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.