Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Ralph Callachan

There aren’t many players who play significant roles for both Hearts and Hibernian. However, one who did three decades ago is still fondly remembered by supporters of both clubs. Ralph Callachan grew up a Hibby but it was for Hearts that he signed as a sixteen year old in September 1971 from Tynecastle Boys Club. A precocious talent, the midfield player made his Hearts first team debut less than three years later. It was in season 1974-75 that Callachan made a big impression at Tynecastle despite the club struggling in the league and cups. He was a class act in a Hearts midfield that struggled at times but his subtle skills perfectly complemented the more aggressive talents of the likes of Drew Busby.

Hearts were fighting against relegation in April 1976 and I recall a sublime performance from the Edinburgh born youngster that was instrumental in Hearts recording a fine 3-0 victory over Aberdeen at Pittodrie on a pleasant spring evening. Hearts escaped demotion due in no small part to this result but the following season were again involved in a relegation fight. However, fans could scarcely believe it when Callachan was sold to Newcastle United for £90,000 in February 1977. It was a decision that blew away Hearts chances of survival.

Callachan’s stay on Tyneside was a brief one and eighteen months later, he returned to Edinburgh to sign for the team he followed as a boy as part of a deal that took Hibernian legend John Brownlie to St. James Park. He was to enjoy eight impressive seasons at Easter Road and in 1979 played against Rangers in the Scottish Cup Final. Sadly, like his only other Scottish Cup Final appearance - for Hearts in 1976 also against Rangers - he was to end up with a loser’s medal. After a spell with Edinburgh’s third team in 1986 - Meadowbank Thistle - Callachan became player-manager of Berwick Rangers.

Callachan later ran a pub with Hibs team-mate Jackie McNamara and in 2006 was giving his opinion to the media on that season’s Edinburgh derby Scottish Cup semi-final (which Hearts won 4-0 in case anyone needs reminding…) Today, Ralph Callachan is a taxi driver in Edinburgh and remains a frequent visitor to Easter Road.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

The Gloves Are Off

Three weeks before Christmas I was supping a pint or three of foaming ale in the company of a Hibs fan. He is as passionate about Edinburgh’s lesser team as I am about Hearts and we meet regularly to put the world to rights although as the night wears on I do tend to find his oft-repeated assertion that Hibernian taught Pele and his fellow Brazilians how to play football just a tad weary. However, he also told me a story about how a Hibs legend - if that’s not an oxymoron - namely Pat Stanton had never forgiven Easter Road manager Eddie Turnbull for transferring him to Celtic in 1976. Admittedly, several pints had been consumed by this point but as Stanton’s passion for Hibs is legendary in Leith it was a story I just couldn’t dismiss as ramblings of a drunken old Hibby. Moreover, it brought home to me just how football has changed over the decades.

The following evening I watched the BBC’s excellent Match of the Day programme and watched the two sides of Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez. Now I’m not implying the Argentinean is overweight; rather there was the sublime side when he scored a fine goal against Bolton Wanderers followed by the ridiculous when he displayed considerable anger towards his manager Roberto Mancini on being substituted in the second half. A week later, he handed in a transfer request. Not only that but Tevez was one of several players featuring in the programme wearing what appeared to me to be a cravat around his neck - apparently the snood is a recent ‘accessory’ among modern players to keep warm, as if woolly gloves wasn’t enough.

Those of you who regularly read my ramblings in the match day programme might not be surprised to read I’m very much an old school fella. Perhaps it’s just me but footballers seemed a much tougher breed in decades gone by. Tackles and challenges would fly in from all directions without as much as a booking, merely a stern look from the referee. More often than not, the player on the receiving end of such a tackle would simply note who committed the act and exact suitable vengeance later in the game, out of the vision of the referee. Nowadays yellow and red cards are brandished for what seems like minimal physical contact. Players wearing snoods and gloves might as well have a sign on their shirts stating ‘please don’t touch me, I’m a fragile sensitive soul so please permit me to run to your goal unhindered’

Older Hearts fans who fondly remember the likes of Drew Busby would laugh at the very idea of ‘Der Bomber’ wearing gloves or something round his neck to keep him warm. Busby, like the late, great, Jim Cruickshank, was also of the breed of player who put the team first before any personal gain. Apart from brief spells at Queens Park and Dumbarton which book ended his long career, Cruicky spent his long playing career at Tynecastle. Similarly, Jim Jefferies spent most of his playing career at the club he supported as a boy and most of his success as a manager has come at the club that means so much to him.

Some of the attitudes that prevail today sadden me. In Aberdeen last month, the local newspaper carried a report that stated that three unnamed Aberdeen players had spoken of their delight that Mark McGhee had been sacked as manager of The Dons. The inference was that some of the team’s lacklustre performances of late had been down to the players unhappiness with the manager (although The Dons performance in their 5-0 drubbing at Tynecastle suggested a more serious malaise) Surely players ought to play for their club with pride and professionalism and put any differences they have with the manager aside when they run on to the field of play?

Similarly, those players who publicly declare they no longer want to play for their country dismay those of us who believe representing your country is the highest honour a footballer could achieve. I think back to players like Archie Gemmill who, despite playing for Derby County at the time, drove his wife more than 200 miles to Paisley in order that his son would be born in Scotland. Gemmill, scorer of a wonder goal against Holland in the 1978 World Cup, even named his son Scotland (although he is more commonly known as Scot and like his father played football for his country)

I know we live in a different age now and the days of players devoting themselves to one club as Gary Mackay did in the 1980s and 90s have been consigned to the history books. Nevertheless, tales like the aforementioned Pat Stanton one do make me recall football in years gone by with more than a degree of affection. Having said all that are still some players today who remind me of the likes of Drew Busby and his ilk. However, if Kevin Kyle takes to the field any time soon wearing gloves and a snood, I will fear the game I grew up with has gone forever!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Three Decades Hence

Drew Busby in 1978

The more mature Hearts supporter will remember 1973. I was eleven years old then but remember the period as the decade style left behind. Glam Rock was in vogue. For the younger reader, ‘73 was a year when the likes of ‘Glam Rock’ stars such as Gary Glitter, Marc Bolan and T-Rex, Sweet and Mud dominate the music charts. The ‘hit parade’ as it was described with irritating cheerfulness by the likes of D.J’s Tony Blackburn and Noel Edmonds on ‘wonderful Radio One’, was full of it. Hearts Stadium announcer Scott Wilson will probably agree with my assertion there wasn’t much decent music to listen to until punk came long later in the decade.

The first day of 1973 saw one of the worst days in the history of Heart of Midlothian Football Club. Hibernian first-footed Tynecastle for the traditional Auld Reekie Derby. And won 7-0. The first time - and by God, it wouldn’t be the last - I cried at a football match. However, let’s move on.

Season 1973-74 promised to be a big one for Hearts. 1974 was the club's centenary year. Special presentations were made from clubs from all over the country as well as the SFA and Scottish League. Hearts made some major moves into the transfer market. Following the arrival of Kenny Aird from St Johnstone and John Stevenson from Coventry, manager Bobby Seith made an audacious attempt to sign the Airdrie duo of Drew Busby and Drew Jarvie who were proving a productive forward partnership. In the end, Seith managed to sign just one of the Drews - Busby - while Jarvie headed north to Aberdeen. Another new arrival at Tynecastle was winger Bobby Prentice from Celtic and it was a revamped Hearts side that began season 1973-74 hoping to mark one hundred years with a long-awaited trophy.

When Hearts met Hibs in September, an indication of the sweeping changes made at Tynecastle was illustrated by the fact that only four of the Hearts team that began the New Year mauling started the rematch nine months later. Youngsters Sneddon and Cant as well as newcomers Busby, Stevenson and Prentice were all sampling their first taste of an Edinburgh derby and their youthful innocence seemed to be a major factor in how the game would unfurl.

A crowd of almost thirty thousand created a frantic atmosphere and the game kicked off with Hearts looking the more confident side. Busby and Ford were already looking to have forged a meaningful partnership and there was plenty of width with both Aird and Prentice foraging down the flanks. Hearts opened the scoring after twenty minutes. Youngster Jim Jefferies floated a cross into the Hibs penalty box. Hibs goalkeeper McKenzie, misjudged the flight of the ball and in the ensuing confusion, Hibs fullback Erich Schaedler headed into his own net after a desperate attempt to clear the danger.

The maroons had looked confident enough from the start but this goal merely gave another surge to the adrenaline. Hibs were forced to back-pedal as Donald Ford and Drew Busby came close with Jim Jefferies proving to be an unlikely threat with his crosses. The only thing missing from a polished first-half performance from Hearts was further goals but half time arrived with the maroons well on top. Further goals did arrive after the interval - three of which occurred within as many minutes! In fifty-four minutes, Kenny Aird set off down the right wing with the Hibs defence chasing. At the edge of the penalty box, the former St Johnstone man fired in a shot that slipped under the body of keeper McKenzie and into the net for 2-0 and the Hearts support went wild. Aird had promised much since his arrival at Tynecastle and scoring against the Hibees saw him crowned a hero by an ecstatic home support.

The celebrations were still in full swing when, seconds later, Hibs moved to the other end of the park and pulled a goal back. The ball was fired in to the Hearts goalmouth where keeper Kenny Garland and youngster Jimmy Cant decided to leave it for each other allowing Alex Cropley to flick the ball into net to make the score 2-1. Now it was the turn of the Hibs fans to celebrate - but not for long.

For, incredibly, Hearts restarted and headed straight for McKenzie in the Hibs goal. This time it was the turn of youngster John Stevenson to run at the Hibs defence and his pace took him past a startled Hibs back four. McKenzie brought the ex-Coventry player to a halt but merely succeeded in teeing the ball up for Donald Ford who thrashed the ball into the net to make it 3-1 and send the Hearts support delirious once more.

Ford and Busby proceeded to wreak havoc and twice Hearts hit the crossbar as Hibs tried manfully to stem the maroon tidal wave. McKenzie redeemed himself for his earlier mistakes by producing some fine saves as Hearts fans demanded their side go for the kill. With just ten minutes to go Hearts did get the fourth goal their play so richly deserved. Thirty yards out the man with one of the most fearsome shots in Scottish football - Drew Busby - let fly with a screamer. McKenzie's day of misery was complete when he allowed the ball to squirm under his body and into the net. 4-1 for Hearts and Busby had opened his Tynecastle account in the best possible manner.

The scoring ended at 4-1 and the maroon half of Tynecastle loudly acclaimed their side at the final whistle. Not quite full revenge for the events of New Years Day. Nevertheless, in a year and indeed a decade in which not a lot went right, it was a day Hearts fans cherished!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Heart of Midlothian 1 Inverness Caledonian Thistle 1

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Saturday 18 December 2010 - Ice Station Tynecastle

Something had to give. Prior to this game Hearts had won six SPL games in a row; Caley Thistle were unbeaten away from home in league football for more than  a year. Somewhat inevitably the game ended in a  draw although, in my naturally unbiased opinion, Hearts did everything but win the game. Apart from a strangely lethargic opening spell when the visitors capitalised by taking the lead in the 17th minute through a Grant Munro header, the maroons dominated the game but proceeded to miss chance after chance.

Shortly after Caley Thistle's opener, Hearts equalised when visiting goalkeeper Ryan Esson felled Stephen Elliott in the penalty box. Penalty said referee Brian Winter - which was about the only decision he gave the home side all afternoon - but only a yellow card for Esson. Kevin Kyle duly tucked away the penalty kick - his first league goal at Tynecastle since signing from Kilmarnock in the summer.

Thereafter Hearts dominated proceedings and there was a sublime piece of skill from gifted youngster David Templeton when he rattled the post with a 25 yard effort. I haven't been as excited about a Hearts player since the days of Neil McCann - Temps even drew plaudits from ICT boss Terry Butcher.

Templeton, Rudi Skacel, Kyle and Ryan Stevenson all had chances to win the game for Hearts - but they didn't take them. The game ended 1-1, a result that undoubtedly delighted the visitors given that was what they came to Scotland's capital city for. After winning six games in a row Hearts fans had perhaps become greedy but given neither Celtic or Rangers have managed to defeat the Highlanders at home this season, this disappointment can be overcome. Certainly Caley Thistle offered far more resistance than Aberdeen did a week earlier and Terry Butcher has done a fine job in reshaping the team.

Hearts are now two points behind Celtic - having played two games more. Perhaps talk of splitting the Old Firm was a tad premature

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Football Can Be Cruel

On Saturday Hearts thrashed Aberdeen 5-0. The Dons are going through a bad spell just now - it’s just over a month since The Dons lost 9-0 to Celtic on a dark November afternoon in the east end of Glasgow. Having lived in the Granite City many years ago I still have a few friends in the north-east and I can’t deny I sent numerous texts to some of them that Saturday evening as well as last weekend. As is the way with football fans you would be correct in surmising these texts weren’t of the supportive nature and sending the contact details of the local branch of The Samaritans didn’t go down too well in some quarters.

I actually spent the Saturday afternoon of the 9-0 debacle in the company of an Aberdeen fan - namely my dear old mum. With her health not what it once was she moved from Aberdeen to Edinburgh three and a half years ago in order that she could be closer to me but her affinity to the Dons has not diminished - if anything, it’s strengthened. We sat in her sheltered accommodation flat and watched the BBC’s football results service via the ‘red button’ on her digital television. Once Paul Hartley also pressed ‘red’ and was sent off, the floodgates inevitably opened and my mother watched news of the goals being scored at Celtic Park through fingers covering her eyes.

It was the nature of the afternoon that she was cruelly denied even a brief flicker of hope. Celtic were 4-0 ahead early in the second half when the score flashed on the screen of Celtic 4 Aberdeen 1 - scorer Macgennis. I tried to instil some hope to my mother by saying the comeback was on - after all didn’t a certain team from Edinburgh lose a 6-2 lead earlier this year? Sadly, before she had a chance to respond the screen changed again. This time the score read Celtic 6 Aberdeen 0 - it transpired that the goal Macgennis had scored wasn’t for Aberdeen - it was an own goal. Moreover, by the time the BBC had realised their mistake a now rampant Celtic had scored again. This compounded my poor mother’s misery which rapidly descended into anguish when the seventh, eighth and ninth goals went in.

This little bit of drama reminded me of a couple of occasions when I’ve been at a game where all wasn’t quite as it seemed. Curiously, both those games involved Hearts and Aberdeen. Back in the mists of time at the beginning of season 1976/77, Hearts played the first league game of the season at Pittodrie. I was fourteen at the time and, for reasons I no longer care to remember, I arrived at the ground a couple of minutes after kick-off. There was the usual large Hearts support behind the goal but as the game was just minutes old, I didn’t think to ask if there had been any scoring yet. Aberdeen scored after just five minutes and when home favourite Davie Robb added a second with just five minutes to go I thought that was it. However, Hearts Donald Park scored a couple of minutes later - small consolation I thought. When the final whistle blew, I made for the exits with a heavy heart - until I heard a fellow Jambo say that a 2-2 draw at Aberdeen wasn’t a bad start to the season. It transpired I had missed Drew Busby’s opening goal in the first minute and therefore believed Hearts had lost the game. I learnt two lessons that day - firstly make damn sure you get to the game on time and secondly, if you don’t just ask someone the score.

The other occasion was circa 1992 when Hearts entertained The Dons at Tynecastle. I sat in the company of one of the infamous Mrs Smith’s relatives in the old enclosure. He was - and still is - an Aberdeen fan. Hearts went ahead through John Robertson but the visitors thought they had equalised only for the goal to be disallowed. As the referee was considering his decision, my in-law headed for the gents - unaware the goal was about to be chalked off for offside. When he returned, I was unaware that he was unaware the goal hadn’t stood. There was no further scoring and when the final whistle blew, he put his arm around my shoulder and said ‘well, I reckon 1-1 is a fair result’. It took a considerable effort by me to persuade him that Hearts had actually won the game 1-0...

Which proves, as Aberdeen discovered a few weeks ago in the east end of Glasgow, that football can be a cruel game.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Heart of Midlothian 5 (five) Aberdeen 0

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Saturday 11 December 2010 - Tynecastle

Hearts produced arguably their best performance of the season to hammer a hapless Aberdeen side who did little to impress watching new manager Craig Brown. Two goals ahead inside eight minutes, Hearts proceeded to tear The Dons to shreds and with a bit more clinical finishing may well have matched Celtic's tally of nine goals against Aberdeen last month.

The highly talented David Templeton - who, as a schoolboy was on Aberdeen's books - showed great determination to squeeze the ball over the line for the opener in four minutes. A superb driven effort from Rudi Skacel four minutes later doubled the lead as Hearts threatened to overrun the visitors. Skacel, Templeton and Kevin Kyle went close to adding to the score in the first half. The only moment of irritation from a Hearts point of view was when referee Mike Tumilty booked Rudi Skacel for taking a free kick before he had blown his whistle. A decision which was even more ridiculous when it wasn't Skacel who took the kick - it was Ian Black who also got booked for trying to show the hapless Tumilty the error of his ways.

The second half followed the same pattern as the first. Hearts scored another two early goals through the hard working Stephen Elliott and Rudi Skacel before substitute Novikovas scored a fine individual effort with twelve minutes left. Calum Elliot and Skacel again should have scored in one of the most one-sided Hearts-Aberdeen games I can remember seeing in more than forty years.

Hearts have now won five games in a row, scored thirteen goals and have conceded none. They are the form team in the SPL - and are now just six points behind Celtic. However, Motherwell - the team Craig Brown has just left - will provide a sterner test at Fir Park on Tuesday evening. Aberdeen? I can't recall The Dons being so poor. However, I suspect Craig Brown will turn things around - given time.

In the meantime I may pay a visit to the site of fellow blogger - and Aberdeen fan - Kenfitlike..

Friday, 10 December 2010

Always in Our Hearts

Someone once said that middle age is the time when we reflect on our lives the most. We think back to what we have achieved - or not - and wonder what we still have to offer. As a Hearts supporter in his late forties, I have been reflecting recently on the passing of some of my heroes of years gone by. Heroes who I watched play for my team when I was growing up. Jim Cruickshank, whose passing we all mourned last month, was one of those heroes.

Cruickie, like Donald Ford, Alan Anderson and Drew Busby, was synonymous with Hearts in my formative years that were the 1970s. I saw my first Hearts game when I was six years old, towards the end of 1968 at Falkirk’s Brockville Park. Cruickie was playing that day as were Donald Ford and Alan Anderson and it was on that afternoon that I was bitten by the Jambo bug. All things maroon influenced my childhood, my teenage years and even as a young man. I agree with Jim Jefferies when he said people referred to Jim Cruickshank simply as ‘The Goalie’. Years later this would be the moniker given to Andy Goram but to me and thousands of my generation there was only one ‘goalie’ - the man who was number one at Tynecastle in more ways than one.

Cruickie was Hearts through and through. Sure, he fell out with the club on more than one occasion but he was a man who stood up for what he believed in. Kenny Garland challenged him for the number one spot at Tynecastle for many years but, with the greatest respect, Cruickie was the fans favourite.

2010 has been a year when we also lost Bobby Kirk, Malcolm Robertson and former manager John Hagart. Kirk was a mainstay of the glorious Hearts team that swept all before them in the 1950s. His final game for Hearts came just three months after I was born but I know some older Hearts fans who still remember Kirk with a lot of affection. He was part of Hearts greatest ever team.

Malky Robertson came to Hearts at the time when the club were struggling both on and off the field. The man from Ayr United would delight us with his runs down the wing and his tormenting of defences. Sadly, Malcolm Robertson’s time in Gorgie coincided with Hearts fall from grace in Scottish football and a yo-yo period between the Premier and First Divisions. However, I remember his displays with affection and news of his death a few months ago at just 59 made me ask why some people have to be taken away from us so early.

Robertson was signed by John Hagart early in 1977. John passed away in June this year and there was no one more passionate about Hearts than he. He was the manager when Hearts finally succumbed to the pressures of the new ten team Premier Division and were relegated for the first time in their history in 1977. Those of us who frequented Tynecastle at that time were devastated by this turn of events but no one felt the anguish more than Hagart. He resigned in the immediacy of Hearts demotion. The story goes that Hearts wanted him to carry on as his experience and infectious enthusiasm for the game would be just what Hearts required for immediate promotion. Nevertheless, John Hagart was a man of integrity and he left Tynecastle.

Hearts as a club is very much a family affair. The passing of men who have served the club with distinction is keenly felt by those who support the club. We mourned the tragically early deaths of Eddie Thomson, Bobby Robinson and going back a few years Brian Whittaker, Arthur Mann, Roald Jensen and Willie Bauld among others. This is the time of the year when we tend to look back on the twelve months that have gone by. 2010 will be remembered as a year when Hearts were resurgent under the superb leadership of Jim Jefferies and Billy Brown. Sadly, 2010 will also be remembered as the year when a Hearts legend of the 1950s, Bobby Kirk and three Hearts icons of the 1970s - John Hagart, Malcolm Robertson and now Jim Cruickshank - passed away. Those of us who grew up with them will not forget their contribution to a footballing institution.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Colin Cameron

A mainstay of perhaps the best Hearts side of the past forty years was Kirkcaldy born Colin Cameron. ‘Mickey’ as he was affectionately known to Hearts fans began his career with his home town team Raith Rovers as a sixteen year old in 1988. An attacking midfield player, Cameron was instrumental in the Fife club’s famous League Cup final triumph over Celtic in 1994 that led Rovers to a memorable UEFA Cup tie with Bayern Munich the following season.

Jim Jefferies brought Cameron to Tynecastle in March 1996 in a £400,000 deal that saw John Millar head to Starks Park. Cameron was a huge success and quickly became a favourite with the Gorgie faithful after making his maroon debut in a 2-0 win over Rangers in April 1996. However, it was the following season ‘Mickey’ really established himself. His skill in linking midfield to attack was a joy to behold and this was a feature of Hearts memorable 1997/98 season when they lifted the Scottish Cup and ran the Old Firm close in the league. Cameron scored Hearts opening goal from the penalty spot in the Scottish Cup Final of 1998 when the maroons lifted the famous old trophy to bring silverware to Gorgie for the first time in thirty-six years.

Cameron’s form for Hearts was recognised by his country and he won the first of his twenty-eight caps for Scotland in Germany in April 1999 when the Scots recorded a rare but memorable win over the Germans.

Hearts struggled somewhat in the season that followed the cup triumph. The fact Cameron missed a fair chunk of the season through injury was a major factor especially when you consider that when he returned to the team in the spring Hearts rediscovered their form and rose up the table once more. Cameron continued to bang in the goals and he scored sixteen in season 2000/01. Inevitably, other clubs noticed such form and in August 2001, Cameron joined Wolverhampton Wanderers for a fee of £1.75m.

Cameron displayed the same tenacity and will to win at Molineux as he had at Hearts and Raith Rovers. Indeed, Wolves never lost a match in which he scored. He was part of the Wolves team that secured promotion to the FA Premiership in 2003. When Glen Hoddle took over as Wolves manager after their demotion the following season it was the beginning of the end for Mickey’s time in the Black Country and he moved to Coventry City on a free transfer in 2006. His spell at City wasn’t a great success and after a spell at MK Dons, Cameron returned to Scotland and signed for Dundee in July 2008. However, he was troubled by a knee injury and when Jocky Scott took over at Dens Park the aim was to try to get Mickey back to full fitness. After a loan spell at Arbroath, Cameron returned to Dundee but injuries continued to take their toll and he was released at the end of season 2009/10.

Today, at the age of 38, Colin Cameron is a UEFA qualified coach and combines his playing with his role as assistant manager to Jimmy Nicholl at First Division Cowdenbeath.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Moonlighting McGhee?



Perhaps the real reason Mark McGhee was sacked as Aberdeen manager is that he's been moonlighting in Coronation Street as Ken Barlow's son...

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Andy Watson

Season 1983/84 was a successful one for Hearts. They had completed their first season back in the Premier Division and had not only avoided relegation thereby ending the yo-yo syndrome they had become synonymous with, they qualified for the UEFA Cup the following season. When one of the mainstays of that side, Davie Bowman, was sold to Coventry City in 1984, there was disappointment among some Hearts fans. However, manager Alex MacDonald paid £70,000 of Bowman’s transfer fee to Leeds United to secure former Aberdeen midfielder Andy Watson.

The Aberdonian made his Hearts debut in a 1-0 win over Greenock Morton just after Christmas 1984. He was a regular in the Hearts midfield in the mid 1980s alongside Kenny Black and Gary Mackay. His first goal for Hearts came, ironically, at the ground he had spent his formative years - Pittodrie - as Hearts came from 2-0 down to grab a 2-2 draw against the Dons in February 1985.

Season 1985/86 was a momentous one for Hearts who embarked on a long unbeaten run in the league and manager MacDonald was loathe to change a winning team. Watson was very much a peripheral player that season and while he made more first team appearances, the following season it became evident Watson would be behind players such as Mackay, Black and Iain Jardine when it came to patrolling Hearts midfield.

Watson became one of the few players to move across Edinburgh when he joined Hibernian for £30,000 in 1987. However, his career at Easter Road was similar to his one at Tynecastle. He began coaching the Hibs youngsters before joining his old Aberdeen team mate Alex McLeish at Motherwell in 1994 where he was appointed Big Eck’s assistant manager. It was a partnership that was to prove successful and he returned to Easter Road when McLeish was appointed Hibs manager four years later. The pair transformed Hibs from a First Division side to SPL challengers and their achievement was recognised by Rangers where Watson joined McLeish in 2001.

The duo spent five successful years at Ibrox before answering the call of the nation, Watson assisting McLeish as Scotland manager at the beginning of 2007. After ten months, McLeish left the Scotland job to take charge of FA Premiership side Birmingham City - and inevitably took Watson with him.

Today, Andy Watson is still assisting Alex McLeish at St. Andrews as they strive to make Birmingham City an established FA Premiership side.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Brockville Four Decades Ago

10,000 to see Falkirk play Cowdenbeath more than forty years ago. The Falkirk Historian will know for sure but I think this was a second division game too.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Book Review - Scotland On This Day

If, like me, you love history and football and enjoy recalling events of yesteryear, you will love this new book from Derek Wilson. Derek is a Motherwell fan - we all have our cross to bear - and has already published two other books Motherwell On This Day and Motherwell Miscellany (Pitch Publishing)

Scotland On This Day is  a wonderful collection of history, facts and figures from every day of the year. It is one of those books that you can read while having a quick coffee or while the missus is having her usual rant about when you're going to redecorate the bedroom. However, I found that once I picked it up I found it difficult to put down again!

Did you know that on 13 February 1961 Scotland's Under 23 team, containing Denis Law and Ian St. John defeated the British Army 3-2 at Fir Park? You might think it should have been a better score against  a team of soldiers - until you read that a young Jim Baxter was in the Army team at the time!

Fascinating snippets like these are contained throughout the book. I highly recommend it - it would make the ideal Christmas gift!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Jim Weir

In 1993 Hearts weren’t short of top class quality defenders with Craig Levein, Alan McLaren and Graeme Hogg all vying for places in the first team. It was something of a surprise, therefore, when manager Sandy Clark paid £300,000 to Hamilton Academical for centre half Jim Weir.

Motherwell born Weir began his professional career at Douglas Park in 1987 and his fine form attracted some of the country’s leading clubs. He made nearly 200 appearances for Accies and much was expected of him when he moved to Tynecastle. He made his debut in a 1-0 win over Hibernian at Tynecastle in August 1993 and he was a regular first team member throughout season 1993/94 although with Levein and McLaren the established central defensive partnership, Weir was often played in midfield where, perhaps, he was less effective.

When Tommy McLean took over as Hearts manager for season 1994/95, he accepted an offer from St. Johnstone for Weir who moved to Perth in exchange for Colin Miller. Weir was a big success at McDiarmid Park despite incurring a serious injury that caused him to miss much of season 1998/99. His return from this injury was triumphant as he scored a rare goal in a 3-1 win over Rangers in April 1999.

Weir continued to be blighted by injuries and a serious knee injury all but put paid to his playing career in 2004. He turned to coaching and assisted John Connolly and then Owen Coyle who managed the Perth Saints. In 2007, Weir was appointed manager of Third Division Montrose but with the Angus club third in the league, Weir was sacked after a disagreement with those in charge of the club. In November 2009, Weir took over at Arbroath but he angered the Red Lichties officials and fans when he left at the end of last season when the Gayfield Park team were relegated to the basement league. Within days, Weir was appointed manager of Brechin City.

City, with former Jambos Neil Janczyk and Craig Nelson, have high hopes of securing promotion.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Spartans 1 East Stirlingshire 2

Scottish Cup Third Round, Saturday 20 November 2010 - Ainslie Park, Edinburgh

Tempted though I was to head to Tynecastle today and join in the tributes to Jim Cruickshank, I chose to stick with my original plan and watch East Stirlingshire for the first time this season. The Shire were in the capital city on Scottish Cup business against non-league Spartans. Despite the incessant rain I'm glad I went as it was a fine game and a tribute to both teams that they served up a typical cup tie.

After last season's fine season which saw them reach the promotion play-offs, Shire have struggled this term, due to the number of players who upped sticks during the summer. Jim McInally's team have struggled to score goals  - indeed they recently ended a run of eight games without a goal. Around this time last year, Shire were sitting top of the Third Division. Now, with a much changed team they are sitting third from bottom. With this in mind it was no surprise that many people made Spartans favourites, particularly as they had home advantage.

This was my first visit to Ainslie Park and I was mightily impressed with Spartans as a club. More than 600 fans turned up, most of whom were in the small but impressive grandstand. A few Shire diehards opted to stand in the open and throw themselves, bare-chested, to the elements. But that's the Shire fans for you - small in number but there are no more passionate fans in the land.

The game itself was a real end-to-end affair. Spartans dominated the early stages with some neat passing play but gradually the visitors came more into the game. Just when it looked like we would have a goalless first half, Shire's Paul Weaver placed  a fine effort beyond the home keeper from twenty yards to open the scoring three minutes from the break.

As you would expect Spartans came out with all guns blazing in the second half and were rewarded when McLeod equalised on 54 minutes. It seemed like Shire would be hanging on for a replay but fifteen minutes later, David Dunn rifled home a superb free-kick to put the visitors back in front. Despite sustained pressure from the home team, the Shirey Pirey hung on for a fine win.

It was a hugely enjoyable afternoon, despite the rain. Spartans are an ambitious club and good luck to them for the future. For East Stirlingshire, they'll be keeping their fingers crossed for a big club when the draw for round four takes place.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Cruickshank is the Goalie

Sad news today of the passing of one of the true legends of Heart of Midlothian FC – goalkeeper Jim Cruickshank.

Cruickie joined Hearts from Queens Park where he played as an amateur in 1960. Queens, themselves, had a tradition of producing great goalkeeping talent such as Jack Harkness – who also went on to play for Hearts - Bobby Clark and European Cup winner Ronnie Simpson. Cruickshank followed in the footsteps of Wembley Wizard Jack Harkness. Cruickie’s first big break came in astonishing circumstances – in the 1961 League Cup Final replay against Rangers at Hampden. Marshall had played in the first game – a 1-1 draw – and it was expected that Hearts would field the same eleven who came so close to lifting the trophy first time around. But Marshall sustained a late injury and 19 year old Cruickshank was drafted in for a cup final appearance. He couldn’t be blamed for any of the Rangers goals as Hearts lost 3-1 but a cup final appearance was to prove, sadly, an all too rare experience for the Glasgow keeper.

Cruickshank had the mentality of not being happy at being second best and while he knew Gordon Marshall would be back in the first team when fit it was not a state of affairs the young Cruickie was prepared to settle for. Hearts did win the League Cup in the following season with Marshall in goal but late that season came the first of many battles Jim Cruickshank was to have with the Hearts management. Marshall was injured again with Cruickie drafted in once more but with a Scottish Cup tie against Celtic coming up, manager Tommy Walker elected to reinstate Marshall in the team – much to Cruickie’s annoyance! He walked out of Tynecastle, threatening never to go back until assistant manager Johnny Harvey persuaded him otherwise. As it turned out, Marshall moved to Newcastle United at the season’s end and Jim Cruickshank was now the established number one at Tynecastle.

Cruickie went from strength to strength with Hearts and he won his first cap for Scotland in 1964 against West Germany. Inexplicably, given the great man’s talent, Cruickshank would be capped only five more times for Scotland. Inexplicably? Well, there’s no doubt in this writer’s mind that if Cruickie had played for either of the Old Firm he’d have had at least fifty caps. And he almost did – soon after Hearts had sold star striker Willie Wallace to Celtic, Jock Stein had his eye on Cruickshank as a replacement for the ageing Ronnie Simpson. When, after another row with the Hearts manager – Johnny Harvey had by now taken over from Tommy Walker – Cruickshank was dropped to the reserves to make way for Kenny Garland, it seemed the goalie was Parkhead bound. But, thankfully, Jock Stein didn’t pursue his interest and Cruickie remained at Tynecastle until the end of his career, although his petulant nature meant he wasn’t always first choice!

With Cruickshank in the team, Hearts lost the league championship in agonising fashion to Kilmarmock on the last day of the 1964/65 season. Killie had to win the last game – against Hearts at Tynecastle - by two clear goals to snatch the title from their rivals. A numbed Hearts support watched in disbelief as Killie duly won 2-0, amid stories that the Hearts players weren’t at all happy about their win bonuses. More disappointment followed for Cruickshank and Hearts when they lost the 1968 Scottish Cup final 3-1 to Dunfermline Athletic although this came the year after Cruickie’s heroics against Hibs at Tynecastle when he made an astonishing triple save from a penalty taken by Hibs Joe Davis. Those who witnessed that exceptional piece of goalkeeping still talk about it to this day.

As the 1970s beckoned, Hearts were on a downward spiral but Jim Cruickshank continued to excel in goal. Indeed, it’s fair to say that had it not been for the likes of Cruickie, Eddie Thomson, Alan Anderson and Donald Ford, Hearts may well have fallen from the top flight of Scottish football sooner than they did. 1976 was to prove a landmark year for the Hearts goalie. He made another Scottish Cup final appearance but Hearts were woefully outclassed by a treble chasing Rangers side and lost 3-1. The last of Cruickshank’s six Scotland caps also came that year when he faced Roumania and by now Jim’s place in the Hearts team was under threat from a young keeper called Brian Wilson. Cruickie did play in the European Cup Winners Cup tie in Leipzig which Hearts lost 2-0 and kept his place in the side for the return leg, which ended in a remarkable 5-1, win for the JTs. It’s unclear if Cruickie had had another of his ‘fall-outs’ with manager John Hagart but Brian Wilson was back in goal for the second round tie with SV Hamburg – which Hearts lost on an 8-3 aggregate. It was the writing on the wall for Cruickie’s Hearts career. John Hagart promised him a testimonial at the end of the season as a ‘thank you’ for seventeen years service to the club. Unfortunately, Hearts were relegated for the first time ever; Hagart was sacked and with the manager went Cruickie’s chance of the testimonial he so richly deserved.

No longer wanted at Tynecastle, Cruickshank moved to Dumbarton in 1977 but, to all intents and purposes, his career had ended.

No matter what those who ran Hearts thought at the time, Jim Cruickshank will always be remembered by those who matter most – the supporters – as a Tynecastle legend. Scarcely will such a gifted player be so ill rewarded for a lifetime with one club. But for those of us who had the privilege of seeing him play, Jim Cruickshank will always be a winner.

The world is a poorer place for the passing of Jim Cruickshank.

Derek Adams

New Hibernian assistant Derek Adams says he turned down the chance to manage Scottish Premier League clubs because they lacked ambition and funds. Adams refused to name any club, but Kilmarnock and St Mirren were both looking for a new boss in the summer.

"I had the chance to go, but the clubs I had the opportunity to go to were not the right clubs," he told BBC Scotland. "They didn't have the finance to go forward and they didn't want to be played the way I wanted to go forward."

From the BBC Sport Website

I suspect I'm not the only person who was surprised Adams joined Hibernian as assistant to Colin Calderwood. There's an irony in him claiming those clubs who approached him to be their manager 'lacked ambition'.

However, this story does add weight to the theory that Aberdeen didn't sack Mark McGhee because Adams turned them down...

Monday, 15 November 2010

Airdrie United Will Not be Allowed to Forget

This is the Airdrie United programme from last Saturday's Second Division game versus Livingston. The game was played the day before Remembrance Sunday and club officials used the above image from the Second World War with the words 'Lest We Forget.'

Admirable sentiments - although no one at New Broomfield seemed to realise the photograph is of German soldiers. A club official said 'We thought they were Austrians'.

Wasn't Adolf Hitler born in Austria? Lest we forget indeed...

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Kevin Kyle Update

'Hello? Mrs Kyle? Aye, it's Jim Jefferies here. Listen, I thought I would let you know that Kevin's away for a couple of pints again. I know he did the same last week after the Hibs game and he did it last month in Aberdeen so I thought you ought to know he's away again tonight.

What's that? The pub? No, no, Mrs K - you don't understand. Big Kev's away to the blood donor unit for a top-up...'

Blowing the Whistle

To say being a referee has never been an easy profession would qualify that assertion as a leading contender for understatement of the year. These last few weeks have been a wretched period for the men in black with yellow facings. The Dougie McDonald incident has turned into a saga with errors being compounded by admitted untruths and the integrity of the game - something football’s ruling bodies believe is sacrosanct - being tarnished some might say forever. However, it doesn’t help when some players add fuel to an already raging fire with comments that are, at best inadvisable.

I suspect I wasn’t the only one who read the comments made by Celtic’s Gary Hooper with a degree of incredulity the other week. The striker said at a press conference that he thinks referees "want" to give decisions against Celtic because they are 'one of the world's big clubs'.

"The referee wants to give a decision against us so he can say something after the game. I think all the big teams get it. Maybe because referees want to give decisions against Celtic, I don't know," he said.

Over the years football fans of clubs outside the Old Firm could write about so many decisions that have gone against their team it would destroy a a fair percentage of a Brazilian rain forest. Moreover, many of these decisions have been when their team has been playing Celtic or Rangers.

Now, with the greatest respect, I would venture the opinion that the standards of refereeing in Scotland may not be at its highest right now. In years gone by, I hurled verbal abuse towards the likes of Hugh Dallas, Willie Young and Brian McGinlay. It's only now that - and I never thought I would say this - I appreciate Dallas and co. for the qualities they had.

We all like to have a go at referees but no one can seriously believe they're biased towards the Old Firm. Gary Hooper might want to revisit his remarks when he stumbles in the penalty box, sixty thousand Celtic fans roar for a penalty kick and the referee duly obliges (as an example take Celtic’s recent 9-0 demolition of Aberdeen at Parkhead - three of the goals were penalties…)

It’s a terrible indictment on Scots society when a referee gets abusive telephone calls and an assistant referee sees his family targeted for verbal abuse just because they give decisions some fans don’t like. At the risk of sounding like an old-timer from days gone by, there seems to be a lack of respect throughout society these days. Officialdom seems to be a prime target. We hear more and more stories of fire fighters being attacked on their way to incidents, of nurses being attacked at hospitals and police also coming under attack. It is said football is a reflection of society. We may be dismayed by the lack of respect by some footballers to referees and their assistants, the haranguing of the men in the middle and the verbal attacks after the game, particularly through the media but should we really be surprised?

As in any other profession, referees can make mistakes. With the huge sums of money in the game, one can argue that such mistakes can prove costly, the difference between winning and losing, of winning trophies and not winning trophies. However, decision-making is what makes football the game it is. So a referee makes an error. Does it really need to be replayed again and again, analysed by pundits who have never refereed a game in their life, and dissected by feverish tabloid newspapers eager to sell copy? If so, what about the player who misses an open goal, misses a crucial penalty or the manager who selects the wrong team? This happens every week and is mentioned in dispatches but is generally considered part of the win as a team, lose as a team philosophy.

The authority of the referee has never been questioned as much as it is at present. Perhaps players, managers and fans should think back to the days of Tom ‘Tiny’ Wharton, a larger than life referee who stood no nonsense from the footballers of the 1960s and early 1970s. Celtic’s Bobby Lennox once chased after Tiny during an Old Firm game insisting he had been fouled and that he should be given a penalty kick. Wharton refused but Lennox continued his argument insisting it was a penalty.

‘I think you’ll find, Mr Lennox’ Tiny Wharton said firmly’ ‘if you check the newspapers tomorrow that it wasn’t…’

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Heart of Midlothian 2 Celtic 0

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Wednesday 10 November 2010 - Tynecastle

Hearts recorded only their second SPL win of the season at Tynecastle - and in doing so inflicted Celtic's second defeat in the SPL of the campaign. After The Hoops put nine goals past Aberdeen last weekend it's fair to say there was a bit of apprehension among some of the home support but in the end Hearts thoroughly deserved their victory.

After an initial flurry from the visitors, Hearts began to take control of the first half. After the tireless Stephen Elliott saw a header come back off the crossbar, Hearts were finally rewarded after half an hour when Ian Black's effort on goal from twenty yards out took a deflection off Majstorovic and spun over keeper Forster for the opening goal.

Some of the Celtic challenges were tousy to say the least and one such 'tackle' early in the second half earned Ledley a straight red card for a horrendous challenge on Ian Black. Seconds after, Rudi Skacel found David Templeton with a superb cross and the youngster, as he he did against Hibs at the weekend, finished superbly to put Hearts two goals ahead. When Hearts substitute Ryan Stevenson appeared to handle the ball in his own penalty box shortly afterwards we all expected a penalty kick to be awarded to Celtic. But referee Craig Thomson didn't blow his whistle and this was all too much for Celtic manager, the ever popular Neil Lennon, who was sent packing to the stand for his assertion that he didn't quite agree with that decision.

Hearts saw out the game safely enough for a valuable three points. However, the behaviour of some Celtic fans was quite simply a disgrace. Pro IRA songs and sectarian bile emanated from the Roseburn Stand all evening. Will this be included in referee Thomson's report? Don't hold your breath. Will Hearts make a stand against this outrageous and unacceptable behaviour and ban Celtic fans from their team's next visit to Tynecastle? Again, don't inhale.

For Hearts it was a fine performance and an excellent result, coming hard on the heels of last Sunday's victory at Easter Road. Man of the match for me was the excellent David Templeton. What a season this young lad is having.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Hibernian 0 Heart of Midlothian 2

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Sunday 7 November 2010 - The Two Stands Too Many Stadium

Hearts seem to be choosing alternate weeks to produce positive results. Their third Edinburgh derby win in succession was achieved this afternoon rather more easily than the 2-0 scoreline suggests.

It was Hibernian manager Colin Calderwood's first home game in charge of his new team but the home support didn't seem particularly impressed given the large numbers of empty seats in the home end of the new look Easter Road Stadium. 

Hearts have played better and lost games but they did enough to canter to victory. David Templeton produced a quite brilliant goal after nineteen minutes. The 21-year-old winger set off on a mazy run, shrugging off the challenges of Galbraith, Hart, Bamba and Liam Miller before tucking a cool right-foot finish low past Brown from just inside the penalty box.  It was a stunning goal and if it doesn't get goal of the season then something is far wrong.

Hearts dominated the game from there on in. With twenty three minutes left Stephen Elliott scored his first goal in a maroon jersey. Kevin Kyle headed the ball into the box following a free-kick, Templeton got in front of his markers to stab the ball on and Elliot swept the ball home from ten yards.

Hibernian's day of misery was complete when captain Derek Riordan was shown a straight red card with three minutes to go for a quite atrocious lunge on Rudi Skacel. There is a bit of 'history' between the two players but Riordan could have caused the Czech star serious injury.

So, Hearts record their fourth away victory of the season. Celtic are next up - the problem is the game is at Tynecastle on Wednesday night. And they scored nine against hapless Aberdeen on Saturday. Ho hum...

Lest We Forget?

Remembering those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country apparently cuts no ice with some Celtic supporters. And perhaps someone should get a spellchecker before their next 'protest'...

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Infamy, Infamy...

I suspect I'm not the only person who read Celtic striker Gary Hooper's comments about referees today with a fair degree of incredulity. Hooper said he thinks referees "want" to give decisions against Celtic because they are 'one of the world's big clubs'.

"The referee wants to give a decision against us so he can say something after the game. I think all the big teams get it. Maybe because referees want to give decisions against Celtic, I don't know," he said.

Over the years football fans of clubs outside the Old Firm could write about so many decisions that have gone against their team it would destroy a a fair percentage of a Brazilian rain forest. And many of these decisions have been when their team has been playing Celtic or Rangers. Now, with the greatest respect, I would venture the opinion that the standards of refereeing in Scotland may be at its poorest right now. In years gone by I hurled verbal abuse towards the likes of Hugh Dallas, Willie Young and Brian McGinlay. It's only now, given the standard of present day referees in Scotland, that - and I never thought I would say this - I appreciate Dallas and co. for the qualities they had.

Nevertheless, poor as the current men in black with yellow facings are, I have never felt the need to question their integrity. Okay, I did back in 2003 when Dougie McDonald sent off two Hearts players at Rugby Park. Then Hearts manager Craig Levein said he lost count of the number of mistakes McDonald made at 97; having been present at the game that afternoon I harboured suspicions there were more sinister goings on particularly when a rumour went round that Edinburgh based McDonald had leanings towards Hibernian. Levein was fined for his post match comments but famously took on the SFA and won.

In general Scots referees may be lacking in pace, common sense and tact. However, no one can seriously believe they're biased against the Old Firm. When Celtic signed Gary Hooper they clearly believed his paranoid frame of mind would fit in perfectly at Parkhead.

Celtic play Aberdeen in Glasgow this weekend. Hooper should perhaps try out his theory by ambling into the Aberdeen penalty box and falling over when a visiting defender looks at him the wrong way. When 60,000 Celtic fans then bawl 'penalty, referee!' there's a more than reasonable chance the official will point to the penalty spot.

And make Gary Hooper look even more foolish than he does now.

David Hagen

In the mid early to mid 1990s Hearts revitalised youth policy was beginning to reap a rich harvest. However, while youngsters such as Allan Johnston, Kevin Thomas and Gary Locke were given their chance, Hearts also spent some money in the transfer market for young talent. In December 1994, manager Tommy McLean paid Rangers £150,000 for centre forward David Hagen.

Hagen was seen as a promising youngster at Ibrox but with the Glasgow giants continuing to wield the chequebook for big money signings, his chances of becoming a regular were somewhat restricted. He readily accepted the move to Tynecastle and the opportunity for regular first team football. He made his debut in December 1994 as a substitute in a 1-1 draw against a Falkirk side containing Davie Weir and Stevie Fulton.

Hagen became a regular first team player at Tynecastle but it’s fair to say he struggled to make an impact as a striker. He opened his Hearts account against Partick Thistle on Boxing Day 1994 but then scored just twice more that season, albeit one of those was the winner against Celtic in Glasgow towards the end of the season. Although a willing worker, Hagen’s lack of prowess as a goalscorer meant he was not going to be part of new Hearts manager Jim Jefferies long-term plans in the summer of 1995 and Hagen joined Falkirk in October of that year. He was more successful at Brockville and went on to make over a hundred appearances for The Bairns. In 2000, he joined a resurgent Livingston before enjoying spells at Clyde and Peterhead. In 2006, the striker joined leading junior side Bo’ness United.

Today, the 37 year old has retired from playing but is now youth coach at Third Division club East Stirlingshire.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Heart of Midlothian 0 Kilmarnock 3

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Sunday 31 October 2010 - Tynecastle

Hearts chose Halloween to produce a horror show in front of their own supporters this afternoon. They looked out of sorts right from kick-off and the good form they produced eight days ago against St. Mirren was left behind in the dressing room as they fell to another defeat at Tynecastle which is fast becoming a free-for-all rather than a fortress.

The first half was fairly even without either goalkeeper being overly troubled. However, the visitors went ahead on the stroke of half-time when Fraser Wright outjumped Zaliukas to head Hamill's free-kick past Kello. Killie, with the impressive Taouil dictating midfield, just about deserved their half-time lead.

Hearts threw on Templeton and Stephen Elliott for Barr and Calum Elliot at the start of the second half and were dominant for a ten minute period without looking like scoring. Killie weathered the storm and found it easier to pass the ball than the home team who, not for the first time, resorted to lumping the ball towards the ineffective Kevin Kyle when things went against them. Killie underlined their superiority with two late goals from Sammon and Eremenko and the home team trooped off the park to a cacophony of boos - from those Hearts fans who hadn't departed when the third goal went in with eight minutes to go.

Take nothing away from Kilmarnock. They played well and thoroughly deserved their victory. They passed the ball better and threatened to score more than the three goals they got. For Hearts, Stephen Elliott, Marius Zaliukas and David Templeton at least had attempts on goal - but to no avail.

Thus, Hearts passed on the opportunity to move into third place in the SPL. Which was just about the only thing they passed all day. There is perhaps one silver lining. I was feeling quite confident about Hearts chances in the Edinburgh derby next Sunday. Now, I'm anything but...

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Killie Me Softly

The managing director at my place of work is a Kilmarnock fan. I’m tempted to say the Kilmarnock fan but I don’t quite fancy the prospect of seeing my P45 sitting on my desk on Monday morning. Therefore, I won’t. In any case, Killie usually take a sizeable support through to Tynecastle so intimating the boss might be sitting on his ownsome in the Roseburn Stand on Sunday would be a tad harsh. One might also have a case for saying supporters of a certain vintage of both clubs can relate to certain similarities in Ayrshire and the west end of Edinburgh in recent years.

Since the days my MD and I began following our respective teams there have been many highs and lows. More lows, admittedly, particularly if you’re an aficionado of the Killie Boys (sorry, boss)

Both teams have endured relegation and gone through the relief of promotion. I could point out that Killie fell as low as the Third Division at one point but I suspect a retort from those in blue and white would be that their team denied Hearts promotion on the last day of season 1981/82 by thrashing Queen of the South 6-0 while Hearts were losing at home to Motherwell. And while I’m on the subject of last day scenarios, I should say I’m thankful I was wasn’t at Tynecastle on the final day of season 1964/65 when Hearts and Killie met for the league title decider. Hearts would have been champions as long as they didn’t lose by two goals or more. Inevitably, given Hearts penchant for snatching despair from the jaws of triumph, the maroons proceeded to lose 2-0 and thereby handed the league championship to Kilmarnock. I was only three years old at the time so I recall nothing of the events of that day but the Tynecastle history books say it did happen and the devastation Hearts fans felt that day would be re-enacted at Dens Park twenty one years later…

Tommy McLean, a winger of some note in the 1960s and 70s began his career at Kilmarnock before moving to Rangers and then beginning a successful managerial career - although his year in charge of Hearts in 1994/95 was somewhat less than glorious. Both Kilmarnock and Hearts are among the handful of clubs outwith the Old Firm to have lifted the Scottish Cup in last twenty years - and they did it in successive years, Killie in 1997 and Hearts a year later. Allan Johnston, Gary Locke, Grant Murray, Gary McSwegan and now Kevin Kyle are among the players who have pulled on both the blue and white and the maroon and white. And, of course, there are Jim Jefferies and Billy Brown who were at Hearts, left for Bradford and returned to Scotland with Kilmarnock - before coming home to Hearts again earlier this year.

The reason I admit to having a wee soft spot for Kilmarnock is that I recall some ding-dong affairs between Hearts and Killie over the years. I have to confess to not having visited Rugby Park on too many occasions. My first trip was to see Hearts secure a 2-1 Scottish Cup win in 1996 when Neil Berry, of all people, scored the winner - I still recall the bemused look on his face when he poked home the winner. He could scarcely be called a prolific scorer but ‘Chuck’s job was to prevent goals, not score them. Another occasion was towards the end of season 2002/03 when Craig Levein was Hearts manager and the maroons had Austin McCann and Andy Webster sent off during a defeat at Rugby Park. Levein’s comments that he lost count of the number of mistakes referee Dougie Mcdonald made after ninety seven incurred the wrath of the SFA and the big Fifer was fined, a penalty that became more severe the number of times he refused to pay it.

Tynecastle has not been without its Hearts-Killie thrillers either. During Jim Jefferies first spell in charge of Hearts, the maroons were flying high in season 1997/98. When Kilmarnock came to Gorgie in November 1997 there ensued one of the best games I’ve seen in more than four decades as a Jambo when a Stephane Adam hat trick inspired Hearts to a thrilling 5-3 win. It was a breathtaking game and Killie, inspired by the veteran Pat Nevin, contributed to a magnificent spectacle.

So, can we expect something similar tomorrow? Well, I suspect we won’t get another 5-3 thriller. However, we will get two teams keen to play a passing game and with the travelling support no doubt eager to show their appreciation to Messrs Jefferies, Brown, Locke and Kyle (okay, sarcasm is the lowest form of wit) the atmosphere should be highly charged.

As it usually is for Hearts-Kilmarnock games. Now, if my boss is reading this, about that pay rise…

Monday, 25 October 2010

Glyn Snodin

Two decades ago when Joe Jordan was Hearts manager, the former Manchester United and Scotland striker used his numerous contacts in England to try and improve the Hearts squad at the time. One of his signings was full back Glyn Snodin.

Snodin at Hearts 1992

Snodin began his career at Doncaster Rovers along with his brother Ian. After eight years in the lower leagues, he moved to Sheffield Wednesday in 1985 for a fee of £135,000. He was a regular of a decent Wednesday side at that time and played in the FA Cup semi-final in 1986. A year later, he rejoined his brother, now at Leeds United but the older Snodin found life difficult at Elland Road. In March 1992, Jordan brought Snodin to Tynecastle on a free transfer and the Yorkshireman made his debut as a substitute in a 2-0 over St. Johnstone.

Snodin initially found it difficult to establish himself in the Hearts first team with defenders of the quality of Alan McLaren, Tosh McKinlay and Craig Levein and it wasn’t until the following season, 1992/93 that Snodin became a regular. He may have had a brief career at Tynecastle, scoring only twice but one of those goals entered Tynecastle folklore. Hearts played the second leg of their UEFA Cup First Round tie against Slavia Prague at Tynecastle in September 1992. Joe Jordan’s men were 1-0 down from the first leg but by half time were 3-1 ahead on the night and ahead by a goal on aggregate. However, the Czech side scored again with twenty-five minutes left and were set to go through on the away goals rule. With ten minutes left, Hearts were awarded a free kick some thirty-five yards from goal. Snodin stepped forward with everyone expecting a cross deep into the Slavia penalty box. However, the full back unleashed a ferocious effort that flew past the stunned Slavia defenders and high into the net to give Hearts a famous 4-2 victory, meaning the maroons went through 4-3 on aggregate. Tynecastle erupted to acclaim one of the finest goals ever seen at the old ground - and from a most unlikely source!

Season 1992/93 had promised much for Hearts but ended in abysmal fashion when the side were hammered 6-0 by Jim Jefferies’ Falkirk in April. Two days later, Joe Jordan was on his way and with him went some of the players be brought to Gorgie. Snodin was one of those players and he returned to his native Yorkshire in July 1993 where he spent two years at Barnsley. At the age of 37, he ended his playing career at non-league Gainsborough Trinity.

Snodin at Leeds United 2010

After scouting for Carlisle United, Snodin became youth team coach at Scarborough before returning to Doncaster Rovers as assistant manager - to his brother Ian! Snodin’s ability as a coach did not go unrecognised and after a spell at Charlton Athletic, he joined another former Hearts manager, George Burley, at Southampton. In 2007, he was also appointed assistant manager for Northern Ireland. After a spell at West Ham, Snodin was back in Yorkshire and today is first team coach at Leeds United where he hopes to assist manager Simon Grayson return the Elland Road club to the FA Premiership.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Heart of Midlothian 3 St. Mirren 0

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Saturday 23 October 2010 - Tynecastle

At last! Hearts recorded their first win of the season at Tynecastle in the SPL and like last week's victory in Aberdeen it was thoroughly deserved. The return of Rudi Skacel was questioned by many but today the Czech star showed what he is made of with a fine hat-trick to destroy the Paisley Saints who sit bottom of the SPL.

Skacel opened the scoring after just 75 seconds. Fine linking play from Suso and Kyle saw Special K lay the ball into the path of Skacel and Rudi blasted home a fine shot from around twenty yards to put Hearts ahead. The home team looked good in the first half with Suso continuing his fine form of late and Skacel dictating midfield. The return of Zaliukas has made a huge difference to the Hearts defence and there was a confidence about the team that was pleasing on the eye.

Hearts doubled their lead on 24 minutes when Skacel curled home a magnificent free-kick from the edge of the penalty box. Hearts were on fire at this point and Skacel really should have completed his hat-trick just before half-time after a pulsating run by Zaliukas but the midfield man's effort was too deliberate and his shot was deflected by a Saints defender on to the crossbar.

Saints started the second half determined to get back into the game and for a little while Hearts were on the back foot. However, Calum Elliot should have scored early in the second period and it seemed like it was just one of those days for him and striker partner Kevin Kyle. It was left to Rudi Skacel to end the scoring in some style in injury time when he danced into the St. Mirren penalty box to slot the ball past keeper Samson for a memorable hat-trick.

A good day at the office for Hearts. Their first home win of the season in the league;  a clean sheet; a hat-trick from the prodigal son and, unusually for the maroons, no bookings. Oh, and Hibs lost again. Carlsberg don't do Saturdays but if they did...

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Aberdeen 0 Heart of Midlothian 1

                                                              SNS photo from BBC website

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Saturday 16 October 2010 - Pittodrie

I don't go to many Hearts away games these days but made the effort to head to the Granite City on Saturday to see a game between two teams who have had a stop-start season thus far. Aberdeen began the season at the top of the SPL after winning their opening two games but have endured a barren run of late. Hearts, meanwhile, have turned Tynecastle from a fortress to a free-for-all - they haven't won a league game in Gorgie so far this season - but have a decent record on their travels. Which is why I was quietly but not overly confident of a win for the maroons at Pittodrie (well, the turquoise and white stripes...)

It was one of those games which the media like to call 'tousy'. Referee Mike Tumilty issued seven yellow cards and could - some say perhaps should - have issued at least one red. The bad feeling seemed to emanate from a quite ridiculous reaction from Aberdeen's Zander Diamond who fell to the ground as if he had been shot by a sniper in the main stand after he and Hearts Kevin Kyle went for a fifty-fifty ball. Kyle reacted angrily to Diamond's theatrics and from then on there seemed bad blood between the sides. Blood being the operative word in the case of Hearts Rudi Skacel who had blood pouring from his nose after receiving a smack in the face from a home player.

Suso Santana was then elbowed in the face by Dons defender McArdle. Santana required lengthy treatment and soon developed a lump the size of a large egg on the side of his face. Referee Tumilty stopped play but chose not even to book McArdle or even award Hearts a free-kick. Santana reacted with similar anger to that shown by Kyle and thought it would be wise to clip the Aberdeen player round the ear. Thankfully, Mr Tumilty also missed this although I have a suspicion the SFA will take retrospective action against the Spanish winger, who had an excellent game otherwise.

The only goal of the game came a minute into the second half when fine passing play from the visitors let Calum Elliot deliver an inch perfect cross for Kyle to powerfully head past home keeper Howard who was replaced moments afterwards suffering from concussion.

There was no doubt Hearts deserved to win the game, the only disappointment being they only had a single goal to show for their domination. With two home games coming up against St. Mirren and Kilmarnock, Hearts now have the chance to break their Tynecastle duck. Aberdeen manager Mark McGhee must feel he has a long hard season ahead.

Disappointingly for a fixture that used to be one of the highlights of the season, there were less than 9,000 at Pittodrie on Saturday. And over 1,000 were in maroon. Still, at least we enjoyed the journey home...

Friday, 15 October 2010

Scottish Cup Semi-Final 1996.

As Hearts head to Aberdeen this weekend, here's a clip from the Scottish Cup semi-final between the pair at Hampden in 1996.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Rangers in the Early 1960s

And a sprinkling of talented youngsters including John Greig, Jim Baxter and Willie Henderson.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Steven Boyack

It’s hard to believe nearly ten years have passed since Steven Boyack signed for Hearts. The Edinburgh born attacking midfielder began his career as a seventeen year old of some promise at Rangers in 1993 but with money talking at Ibrox at that time he failed to make the breakthrough as a first team regular. After a loan spell at Hull City, Boyack signed for Dundee in 1999 where he finally achieved the status of being a first team regular. However, money was beginning to talk at Dens Park as well at that time and he was loaned out to Ayr United in October 2000.

Hearts manager Craig Levein showed he had faith in Boyack when he signed him for £25,000 in January 2001. He made an inaudacious start though as a Hearts team containing seven full internationalists were held to a goalless draw by Berwick Rangers in the Scottish Cup. However, Boyack’s relentless hard work made him a favourite with the Hearts fans. He may not have been a prolific goalscorer and he was afflicted by injury on occasion but he never let anyone down.

Hearts released Boyack in the summer of 2004, a decision that puzzled many given fellow midfielder Scott Severin also left Tynecastle at the same time. Boyack then signed for Livingston before enjoying spells at Boston United, Blackpool and Stirling Albion. At just thirty years old, Boyack signed for junior side Bathgate Thistle, which seemed an inglorious end to what was once a very promising career.

Although he still plays amateur football, today Steven Boyack has a very different career - he is Operations Director of Platinum Recruitment Services.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Death in Prague

It seems a strange thing to say but part of the allure of being a Hearts supporter is there are more downs than ups. Younger readers may think I’ve been at the brandy and lemonade again but I’d like to think those Hearts fans who have been worshipping the maroons since the days of Donald Ford, Jim Cruickshank and Alan Anderson would know what I mean. Success may be an infrequent visitor to Tynecastle but when it arrives we hard-pressed Jambos know how to appreciate it.

Witnessing Hearts Scottish Cup triumphs of 1998 and 2006 were dreams come true for me and thousands of others with maroon blood. However, there have been other occasions where success wasn’t measured so much in silverware but in triumphs that induced the great to be a Jambo factor. One of these came in November 2003. When the draw for the second round of the UEFA Cup paired Hearts with French giants FC Girondins de Bordeaux it was the pairing that watered the mouths of the Hearts support. Three thousand of us headed to the south of France seven weeks before Christmas and basked in temperatures in the low seventies and an unforgettable day camped outside an Irish pub in a French city. As Hearts were very much the underdogs against one of the best teams in France, an unforgettable day turned into an unforgettable night as Craig Levein’s men recorded a remarkable 1-0 victory thanks to Mark de Vries’ strike twelve minutes from the end. For those of us who literally made a flying visit there and back in less than twenty-four hours it was simply the perfect day - my best experience of being a Hearts fans in over forty years, outside the aforementioned Scottish Cup triumphs.

Levein may have been a rookie at managing in European competition but he got his tactics spot on that evening. Admittedly, I was somewhat bemused when I heard the Hearts starting eleven as I joined the thronging mass of the Hearts support behind the goal at the Stade Chaban-Delmas half an hour before kick-off. We all thought Hearts would adopt a less than cavalier approach, try to keep the scoreline respectable and bring the French back to Tynecastle for the return leg with a fighting chance of making it to the next round. When I heard that Dennis Wyness, Jean-Louis Valois and Mark de Vries were all starting I couldn’t understand it. Yes, like most of the three thousand Jambos present, I had consumed a fair amount of alcohol that day - the French hospitality was superb and we didn’t want to offend our hosts - but I couldn’t understand Craig Levein’s thinking. Then, when the game started it quickly became evident Hearts were playing an unheard of formation of 3-6-1 - with de Vries the lone striker and Wyness and Valois part of the plan to swamp the midfield.

Hearts fans had spent a not inconsiderable amount of money on the trip to see Craig Levein’s tactics of more or less telling his Hearts players not to cross the halfway line unless they had to. Now, of course, the reason Levein has progressed from club manager to Head Coach of the national side is that he knows infinitely more about football than the likes of I. Hearts attempts to go forward that evening were few but one attempt proved fruitful - when de Vries hooked home the only goal of the game towards the end there was bedlam in the Hearts end of the stadium and I lauded the Hearts manager as a master tactician.

Seven years later Levein is now in charge of Scotland. When he took the Scots to Prague to face the Czech Republic in a Euro 2012 qualifier on Friday, he obviously thought of that glorious evening in Bordeaux with Hearts and set out the Scotland stall accordingly. However, there were notable differences this time.

Against the Czech Republic Scotland played 4-6-0. No strikers. Yes, Levein had decided a goalless draw would be the target for his team. Now, I’m an old-fashioned kind of fella who still hankers for the days when football was considered entertainment. Ten thousand Scots headed for Prague and while I suspect not many thought Scotland would win, most would have expected their team to at least try to venture forward now and again. I watched the game on television and grimaced as the Scots remained camped in their own half. It was football, Jim, but not as we know it.

Yet it seemed at one point that Levein’s grim master plan would pay off. Until with twenty minutes to go the Czechs scored the one goal they needed. Levein resorted to Plan B and threw on Kenny Miller and Chris Iwelumo but the damage had been done. Of course, it’s easy to be critical with hindsight but if the Scots had had a go from the outset things might have been different. After all the Czech Republic are not the same side that was one of the best in Europe a few years ago. Lithuania showed how it could be done by beating the Czechs in their own back yard just a month earlier. It seems Scotland’s stock in world football has fallen to the extent we don’t think we should even be on the same field as some countries - this despite beating France home and away just a few seasons ago.

As I’ve said, Craig Levein knows more about football than most of us. But surely the purpose of playing football is to score goals? Having no strikers indicated the Scots had metaphorically thrown in the towel before the game had even started. Has Levein lost all faith in Scottish football? If he has he is sadly not alone.

I agree with fellow blogger Kenfitlike -  Scottish football died in Prague on Friday evening. The funeral is scheduled to place at Hampden against Spain this Tuesday...

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Heart of Midlothian 1 Rangers 2

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Saturday 2 October 2010 - Tynecastle

Watching Hearts-Rangers games these days is akin to watching an old film for the umpteenth time. You know what's going to happen but you just can't help but go along and hope, forlornly, for a different ending. Today at Tynecastle - there was no different ending, just the all too familiar gut-wrenching finale which those of us in maroon have sadly become accustomed to.

The match was covered live by ESPN which meant a ridiculously early kick-off time of 12 noon. Tynecastle wasn't full to bursting and I suspect the time of the kick-off may have contributed to this. Hearts began brightly as they have done in most games this season. Rudi Skacel - making his first start since his return to Gorgie - took advantage of a poor defending from Bougherra and Whittaker to prod the ball into an empty net to give Hearts an early lead. It was against the run of play but no one in the home support was caring.

Rangers had most of the play but, for once, the Hearts defence was resolute with Adrian Mrowiec immense. What a find this player is. Hearts keeper Marian Kello then produced a breathtaking save from Jelavic and Hearts went in at the interval a goal ahead.

Rangers dominated the second half but it seemed the home side would hold out - until the inevitable happened ten minutes from time. Rangers substitute Lafferty drilled home a free-kick which the Hearts defence seemed to make a collective decision to get out the way of. Poor Kello seemed in despair that all his earlier heroics had been in vain. 1-1 and it seemed like a share of the spoils. Until the fourth official advised there would be five minutes additional time at the end of the ninety minutes. Where he got five minutes from was anyone's guess. Or as the fella next to me said 'they'll play on until Rangers get the winner'. Four minutes into stoppage time Hearts Craig Thomson went for a fifty-fifty ball but this was deemed a free-kick by his namesake Craig Thomson the referee. A quite ridiculous decision  - and from the free-kick Steven Naismith danced into the Hearts penalty box and poked the ball beyond Kello to give Rangers the winner with very nearly the last kick of the game.

Hearts didn't deserve to win but there's a case to argue they didn't deserve to lose either. Rangers players and officials reactions at the end of the game spoke volumes - they were mighty relieved to get three points. Most Hearts fans knew the script - we've seen this happen with the Old Firm countless times before. Keeper Kello and defender Mrowiec were superb for Hearts. Kevin Kyle had perhaps his least effective game in maroon - he had a glorious chance to put Hearts back in front with five minutes left but blazed his header over the bar.

Hearts now have two weeks to lick their wounds before they - and I - head for Aberdeen. Rangers remain joint top of the SPL and to give them credit they kept going to the end - as they always seem to do. However, for all the talk of foreign players' antics it was disappointing to see Rangers Steven Naismith try his best to persuade referee Craig Thomson to show Eggert Jonsson a yellow card - knowing full well the Icelandic player had already been booked.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

There's No Substitute...

If you look at the back page of the programme for this Saturday's Hearts v Rangers game, you will see the squad names for both Hearts and Rangers. Hearts have more than thirty names in their squad and I suspect the team from Govan will have a similar number. While only eleven players can start the game for each team there will be the usual plethora of players kicking their heels on the substitutes’ bench, eagerly waiting for their disappointment at not starting the game to subside and seize their chance to come on at some point in the game.

Once upon a time, there were no substitutes. That’s right young ‘uns - none. By the time I started understanding football in the mid 1970s they were such an established part of the game there were emerging players soon to be known to all as Super Sub, and the idea that football had once been just eleven against eleven was consigned to the history books.

Initially, substitutes were used only in the event that injury required a player to leave the field and not return. A popular theory is this evolved as a result pop superstar Elton John’s uncle, Roy Dwight who broke his leg whilst playing for Nottingham Forest after just half an hour of the 1959 FA Cup Final. Forest were ahead at the time and clung on to their lead but the consensus of opinion was that such a showcase game had been spoiled and that such a scenario should not be allowed to happen again. Initially there was just one substitution allowed but it wasn’t long before managers began replacing players for tactical reasons.

Here’s a question to ask your mates in the pub tonight - who was the first tactical substitute in Scottish football? It was a young Archie Gemmill who replaced Jim Clunie for St. Mirren in a Scottish League Cup tie against Clyde in August 1966. It’s an education reading this blog...

More than four decades on substitutes aren’t just part of the game - they’re now an essential element. How many times do you see a team in an important away match snatch the lead with a breakaway goal and then replace the goalscorer with a strapping, no-nonsense defender who couldn’t trap a bag of cement but will kick a nifty centre forward into the middle of next week? Of course, there’s the other side of the coin where a team finds themselves 4-2 down at the end of ninety minutes with just injury time to play. The team in front - let’s call them Hibernian - are already counting their win bonuses when a diminutive substitute - let’s call him Graham Weir - scores twice in four additional minutes to rescue a point from a game in which his team had been apparently dead and buried. There are ‘super subs’ and there are ‘superlative subs!’ (it’s hard to believe nearly eight years have passed since that memorable New Year Edinburgh derby)

Twenty years ago, Celtic had a striker called Dariusz Dziekanowski. On one occasion, the Pole was replaced by Joe Miller only for Miller himself to be substituted not long after, giving rise to the wisecracking comment that Celtic had two Polish strikers - Dziekanowski and Joe Milleronandoffski…

Substitutes being substituted doesn’t happen very often although I do recall when Tommy McLean was Hearts manager the former Rangers winger putting on Tommy Harrison during a league cup defeat to St. Johnstone at Tynecastle - only to haul the youngster off after about ten minutes for no apparent reason (no Polish players for Hearts then so the gag doesn’t work quite as well…) Hearts lost that tie 4-2 after being two goals ahead at half-time so perhaps panic had set in…

These days clubs have sizeable squads and the days of winning a league championship with a squad of fourteen players - as Dundee United did in 1983 - have long gone. Substitutions can be crucial with the aim of adding fresh impetus to a game. You only have to look at Hearts opening game of the season against St. Johnstone in August to see how the introduction of new strikers Kevin Kyle and Stephen Elliott gave the team and the home support a huge lift as Hearts strove for the win.

While some people of my generation can take issue with the ever-changing face of football, this is one rule change that has been for the betterment of the game over the last four decades - although there was one occasion that was the obvious exception. If only Dundee hadn’t brought on Albert Kidd against Hearts in May 1986.…