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.