Monday, 31 January 2011

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Mark Burchill

                                    Burchill with Kevin Kyle during their Kilmarnock days - SNS pic

At the beginning of 2005, Hearts had a new majority shareholder in Vladimir Romanov and then manager John Robertson, Hearts legendary record goalscorer was keen to add to the club’s strike power. He turned to former Celtic and Scotland striker Mark Burchill who had been released from Portsmouth.

Burchill’s early career saw him emerge as a prolific teenager and he scored 20 goals for Celtic at the end of the 1990s. Such form inevitably resulted in a Scotland call-up, the Broxburn born player making his Scotland debut against Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1999. However, money spoke volumes in Scottish football at that time and he faded from the first team picture at Celtic with the arrival of big money signing Chris Sutton. Burchill then spent loan spells at Birmingham City and Ipswich before signing for Portsmouth for £600,000 in 2001.

When Harry Redknapp took over at Fratton Park, Burchill was once again left out of the first team plans and after loan spells at Dundee, Wigan, Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham, signed for Hearts on a short-term deal. He made his debut at the end of January 2005 coming on as a substitute in a 1-0 win over Aberdeen at Tynecastle. In keeping with his career, Burchill’s time in Gorgie was brief. Six months and four goals later he signed for Dunfermline Athletic. A further spell at Rotherham followed before Jim Jefferies took him to Kilmarnock in 2009. However, the nomadic striker struggled to make an impact in Ayrshire and faded from the first team when Jimmy Calderwood became interim manager early in 2010.

Today, Mark Burchill plays for Cypriot First Division side Enosis Neon Paralimni.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Heart of Midlothian 1 St. Johnstone 0

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Clydesdale Bank SPL, Saturday 29 January 2011 - Tynecastle

I normally only post about a match I've actually attended but I have to make a wee confession here. I wasn't at Tynecastle today as I had to attend a hospital appointment I had been waiting for since early November - and some things take priority even over watching the boys in maroon (not many, admittedly) However, I got back home at 4.30pm, spent a fraught twenty minutes or so waiting for the final whistle before turning on BBC Alba who showed the ninety minutes from Tynecastle in their entirety at 5.30pm. Hurrah for BBC Alba!

Much of the press seemed to take a fair bit of delight at Hearts heavy defeat at Celtic Park during the week - step forward Mr Graham Speirs - so it was going to be interesting to see how Hearts reacted when St. Johnstone came calling to Tynecastle - three weeks after the Perth Saints knocked Hearts out the Scottish Cup in Gorgie. Jim Jefferies made a handful of changes to the team that lost 4-0 in the east end of Glasgow with David Obua partnering Gary Glen up front with Suso Santana tucked in behind. There wasn't even a place on the substitute's bench for David Templeton, whose sparkling form of a few weeks ago has faded somewhat.

Hearts dominated the game from start to finish. They scored the only goal of the game after just three minutes when Rudi Skacel cleverly converted a fine cross from Craig Thomson. Skacel had another chance soon after but missed before Santana really should have doubled Hearts lead but his first touch on the edge of the six yard box let him down. St. Johnstone manager Derek McInnes was clearly unhappy with the way the first half was going and made a double substitution just before half-time. However, Hearts continued to dominate the game and fine play from Lee Wallace set up Skacel early in the second half but the Czech player fired his shot straight at Saints keeper Enckelman when he really should have scored.

The second half was notable for the welcome return of Hearts Andrew Driver after months out through injury. There was a trademark Driver run near the end of the game which so nearly gave Hearts the second goal their play deserved but in the end a single goal was enough. With Kilmarnock spilling points at Hamilton, Hearts are now 15 points clear in third place - time, surely, to look out the passports for next season's Europa League. As an aside, Edinburgh's other team are 32 points  - and several light years - behind their superior neighbours. Just thought I'd mention it.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Sunday, 23 January 2011

St. James Park, Newcastle

Taken in 1966 - it's changed a wee bit since then!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Heart of Midlothian 1 Rangers 0

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Clydesdale Bank SPL, Saturday 22 January 2011 - Tynecastle

Hearts recent unbeaten run in the SPL meant today's game against the current champions was always going to be match of the day and Sky Television duly moved the kick-off time to lunchtime and the cameras rolled. This didn't prevent Tynecastle being close to full and the atmosphere was as fervent as ever at Scotland's most atmospheric stadium.

Ironically, Hearts played much better when Rangers last visited Gorgie back in September and snatched all three points at the death thanks to a Steven Naismith strike in the fourth minute of injury time. Today the maroons looked out of sorts. Whether it was due to the absence of the injured Kevin Kyle which meant Ryan Stevenson started the game in an unfamiliar forward role or whether it was the exertions of a tough midweek game at Kilmarnock, Hearts looked off the pace all afternoon and Rangers dominated the first half. Home keeper Marian Kello was the hero as he kept the visitors at bay with a string of fine saves. That said, it was Hearts Rudi Skacel who came closest to scoring when he drove a shot inches wide shortly before half time.

Hearts came more into the game in the second half, particularly  when David Templeton came off and was replaced by Gary Glen - this enabled Ryan Stevenson to move into his more customary position in midfield. The game became end to end stuff but just when it seemed like a goalless draw would be a decent result given the way Hearts had played, the deadlock was broken with thirteen minutes to go. Hearts Lee Wallace cut in from the left and found Skacel who went down after a challenge to loud howls of 'penalty!' The ball broke to Stevenson who steered the ball home to ensure bedlam at Tynecastle. There endeth the scoring. Hearts might consider themselves fortunate to claim all three points but in a way it was justice for the September meeting between the pair when Hearts played so well but got no reward.

Hearts are now just two points behind the champions who remain in second place in  the SPL. Jim Jefferies side are seven points behind league leaders Celtic - but have a game in hand. And Hearts head to Celtic Park next Wednesday evening. Twenty-five years ago this weekend, I was at Pittodrie to witness a rising Hearts team defeat league champions Aberdeen 1-0 thanks to a late John Colquhoun goal. That result gave everyone at Tynecastle the belief that Hearts could challenge for the title that season. A quarter of a century later dare Hearts fans believe history is about to repeat itself?

At least this season we don't have to go to Dens Park. Can someone check what Albert Kidd is doing these days...?

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Something Better Change

There’s an old adage which goes the more things change the more they stay the same. At the beginning of this month, there were talks among the SPL clubs about the possibility of league reconstruction. This has been a debate in Scottish football that has ran for decades, in fact probably since Hibernian last won the Scottish Cup. At the beginning of 2011 there appeared to be support from clubs in the SPL for two leagues of ten teams - this despite the fact that many fans asked for their opinion on this issue favoured increasing the league from its present size of twelve. However, as the month progressed it seemed this support was on the wane.

SPL chairman Ralph Topping argued that a sixteen-team league wouldn’t work economically and would have a knock-on effect in terms of the quality of players Scottish football would attract. It is true that a sixteen team league would result in just thirty league games a season with teams playing each other twice as opposed to three or four times. I’m old enough to remember when the top tier of Scottish football had eighteen teams and with Celtic and Rangers inevitably leaving the rest behind by Christmas some seasons seemed to be never-ending. No one wants to return to the days when teams played meaningless games in the middle of March in front of a few thousand fans bored out their minds. However, a sixteen-team league doesn’t have to end after thirty games.

There has long been an argument against clubs having to play each other four times in a season in the league. Those against say this makes football stale and repetitive. When you consider there’s a fair chance of encountering SPL opposition in the CIS Insurance and Scottish Cups, you can see why familiarity can breed contempt. However, a sixteen-team league could incorporate a top eight split after those thirty games with teams in the top and bottom eight playing against each other one more time - giving a total of thirty-seven games.

In my view, there would be freshness in those first thirty games. Clubs such as Dundee, leaving side their current financial difficulties, Dunfermline Athletic, Falkirk, Partick Thistle and Raith Rovers have the facilities and would be welcome additions to the top flight. After the split the remaining seven games could become crucial to those with aspirations of qualifying for the Europa League or those who hoping to avoid relegation. I would suggest two teams going down, with the third involved in a play-off to add to the wind of change. This would stimulate interest in the revamped First Division too - can you imagine the attraction of a play-off with possible live television coverage at the end of the season?

I would go further and change the time of the football season so that it begins in March and ends at the Christmas/New Year period meaning it retains the tradition of festive football in this country. Further, I would start the season with the Scottish Cup and still have the final in May. The league season presently accommodates dates for the cup so there would be no change there. As we shiver at football grounds across Scotland this weekend, we know we should expect nothing else as it’s the end of January. However, imagine sitting in June and July, shirt-sleeved, lapping up the warmth of the summer sun watching our team play silky football. True, there may be a clash with World Cup and European Championship tournaments but other countries play through the summer - in any case, it’s been thirteen long years since Scotland had any interest in a major tournament! Hopefully we can qualify for the next World Cup and put a temporary halt to domestic football in June 2014...

My idea may seem radical but I am of the view that Scottish football badly needs radical change. Supporters - the paying customers don’t forget - have indicated they want to see a revolution in the game. It can no longer be taken for granted they will continue to turn up to see poor quality football played in Artic conditions with games being postponed late at considerable inconvenience. It can’t be assumed they will turn up week in week out to see the same teams play with survival in the top league being a priority for many rather than challenging for honours.

My idea may not be perfect but there’s something the vast majority of people in Scottish football - chairmen, managers, players and supporters - agree on. Something better change - and quickly.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Ten Iconic Hearts Goals

The quality of the video isn't great - but the memories are...

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Willie Johnston

Hearts failure to clinch promotion from the First Division at the end of season 1981/82 prompted player-manager Alex Macdonald to head to his old stomping ground of Ibrox Stadium for the experience need to guide youngsters John Robertson, Gary Mackay and Davie Bowman. As well as appointing former Ger Sandy Jardine as his right hand man, Macdonald also secured the services of winger Willie Johnston in the summer of 1982.

At the age of 36, ‘Bud’ was in the twilight of his controversial career that included 17 red cards and infamously being sent home from the Scotland World Cup squad in Argentina in 1978. Many observers doubted the wisdom of bringing such a character to Tynecastle. However, Willie Johnston achieved much in the game. He scored in Rangers European Cup Winners Cup Final triumph over Dynamo Moscow in 1972 and played at the highest level in English football with West Bromwich Albion who paid Rangers close to £140k for his services - which in December 1972 was a small fortune.

It was during his spell at The Hawthorns that Johnston was sent home from Scotland’s World Cup squad in 1978 after taking medication for his hay fever. However, Reactivan was a banned stimulant and Johnston inadvertently brought shame on his country although it’s fair to say he was na├»ve rather than trying to cheat. West Brom manager Ron Atkinson met Bud at the airport on his return and reportedly said ‘there is some good news - you’ve got a sponsorship deal with Boots the Chemist!’ It was also reported that Johnston once sold a garden shed to a West Brom fan while waiting to take a corner kick as a player was getting treatment for an injury!

Johnston left the midlands for a spell with Vancouver Whitecaps in 1979 before returning for a brief spell with Birmingham City and a return to Rangers in 1980. Whilst in his second spell at Rangers, Johnston infamously stamped on Aberdeen’s John McMaster who required the kiss of life. Afterwards came a classic Bud quote - ‘I’m not proud of what I did - I thought it was Willie Miller’. Two years later he signed for Hearts and helped Hearts secure promotion. His experience helped the maroons not only survive in the Premier League but qualify for the UEFA Cup - it was Bud who scored the goal in a 1-1 draw against Celtic that secured Hearts place in Europe the following season.

After leaving Hearts, Johnston had a brief sojourn at East Fife before retiring at the age of 39. Willie Johnston was, without doubt, one of the most colourful players to play for Hearts and even today, the likes of Gary Mackay and John Robertson say he was a huge influence on their successful careers. Today, Willie ’Bud’ Johnston runs the Port Brae pub in Kirkcaldy.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Willie Wallace

Photo -

When Hearts sold Alex Young to Everton at the beginning of 1961 manager Tommy Walker didn’t have to cast his net too far for a replacement. He spent £15,000 to bring striker Willie Wallace from Raith Rovers. ‘Wispy’ made his debut at Tynecastle in a 2-1 win over Dundee in April 1961 and would go on to become a huge success, becoming the club’s top scorer in the four years that followed. He scored a remarkable 34 league goals during season 1963-64 and 33 league goals the following season. He was also part of the Hearts team that won the League Cup in 1962 and came within one goal of lifting the league championship in 1965.

However, at the beginning of season 1966/67, Wallace’s form didn’t quite reach the heights of previous seasons and there were rumours Rangers had shown more than a passing interest. It was all the more surprising therefore when Celtic manager Jock Stein paid £30,000 to Hearts to take Wispy to the east end of Glasgow. Months later, he was part of the Celtic side that became the first British team to lift the European Cup. He was to spend five hugely successful years in Glasgow winning every domestic honour as well as another appearance in the European Cup Final of 1970 only to lose to Feyenoord.

Jock Stein set about rebuilding Celtic after that game with youngsters such as Kenny Dalglish, Davie Hay and Lou Macari being given their chance. Aged 31, Wallace was one of the casualties and moved to Crystal Palace in 1971. Sadly, his career down south was not successful and he returned to Scotland with Dumbarton within a year.

In 1975, Wallace moved to the Leichhardt Tigers in the Australian league in a life-changing move. Although he moved back to Scotland for brief spells with Partick Thistle and Highland League side Ross County as well as a spell as coach at Dundee, Wallace missed the life in Australia. In 1980, he returned ‘down under’ only this time for good and continued his coaching career as well as running his own sports business.

Now aged 70, Willie Wallace is still active in Australia and recently helped arranged a friendly between Brisbane Roar and Celtic. Today Willie Wallace still recommends Australian talent to the club where he enjoyed most of his success as a player - Celtic.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Stairway to Heaven

At Tynecastle yesterday afternoon, supporters of Heart of Midlothian and Hibernian sat in an arena recognised as one of the most atmospheric in Scotland. However, today there is a poignant reminder of a time when going to a football match resulted in tragic circumstances.

For people of my generation, it’s hard to believe forty years have now passed since Scottish football’s darkest day. On 2 January 1971, Rangers played Celtic at Ibrox in the traditional New Year fixture. Celtic were the dominant force in Scottish football at that time and were one of the best sides in Europe. Under the leadership of Jock Stein, they had already won five successive Scottish league championships and were on their way to a sixth when they headed to Ibrox. To explain to younger readers, forty years ago the majority of football fans stood on terracing slopes when watching their favourites. If you were lucky enough to get to the ground early enough you could lean against one of the crush barriers to take the weight off your feet. However, many fans would choose to leave drinking establishments as late as possible in order to be fuelled by alcohol before the game. Hearts fans of my age will remember the open terracing behind the goals at Tynecastle being sparsely populated until around fifteen minutes before kick-off when the Tynecastle Arms, Diggers et al would empty rapidly and fans would head for ‘the game’.

The Old Firm game in January 1971 looked to be heading for a goalless draw when Celtic’s Jimmy Johnstone scored what looked like the winning goal with a couple of minutes to go. However, from the re-start Rangers went immediately up the field and equalised through Colin Stein. We all love scoring a last minute goal against our city rivals - Hearts have done it on more than one occasion against Hibernian. As fans left Ibrox in exuberant mood, some of the barriers on Stairway 13 gave way and led to a huge pile-up of people. Sixty-six people lost their life with another two hundred injured. Many of the dead were children including five school chums from Markinch. It was a tragedy that brought Glasgow and the whole of Scotland together.

I was approaching my ninth birthday at the time and had recently moved from Cumbernauld on the outskirts of Glasgow to Aberdeen. Being a young Hearts supporter I wouldn’t have been at Ibrox that day in any case but I did wonder if any of my pals from the new town had been caught up in the events. Thankfully, none of them were although there was a nine-year-old boy among the dead and many of those who died were teenagers. The devastation felt by their loved ones can only be imagined.

The disaster led to the redevelopment of Ibrox to the all-seated stadium it is today. Tragically, there would be more loss of life at football matches in later years at Bradford’s Valley Parade in 1985 and at Hillsborough in Sheffield in 1989 before the Taylor Report put safety as the number one criteria at football grounds around the country.

There has been a call recently for the restoration of terracings to football grounds. Now I’m something of a traditionalist and I remember the days of standing at Tynecastle with a degree of fondness. However, there is no question that all-seated stadia has made attending football matches safer than ever. I’ve been taking my five-year-old grandson Jack to Tynecastle this season and it helps immeasurably that we sit on the same seats for every game. We now have close circuit TV, stewards galore to assist and clearly signed posted directions. It’s a much different world to when I was taken to football with my father for the first time in the late 1960s when crowds of 40,000 would pack into Tynecastle and 80,000 would be at Ibrox and Celtic Park with 100,000 going to Hampden for cup finals and Scotland-England games.

Now we need a ticket to attend top flight football and some may argue there’s an added inconvenience of having to get the ticket and find your way to your seat as opposed to the days of the terracing when we simply turned up five minutes before kick off (although season ticket holders of a few years standing - if you’ll excuse the pun - can easily locate their seat even after a few pints of foaming ale) However, I would far rather do this knowing my safety and that of others won’t be compromised.

As we remember those who left us in such tragic circumstances forty years ago and whose families’ lives changed forever, that’s something we should give thanks for.

Heart of Midlothian 1 Hibernian 0

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Clydesdale Bank SPL, Saturday 1 January 2011 - Tynecastle

Hearts supporters of my generation know not to get too full of ourselves. The Jambos went into the first Edinburgh derby of the New Year as the hottest favourites for years, given the respective records of the teams of late. In the build up to the first Edinburgh derby to be played on 1 January since Adullamite was a boy, many Hearts fans - and I confess, this includes me - have been teasing our friends of the Hibernian persuasion of just how much pain our free-flowing team would inflict on those from across the city. Such talk, of course, is dangerous and so it nearly proved on the first day of 2011.

Hearts dominated the game from start to finish but dogged defending, an element of luck and a curious decision from referee Calum Murray meant that for 85 minutes the game remained goalless  - and it seemed Hibs would leave Gorgie with a precious point. An indication of what was to come came as early as the 6th minute when Hibs Ian Murray launched himself at Hearts Ian Black with a forearm smash that left the Hearts man out cold and requiring smelling salts. When referee Murray called his namesake over we all looked for the red card to be flashed. Instead it was just yellow and the player who once had 7-0 shaved into the back of his head in a previous Edinburgh derby could count himself lucky to remain on the field.

Hearts then camped inside the Hibs half for the remainder of the game but found it difficult to break through the Hibs rearguard. Kevin Kyle and Calum Elliot in particular had glorious chances but Hibs keeper Mark Brown was inspired and kept out everything that was thrown at him. The second half followed the same pattern as the first. Towards the end Hearts withdrew the somewhat quiet David Templeton and replaced him with Novikovas and took off Elliot for Gary Glen. It was the latter who missed the best chance of the game when Novikovas delivered an inviting cross only for Glen to put the ball wide from five yards. We suspected then the breakthrough would never come and it would be a goalless start to 2011. Worse still, on a rare breakaway Hibs substitute Colin Nish had the chance to steal all three points for the visitors but screwed his shot wide of the goal when he really should have scored. But then a little Lithuanian winger produced a piece of magic.

With just four minutes left, Hearts collected the ball from a Hibs throw in and sent it to Novikovas. The wee fella danced his way down the left wing, skipped past a couple of Hibs challenges before sweeping in a superb cross to the far post - where Kevin Kyle headed towards goal. Keeper Brown, despite his previous heroics, could only palm the ball into the net and three quarters of Tynecastle erupted. It was enough to seal the game for Hearts and there was unbridled joy in Gorgie.

The win continued Hearts magnificent run of late. They have now taken an astonishing 25 points from a possible 27 - despite the customary words of caution, this is championship challenging form in anyone's language. Hearts now sit just two points behind Rangers and three behind Celtic - although the Old Firm who play each other at Ibrox today have games in hand.

The new year began as the old year ended - with Hearts winning. With a break now for the Scottish Cup, Hearts next four league fixtures - against Dundee United at Tannadice, Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, Rangers at Tynecastle and Celtic at Celtic Park- will prove a stern test for the revitalised maroons. It's a huge ask but if Hearts take twelve points from those games they really will be serious title contenders.