Monday, 30 May 2011

1971 Aberdeen 2 Hearts 3

'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….

Friday, 20 May 2011

Why I'm Backing Motherwell to Win the Cup...

20 years ago Rangers won 3 in a row.This year Rangers have won 3 in a row.

20 years ago the manager left and the number 2 stepped up.
Graeme Souness for Walter Smith.

This year the manager left and the number 2 stepped up. Walter Smith for Ally McCoist.

20 years ago a Rangers striker that used to play for Celtic, Mo Johnston, left the club.
This year a Rangers striker that used to play for Celtic, Kenny Miller, left the club.

20 years ago Rangers won the league cup 2-1 in extra time v Celtic.
This year Rangers won the league cup 2-1 in extra time v Celtic.

20 years ago Rangers had 3 players sent off in a cup game at P
arkhead which they lost.This year Rangers had 3 players sent off in a cup game at Parkhead which they lost.

20 Years ago Rangers lost 0-3 at Parkhead and still won the league.
This year Rangers lost 0-3 at Parkhead and still won the league.

20 years ago Motherwell were managed by an ex-Rangers midfielder.
This year Motherwell are managed by an ex-Rangers midfielder.

20 years ago Celtic had already gone 2 years without a trophy.
This year Celtic have already gone 2 years without a trophy.

20 years ago Motherwell won the Scottish Cup....................

Monday, 2 May 2011

25 Years On

It’s less than a year now until I reach my half-century. I’m at the stage in life where time seems to race ahead at an alarming rate. My children have now grown up and one of them has three children of her own; it barely seems five minutes since Laura was a babe in arms herself. I will be helping her celebrate her 25th birthday on 17th May - a fortnight after Hearts supporters of my generation will be marking the 25th anniversary of an event the vast majority of us have, ironically, tried to obliterate from our minds for a quarter of a century.

May 3rd 1986. Three years after emerging from the wilderness of First Division football, of the inept tactics of manager Tony Ford, of losing to Queens Park and East Stirlingshire and of being threatened with part-time football, Hearts were on the verge of a climax of an astonishing recovery. Former Rangers player Alex Macdonald had replaced Ford as player manager in 1981 and sought the help of his good friend and former Rangers colleague Sandy Jardine to rebuild Edinburgh’s finest football club. Macdonald brought experienced players such as Willie Johnston and Jimmy Bone to the club and they were instrumental in the development of some promising Hearts kids such as John Robertson, Gary Mackay and Davie Bowman. By the time season 1985/86 commenced, ‘Bud’ Johnston and Bone had departed Tynecastle but they left a younger Hearts team that was now established in the cutthroat Premier Division. Macdonald was still in charge and with money tight, his eye at spotting a bargain that would nonetheless improve the team was crucial to Hearts continued development throughout the 1980s. In the summer of 1985, Macdonald paid Celtic £60,000 for winger John Colquhoun and the Stirling born player would provide the service to strikers John Robertson and Sandy Clark. Midfielder Iain Jardine arrived a few weeks into the season and with Craig Levein a commanding presence in defence alongside the evergreen Sandy Jardine and the industrious Kenny Black in midfield, the Hearts team was slowly transforming from one that was looking to survive in the Premier Division to one that might actually think about challenging the dominance of the top two in Scotland. And younger readers may be surprised to learn that in the early 1980s Scotland’s top two clubs were not Celtic and Rangers - they were Aberdeen and Dundee United. The Dons, in particular, were one of the finest teams in Europe and under manager Alex Ferguson had won the European Cup Winners Cup in 1983 as well as several Scottish League championships and Scottish Cups that decade. Indeed, they were reigning league champions when season 1985/86 kicked off.

Hearts began the season with a 1-1 draw against Celtic at Tynecastle. New signing John Colquhoun scored the opening goal against the team he had just left and it took a last minute equaliser from Paul McStay to rob Hearts of a brilliant start to the league campaign. That goal from the Celtic midfielder would prove hugely significant on the very last game of the season…

Hearts were then affected by injuries and suspensions - Sandy Clark and full back Walter Kidd were sent off in a 3-1 defeat to Rangers dubbed ‘the battle of Ibrox’ and when the maroons lost to Aberdeen, Motherwell and Clydebank they were sinking towards the bottom of the league - only pointless Hibernian sparing Hearts the indignity….

Slowly Hearts began to get their absent players back but when Iain Jardine scored his first goal for the club in a 1-1 draw against Dundee at Tynecastle in October few of us envisaged this would be the beginning of one of the most astonishing sequence of games in Scottish football history. Seven days later Hearts travelled to Celtic Park and produced the shock result of the day, a rare 1-0 victory in the east end of Glasgow. They followed this up with a 3-0 victory over St. Mirren and a result that instilled bucketfuls of self-belief - a 1-0 win over champions Aberdeen on a rain-lashed Wednesday evening at Tynecastle thanks to a goal from Craig Levein. When Rangers were comprehensively beaten 3-0 in Gorgie a fortnight later heads began to turn Tynecastle way.

After an injury hit start to the season Hearts player were now fit and raring to go. Alex Macdonald had also instilled a discipline into his players so yellow and red cards were kept to a minimum. Macdonald was able to keep the same starting eleven for several weeks and the players had a system where they all knew what each other was doing. In November, Scotland were involved in a two-legged play-off to reach the World Cup finals in Mexico the following year. Difficult enough but their opponents were Australia - meaning those top flight league fixtures involving Scotland’s ‘top four’ were postponed to allow the national side to prepare. Hearts, however, carried on and continued to produce good football and rack up the results. Four days before Christmas, Hearts defeated St. Mirren in Paisley - and proudly sat top of the league. Yes, other teams had games in hand thanks to the Scotland situation but when Hearts defeated Rangers 2-0 at Ibrox three days after Christmas they had well and truly posted their intentions. Hearts had joined the big players at the table and were blowing their cigar smoke in the faces of the big four.

The question was could Hearts maintain their challenge? The acid test came in the last week in January when they travelled to Aberdeen. 5,000 Hearts fans headed to the Granite City to see their team, unbeaten since the end of September, take on the league champions in their own patch. Macdonald organised his troops accordingly and The Dons struggled to break through the silver-shirted Hearts defence. When Macdonald replaced John Robertson with the old warhorse that was Colin McAdam with just eight minutes left, Hearts appeared to have settled for a priceless away point. Then Walter Kidd played a long ball towards John Colquhoun. JC skipped his way past the trailing Aberdeen defenders Willie Miller and Alex McLeish and stroked the ball past a bemused Dons keeper Jim Leighton to secure a famous and crucial Hearts victory. The travelling support in the Beach End were ecstatic. Their chants of ‘We’re Gonna Win the League’ were now a serious prospect rather than a fanciful whim.

Hearts continued their unbeaten run as the end of the season hovered into view. Their nearest challengers for the title appeared to be Dundee United and when Hearts won 3-0 at Tannadice following an unforgettable April afternoon on Tayside it seemed the fantasy of Hearts becoming champions was about to become incredible reality. A week later though came the first signs of nerves. Aberdeen came to Tynecastle and the game was switched to a Sunday to accommodate live television coverage - the first league fixture to be covered live on television in Scotland. Hearts looked out of sorts and had to thank John Colquhoun for a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw. Celtic had now emerged as the main threat to Hearts title aspirations and Dundee would prove key players in the dramatic end to the season.

When Hearts entertained Clydebank on the last Saturday in April, they had just two games left - and were four points clear of Celtic. Back in the 1980s there were just two points awarded for a win and although Davie Hay’s side had a game in hand, Hearts fans knew if their team defeated Clydebank and Celtic lost at home to Dundee the league flag would be on its way to Tynecastle for the first tine in twenty-six years. A nervous Hearts team won 1-0 thanks to a Gary Mackay goal - but, as they would do seven days later, Dundee proved party-poopers by losing in Glasgow. Inevitably, Celtic won their game in hand and so were just two points behind Hearts when the curtain came down on the league season on 3 May 1986.

Hearts needed just a single point for glory. In fact, they had a superior goal difference of plus five so they might even lose their first game in eight months and still become champions - providing Celtic didn’t score a barrow load of goals against St. Mirren in Paisley…

15,000 Hearts fans headed for Dundee ready to party like there wouldn’t be a 4th of May. Hearts only needed a draw and were unbeaten in 31 league and cup games. Celtic needed to thrash St. Mirren. Surely, nothing could go wrong…?

The events of that day are ingrained on the memory of every Hearts fan who was there. My wife was expecting our first child just a week later so I was in ecstatic mood anyway. Then I read a copy of the Daily Record on the way to Dundee and read about the events of 1965 when Hearts needed to avoid a 2-0 defeat to Kilmarnock on the last game of the season to clinch the league championship - and duly lost 2-0 to hand the title to the Rugby Park side. In all the excitement, I hadn’t thought about that. Now the first seeds of doubt were planted in my head. I wondered if the same was happening to the Hearts players. Then rumours circulated about a sickness virus affecting the Hearts team. We watched the players warm up on the Dens Park pitch - they looked fine to us. Hang on, though - there was no sign of Craig Levein. Roddy Macdonald was drafted in. It later transpired that the bug had affected five Hearts players. As the game kicked off it certainly looked like it.

Hearts looked a pale shadow of the team that had swept all before them since October. Sandy Clark was bundled off the ball in the penalty box in the first half and 15,000 Hearts fans screamed for a penalty kick. Nothing doing said referee Bill Crombie - ironically from Edinburgh. My anecdotal tale about Mr Crombie is I interviewed him for a job with the council several years later - he didn’t get it…

Hearts struggled all afternoon while Dundee believed if they won and Motherwell won at Ibrox they would be in the following season’s UEFA Cup - so the incentive for the Dark Blues was certainly there. As we stood nervously on the open terracing behind the goal, we wondered if St. Mirren might come to Hearts aid and take a point off Celtic or at least keep things tight. The fella in front of me had a radio to his ear and was nearly embroiled in a fight when he relayed the news to irritated Hearts fans that Celtic were four goals ahead at half time. The Hoops added a fifth in the second half and now had the better goal difference. However, we tried to calm our nerves with the belief that it didn’t matter if Celtic scored ten goals, as long as Hearts secured the single point needed for glory. Although the silver-shirted Hearts players were collectively having a poor game, we still believed they would get this point. I checked my watch for the hundredth time that afternoon. There were just eight minutes to go when Dundee won a corner at the end where the Hearts masses had congregated. As the ball came in it fell at the feet of substitute Albert Kidd. His effort on goal flew into the roof of the net and the Dundee fans leapt for joy. The massed ranks of Hearts fans stood motionless, as if time had stopped. Our world certainly had. As the disconsolate Hearts players made their way to the centre circle to re-start the game, I shouted ‘C’mon Hearts - we can still do this!’ I was a lone voice - in our heart of hearts, we knew the dream was over, a suspicion confirmed when the blasted Kidd added a second goal a minute from the end. It was all over. Hearts lost 2-0, their first defeat in 31 games and eight months. Celtic won 5-0 and therefore clinched the league championship on goal difference.

I lived in Aberdeen at the time and a relatively short journey home turned into the longest trip in the world. My mate and I sat on the bus back to the Granite City and said nothing to each other. On arrival in Aberdeen, we went for a quick pint but our sombre mood didn’t call for alcohol, particularly as more than one smart arse in the pub noticed our crumpled Hearts scarves sticking out our pockets and made a less than sympathetic comment.

I made my way home and my wife greeted me with the news she thought she felt the baby might be on its way. Selfishly and to my eternal shame, I ignored her and headed for bed. It was 7.30pm on a Saturday night and I just wanted the world to end. It was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, only surpassed by the sudden death of my father in 1997.

Thankfully, my wife didn’t go into labour that evening. Along with 40,000 other Hearts fans I tried recover some kind of composure and headed the Scottish Cup Final against Aberdeen at Hampden a week later. However, deep down we knew the events at Dens Park had ripped the soul out of the Hearts players and Aberdeen won 3-0 to end any dreams of silverware.

A week later and my first child, Laura was born. Three successive Saturdays in May 1986 saw the three most emotional experiences of my life and, thankfully, ended with the joy and gift of a new life.

Of course, seeing Hearts lift the Scottish Cup in 1998 and 2006 exorcised some of the ghosts of 1986. But, try as I might, I can never forget that day at Dens Park…

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Montrose 3 East Stirlingshire 0

Irn Bru Scottish League Division 3 - Saturday, 30 April 2011 - Links Park

Rather than watch Hearts continue their attempts to cross the finishing line in third place in the SPL in the fashion of a drunk old man staggering home from the pub attempting to eat a fish supper on the way, I opted to go and see my 'other team' - the 'not as mighty as they were last season' East Stirlingshire. The last time I was at Montrose was to see Hearts win a League Cup tie with Walter Kidd scoring a goal in torrential rain - all of a quarter of a century ago. Returning to the Angus town brought back a lot of memories. Montrose as a town hasn't really changed that much but Links Park has since the last time I was there - although if I closed my eyes I could still see Hearts Graham 'Shuggie' Shaw scrambling home a last minute equaliser in a Scottish Cup quarter final tie there in front of 8,000 fans in 1976...

There wasn't quite 8,000 at Links Park on Saturday  - around 350 - and for all that Shire were awful in the first 20 minutes by which time they were three goals down, it was a decent enough game. Montrose's Sean Pierce headed home the opening goal after just seven minutes as the Shire defenders said 'after you Claude' to each other. Three minutes later Shire keeper Michael Andrews brought down Montrose' Nicol who duly converted the penalty kick to double the home side's advantage. After 17 minutes the impressive Pierce finished off a fine move by driving the ball beyond Andrews to make it 3-0 and I feared the worst for the Shire. However, the visitors improved thereafter although it has to be said they never really looked like scoring - a lack of firepower has been the Shire's undoing this season.

Fellow blogger Groanin' Jock is a Montrose aficionado and I'm quite sure he enjoyed Mo's final home game of the season.

Despite the score, I enjoyed the game and a couple of pints in the town's Market Arms afterwards in the company of a Montrose/Aberdeen fan who I hadn't seen for a while. The end of the season, though, can't come quick enough...

Eddie Turnbull

I was saddened to hear of the passing of the man synonymous with Hibernian FC - Eddie Turnbull. The word 'legend' is used far too frequently these days but it certainly applies to the great man who died at the weekend. He had just celebrated his 88th birthday a little more than a fortnight ago.. During the late 1940s and 1950s, Turnbull played in the Hibs Famous Five forward line along with Gordon Smith, Willie Ormond, Bobby Johnstone and Lawrie Reilly. In that time, he won three league titles and became the first British player to score in a European club competition.

Turnbull was manager of Aberdeen in the late 1960s/early 1970s and famously won the Scottish Cup in 1970 defeating Jock Stein's Celtic 3-1 in the final. He returned to his first love, Hibs, as  manager in 1971 and won the League Cup a year later. The Hibs team of the early to mid 1970s produced some memorable performances as they reflected the style and panache of their manager.

Scotland has lost another footballing great and the football world is a poorer place with the death of Eddie Turnbull.