Thursday, 3 December 2009

Eammon Bannon

There aren’t many players who spend two different spells at the good ship Heart of Midlothian but one who was a success on both occasions was midfield maestro Eammon Bannon.

The Edinburgh born player joined Hearts as an eighteen year old in 1976 and made his debut by coming on as a substitute against Ayr United in the doomed season of 1976-77, a campaign that ultimately saw Hearts relegated for the first time in their history. Bannon’s subtle but effective skills in midfield meant he was pressed into action even at such a young age but even his skills couldn’t prevent Hearts demotion. Former Scotland manager Willie Ormond was charged with taking Hearts back to the top flight at the first time of asking and with no money to rebuild the team, the former member of the Hibernian Famous Five forward line of the 1950s relied heavily on the skills of his teenage protégé. Bannon didn’t let him down and scored an impressive thirteen goals - including a hat-trick against Kilmarnock at Tynecastle on Hogmanay 1977 - as Hearts duly secured promotion.

However, Ormond’s hopes of building a Hearts team to challenge for honours were left in tatters as Hearts sold Eammon Bannon to Chelsea in January 1979 for a club record fee of £200,000. The money kept the financial wolves from the door - temporarily - but Hearts struggled badly without their star player. Inevitably, they were relegated again at the end of season 1978-79.
Bannon, though, was hoping for big things at Chelsea under their ebullient manager Danny Blanchflower who saw him as a potential replacement for the departed Ray Wikins. Sadly, Blanchflower was sacked as Chelsea manager later that year and his replacement, England World Cup hero Geoff Hurst, allowed Bannon to return to Scotland and Dundee United just ten months after he left Gorgie.

Bannon became an integral part of Dundee United’s most successful team ever in the early 1980s. He was to win League Cup Winner’s medals and, memorably, a Premier Division championship medal when Jim McLean’s team won the league title in 1983. Bannon was part of United’s equally memorable run in the European Cup the following season when the Tannadice side reached the semi-final only to lose narrowly to Italian champions Roma. In 1987, he appeared for United in the UEFA Cup Final where they lost to IFK Gothenberg.
A year later Bannon returned to his first love - Hearts.
By now, Chairman Wallace Mercer had stabilised the club and was keen to build on the progress that had seen the maroons challenge the Old Firm - the signing of Bannon alongside United team-mate striker Iain Ferguson was seen as key moves. Bannon was to spend another five happy years at Tynecastle and while the club didn’t make the breakthrough in acquiring silverware as hoped, Bannon’s influence on the younger players breaking through such as Alan McLaren and Scott Crabbe was invaluable.

In May 1993, Bannon left Tynecastle for a brief spell at Hibernian - his only game for the Easter Road team coming against Hearts - but was back in Gorgie in July 1994 when Tommy McLean appointed him to the coaching staff. When McLean left Tynecastle, Bannon went too and ended his playing career at Stenhousemuir. His spell at Ochilview was triumphant - he was part of the Stenny team that lifted the Scottish Challenge Cup in 1995 - ironically defeating Dundee United in the final!

After a spell as manager of Falkirk, Bannon brought his boots back on to play for Edinburgh’s non-league Spartans in 1996 before finally retiring two years later to run Strathallan guest house in Edinburgh which he does to this day. He also does work for the Press Association in Scotland through the PFA.

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