for the club scoring 13 goals. In 1996, Joe left the club much to his disappointment. “It was a sore one for me finally leaving Easter Road after 11 years,” he told us, “I’d only just turned thirty and I honestly felt I could still have done a decent job for Hibs for at least a couple of seasons more. That’s football though and when you have to leave you have to leave.” After leaving Hibs, Joe went on to have spells at Falkirk, Clyde, hometown team Stirling Albion and East Stirling before hanging up his boots in 2000.
Joe then spent some time on the coaching staff at Cowdenbeath during Keith Wright’s spell as manager,” I’m also a member of the Hibernian Former Player’s Association which was started by my old team mate Paul Kane, and that allows me to keep in touch with some of my former colleagues. People don’t realise how much you get bitten by this club when you’ve been part of it, although I was born in Stirling, I’m a Hibs fan through and through!