'See this nonesense?' asked the old fella standing next to me on the crumbling Tynecastle terracing one day in April 1971, ‘it’s just a gimmick. Fitba’s fitba. There’s nae place fur all this commercial rubbish’
Rubbish was an oft-used word that spring evening as Wolverhampton Wanderers put Hearts to the sword in the newly created Texaco Cup by winning 3-1. It was the changing face of football and while the muttering Jambo chewed on his pipe and reflected on Willie Bauld doing a shift down a Midlothian coal mine hours before turning out for Hearts twenty years earlier, the next generation of Hearts fans in the 1970s were being weaned on a diet of Texaco Cup games, one of the first football tournaments in Britain to be sponsored. Commercialism had indeed arrived but while the Texaco Cup was an early form of a British Cup, it was a poor consolation for those clubs not good enough to compete in European competition.
Back in the decade of long hair, tank-tops and Gorgie Boys with laced up boots and corduroys, we cast envious glances across Edinburgh where Hibernian were pitting their wits against the likes of Juventus and Liverpool in the U.E.F.A. Cup. Hearts were sliding down the slippery slope at an alarming rate as the 1970s began so we made the most out of our achievement of reaching the final of the Texaco Cup in 1971. Defeat from Wolverhampton Wanderers was hard to take, particularly as Hearts typically won the second leg 1-0 down in the Black Country - after losing the first leg 3-1 at Tynecastle. At this juncture, thoughts of Hearts actually playing, far less competing, in Europe were a million miles away.
In comparison to the Tynecastle experience we have today, the Tynecastle experience of 1971 could have been from a different planet. Four decades ago, there were just two divisions in Scottish league football. The patently obvious First and Second Divisions - despite the Texaco Cup sponsorship was still some distance from the hallowed corridors of the Scottish league. In 1971, Hearts were on the slippery slope although no one at the time realised what lay at the bottom. Eleven years had passed since Hearts had last won the Scottish League Championship with the remnants of the all-conquering side of the 1950s lifting the title - an honour that hasn’t bestowed on Hearts since, although they’ve come mighty close on a couple of occasions. By 1971, Hearts were no longer challengers for any domestic honours. That well-versed football cliché midtable mediocrity may well have been penned for Hearts as each season saw the boys in maroon ensconced in the middle of the league. This invariably meant when Hearts were knocked out the Scottish Cup there season was over and meaningless end of the season league games against the likes of Arbroath and East Fife saw sparse crowds at Tynecastle, the wide open spaces on the crumbling terraces telling their own story.
I was nine years old in 1971 and had already endured three years of being a Hearts fan. When my parents divorced, I was taken to live in Aberdeen, 130 miles away from Gorgie Road but the way Hearts were playing at the time this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. My visits to Tynecastle were few and far between at this time; my father had wanted me to be a Falkirk fan but his intention backfired somewhat on an October day in 1968 when he took me to my first game - Falkirk against Hearts at Brockville. I was bitten - by the Jambo bug. Consequently, my father never really supported the idea of me supporting Hearts - but once bitten etc. etc. However, it did mean that when Hearts visited Aberdeen this would be the highlight of my season. My father would travel up from his home in Cumbernauld and take me to Pittodrie. Being an Aberdonian, he was keen to show his support for his hometown team - as I was for the boys in maroon.
Hearts had made a decent start to season 1971-72 - something that could not be said for the majority of the decade. Four weeks before Christmas, they headed to Pittodrie in third place in the league having lost just once in eleven games. Those in maroon heading north on 27 November 1971 with unaccustomed optimism knew that while those statistics were impressive they weren’t as impressive as Hearts opponents that afternoon. For Aberdeen were top of the league, unbeaten all season and not having lost at Pittodrie for eighteen months.
Aberdeen: Clark; G. Murray; Hermiston; S. Murray; McMillan; M. Buchan; Forrest; Robb; Harper; Willoughby; Graham
Hearts: Cruickshank; Sneddon; Kay; Brown; Anderson; Thomson; Townsend; Renton; Ford; Winchester; T. Murray
Referee:T. Marshall, Glasgow
The Dons, managed by Jimmy Bonthrone who had taken over when Eddie Turnbull returned to his first love Hibernian a year before, had set Scottish football alight. With a forward line containing Joe Harper, Davie Robb and youngster Arthur Graham, the men from the Granite City had scored an impressive thirty-six goals in just twelve games.
More than 20,000 fans headed for Pittodrie on a dank November afternoon. Forty years ago, there was still open terracing at Pittodrie - as there was at most Scottish football grounds. At the back of the terracing adjacent to the pitch was a giant gas tank that loomed over the ground. At the top of the terrace stood the inevitable half-time scoreboard with a yellow clock. Hearts fans, as ever, headed north confident despite the home team’s record.
It wasn’t a complete surprise that Aberdeen dominated the first half. Harper and Forrest came close to opening the scoring and Hearts were indebted to goalkeeper Jim Cruickshank who was in fine form to keep the highest scoring team in Scotland at bay. Hearts, however, weren’t sitting back and Derek Renton fired in an effort, which smacked off the crossbar. It appeared Aberdeen’s frustration at failing to break through the Hearts defence was boiling over. Robb was booked just before half time for a crude foul on Jim Townsend. Half time arrived with a somewhat surprising goalless scoreline - but with hackles raised.
The second half began in the same manner as the first - with Aberdeen in the ascendancy. It seemed just a matter of time before the opening goal and it duly came ten minutes into the second half - but not at the end the home crowd expected. Great work by Hearts Tommy Murray took him beyond his Aberdeen namesake George before he passed to Donald Ford who fired in a great goal from an acute angle. Hearts Murray was capable of such sublime skill - he once sat on the ball at Ibrox before crossing to make a Hearts goal. The home side were stunned and the crowd were angered minutes later when their side was awarded a penalty kick - only for the referee to change his mind and award an indirect free kick instead, which came to nothing. With twenty minutes, left Aberdeen replaced young Arthur Graham with veteran Bertie Miller - and the impact was immediate. With the Hearts defence keeping their collective eyes on the substitute, Willoughby steered the ball beyond a trailing Hearts defence to allow Harper to equalise.
It was anyone’s game now and Ford set off on a great run with a chance to put Hearts back in front but home keeper Bobby Clark saved well. With fifteen minutes left, an already controversial game erupted once more when Aberdeen took the lead. There was more than a suspicion of offside when Davie Robb latched on to a long through ball and danced away from the Hearts defence. Robb finished with aplomb but the Hearts players were furious to the extend Jim Townsend was sent off as he doth protest too much. With Townsend seemed to go Hearts hopes of getting anything from the game. We reckoned, however, without Donald Ford.
There were just four minutes to go when Ford eluded his marker in the Aberdeen defence to head past a startled Bobby Clark to level the score. Those Hearts fans who remained in the ground roared their delight - which would turn to ecstasy in injury time. Aberdeen’s defenders looked shell-shocked, which may well have contributed to Ford having the freedom of Union Street to place another header beyond Clark to snatch a sensational winner for Hearts. Aberdeen 2 Heart of Midlothian 3 was the final score. Hearts fans danced on the terracing. The home support shuffled out not quite believing what they had seen. Aberdeen’s unbeaten record and proud home record had been smashed to pieces.
Ironically, the last team to beat Aberdeen at Pittodrie was Hearts in April 1970. Hearts fans headed south convinced their team would go on to challenge for their first league championship for twelve years. Rangers were struggling that season and many thought the race for the league flag was a two-horse affair between Aberdeen and Jock Stein’s Celtic. Moreover, Hearts had now achieved something no one else had done that season - beaten Aberdeen. The following Saturday, Hearts were involved in another five goal thriller when they defeated Dundee United 3-2 at Tynecastle. However, Hearts fans know what happens when optimism gets the better of them - the following week Hearts travelled to Brockville to face a Falkirk team containing Alex Ferguson and Andy Roxburgh - and were beaten 2-0, former Hearts stalwart George Miller rubbing salt into the wounds by scoring one of the goals.
Hearts took that defeat badly - they didn’t win any of their next seven games. At the end of January, any flicker of title aspirations were well and truly snuffed out when the team capitulated to a 6-0 drubbing at Ibrox - this coming a week after a 5-2 defeat at Tynecastle by Dundee. Hearts league season was over and although they finished the season in sixth place they were twenty-one points behind champions Celtic - in the days when there were only two points awarded for a win. Incidentally, Aberdeen finished runners-up - ten points behind the champions.
Hearts fans sought salvation in the Scottish Cup and the early signs were promising when a very good St. Johnstone team - at the time managed by Willie Ormond who would go on to manage Scotland and Hearts - were beaten 2-0 at Tynecastle. Clydebank were thrashed 4-0 in Gorgie in the next round before Hearts faced Celtic at Celtic Park in the quarter-finals. Derek Renton scored the goal that gave Hearts a 1-1 draw and therefore secure a replay at Tynecastle. The game, on 27 March 1972, attracted an attendance of just over 40,000 - the last time a crowd of such size would be in Gorgie. A Lou Macari goal was enough to take Celtic through and more crushing disappointment ensued for the maroon legions.
It was a disappointing end to a season that, at one stage, promised so much. The triumph at Pittodrie in November 1971 was one of the highlights of the season; particularly in the style it was achieved. Ten men Hearts simply refused to accept defeat and used their perceived injustice at the sending off of Jim Townsend to spur them on to a memorable victory.
I left Pittodrie that day with my father with mixed emotions. I was thrilled my team had won and in such a way that caused considerable angst to the home support. Living in Aberdeen, I knew what awaited me at school on Monday morning had Donald Ford not stepped in with glorious and impeccable timing. However, I knew my father would drop me off at home before driving back to his home in Cumbernauld. I felt a little cheated at not being able to share the joy of victory with anyone.
It was, however, a great day. And these would be in despairingly short supply as the 1970s progressed….