Hearts supporters of my generation - trying to fend off the rapidly advancing half century - may ponder certain symmetry between this summer and the first half of 1973. Now before younger readers swiftly turn off, let me try to explain. 1974 marked Heart of Midlothian FC’s one hundredth birthday (no, I wasn’t around at the club’s inception, thank you) With the centenary season approaching, Hearts made some major moves into the transfer market as the importance of the season was recognised. As Hearts stumbled towards the conclusion of a disappointing 1972/73 campaign the manager at the time, Bobby Seith, signed diminutive winger Kenny Aird from St Johnstone and midfielder John Stevenson from Coventry before signing a player who would go on to attain cult status at Tynecastle - Airdrieonians attack-minded midfielder Drew Busby. Another new arrival at Tynecastle was winger Bobby Prentice from Celtic and it was a revamped Hearts side that began the 1973-74 season hoping to mark one hundred years with a long-awaited trophy.
I remember how excited we Hearts supporters were at the time and the keen anticipation felt as the new season commenced. Hearts hadn’t been as active in the transfer market for some years but the board of directors clearly wanted to push the boat out to mark the club’s centenary. The early signs were good as Hearts began the league campaign with a win at Morton - legendary striker Donald Ford hitting an historic hat trick of penalty kicks - and the fans travelling back from Greenock were hoping this was an omen in Hearts’ quest for glory. A week later Hearts avenged a certain New Years Day defeat by hammering Hibs 4-1 at Tynecastle. Buoyed by this impressive start Hearts embarked on an unbeaten run that lasted until the end of October - and took them to the top of the League. Ultimately, Hearts could not maintain such fine form but for a few weeks in the autumn of 1973, we were convinced our team were genuine title challengers once more.
38 years later, Hearts have again been actively recruiting to an already impressive squad of players that finished the best of the rest behind the Old Firm last season. On one memorable day towards the end of May and with the dust barely settling on season 2010/11, manager Jim Jefferies - who was a young Hearts defender during the maroon’s highly impressive start to the 1973/74 season - wasted no time in putting his plans in place for the new season by recruiting defender Danny Grainger, midfielder Jamie Hamill and centre forward John Sutton. He almost added a fourth player that day but the move to bring Aberdeen’s Zander Diamond to Tynecastle ultimately fell through. It was a day to take the breath away and signalled Hearts intention of building on last season’s success and challenging Rangers for their league championship. At one point last season Hearts looked to be giving the Old Firm a run for their money - an astonishing run midway through the campaign brought an remarkable 31 points from 11 games - and only injuries to key players such as Kevin Kyle brought the maroon express to a halt. It was with this in mind that the Hearts manager sought to strengthen the squad to ensure Hearts had the depth necessary to mount a serious challenge for honours.
A few weeks later, Jefferies did add a fourth player - the hugely talented Mehdi Taouil from Kilmarnock. Like the gaffer, I have been a huge admirer of the attacking midfielder and whenever Kilmarnock came to Tynecastle, I hoped the Moroccan wouldn’t be playing as he always caused Hearts problems. As with most Hearts supporters, I was thrilled to see him sign for the maroons and the prospect of Taouil and David Templeton in midfield is a mouth-watering one.
Like 1974, this year is a landmark year for Hearts. 2011 has seen the club celebrate 125 years of playing at Tynecastle and with season ticket sales already exceeding expectations there is an optimism and anticipation in Gorgie not felt for some time. Even if there are no further additions, Hearts are looking stronger than they have done for some years. As they did when season 1973/74 kicked off. It would great to think Jim Jefferies could go one step further than he did 38 years ago - and lead Hearts to silverware. Now that would be a landmark season!