Friday, 30 December 2011

Aberdeen 0 Heart of Midlothian 0

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Wednesday 28 December 2011 - Ice Station Zebra (aka Pittodrie)

I ventured to the frozen wasteland that is Aberdeen on Wednesday to see if Hearts could extend their recent good run over Aberdeen. The salient points of the evening were:

It was fecking cold (as it always is at Pittodrie)

There was what appeared to be a force ten gale howling in from the North Sea

The game was a farce and should never have been played. Credit to both teams for at least trying to play football.

Hearts fans were charged £2.10 for a steak pie. Nice as it was, I later discovered from an Aberdeen fan that they are charged just £1.80...

Summer football has never seemed so attractive...

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Heart of Midlothian 2 Motherwell 0

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Saturday 24 December 2011 - Tynecastle

Two impressive performances from Hearts within a week - it must be Christmas. After last week's hammering of Dunfermline Athletic at Tynecastle, Hearts recorded a well deserved win over third placed Motherwell in Gorgie this afternoon.

The Maroons played well throughout and if there are those who believed the not so behind the scenes problems with the players wages would have an adverse affect on the team, then, on the evidence of the last couple of weeks, they are mistaken.

After early efforts from the overly physical Higdon and young David Templeton, it was the Hearts winger who created the opening goal after 16 minutes. After leaving Hateley for dead, Temps shot was deflected into the path of Ian Black who finished with a superb shot that gave visiting keeper Randolph no chance.Templeton was back to his best and he tormented the Motherwell defence throughout the first half. After 28 minutes, the wee man went on a mesmerising run which tied Hateley in knots before crossing to give Stephen Elliott the simplest of chances to double Hearts lead.

There endeth the scoring but Hearts dominated the game from start to finish. They lost a wee bit of impetus when Templeton was replaced by Andrew Driver after an hour. A curious one this, as Temps didn't look injured and one had to surmise this was a decision from Kaunas in order to put Driver in the shop window with a January transfer in mind.

Motherwell have impressed many this season - but not this afternoon. Hearts now have the Steelmen in their sights for third place in the Clydesdale Bank SPL and on this form there's no reason why they can't catch up. However, much depends on which players depart Tynecastle in January.

And so to Pittodrie Stadium on Wednesday and Easter Road a week on Monday. Six points from that will make it a very Happy New Year for Hearts supporters.

See you in Aberdeen!

Top man: David Templeton  only played an hour but he was back to his best today.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Heart of Midlothian 4 Dunfermline Athletic 0

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Saturday 17 December 2011 - Tynecastle

Hearts recorded their biggest win for over a year with this comprehensive gubbing of Dunfermline Athletic. The Maroons have struggled to score goals all season so it was pleasing to see striker Stephen Elliott given a rare starting place and the former Sunderland man took just three minutes to show he was worth his place in the starting eleven when he turned home Ryan McGowan's wayward effort across the Pars penalty box.

Keddie then had a chance for Dunfermline but drove his effort wide before Hearts Marius Zaliukas really should have done better with a free header at goal which soared over the crossbar. Then, the gifted Mehdi Taouil doubled Hearts lead in the 21st minute, again after work from McGowan. The ball fell to the Moroccan just inside the penalty box and while his shot on goal wasn't the most powerful he's ever struck, the ball trundled past Pars keeper Gallacher.

Early in the second half, Hearts keeper Marian Kello produced a brilliant save to deny Buchanan. It was a missed chance the visitors would soon regret as David Templeton increased Hearts lead further with 20 minutes left when he dispossessed Hardie before driving home for Hearts third goal. Home substitute Rudi Skacel put the icing on the cake in stoppage time when he headed home Hearts fourth after Gallacher couldn't hold a fierce effort from fellow substitute Ryan Stevenson.

Rumours abounded before the game that Hearts Andrew Driver had refused to take his place on the substitutes bench and this was confirmed afterwards when Hearts manager Paulo Sergio said Driver no longer wished to play for the Portuguese coach. It seems a near certainty Driver will be one of the many players leaving Tynecastle next month.

At least those who did want to play on Saturday produced a performance that pleased the home fans. McGowan, Black, Robinson and the always impressive Taouil were a cut above the rest. Dunfermline looked dangerous on the counter attack but I fear their porous defence may be their undoing in their attempt to remain in the SPL. I reckon it's between them and Edinburgh's wee team for demotion - I wish the Pars well!

Top man: Mehdi Taouil

Friday, 16 December 2011

Managing on a Par

It’s not been the greatest of seasons for Scottish football. However, a few weeks ago a result lit up the gloom like a shooting star across the black November sky. Scotland’s Under 21 team defeated their Dutch counterparts 2-1 in Nijmegen in the Netherlands in a European Championship qualifying tie. It was an unexpected but most welcome result for coach Billy Stark’s side and one that made the rest of Europe sit up and take notice. The scorer of Scotland’s opening goal was striker Jordan Rhodes, who had taken his international bow, albeit briefly, for the senior side three days earlier in the friendly win over Cyprus. Much as I take a fair bit of stick for my advancing years, I like to think I’m not the only one who remembers Jordan’s father Andy keeping goal for Dunfermline Athletic two and more decades ago.

Andy was a decent keeper who moved to Fife from Oldham Athletic in 1990. I recall he displayed heroics against Hearts, helping to secure a 1-1 draw for the Pars at Tynecastle in November 1990. Now, I realise I should really have better things to do but a quick look at the teams for that game reveals names who would make names for themselves years later in managerial circles.

Hearts centre-half was a big strapping defender - from Fife, ironically. Craig Levein would, of course, go on to manage Hearts before heading to Leicester City and Dundee United before taking the job of national coach in December 2009. And selecting the son of a Dunfermline goalkeeper from two decades ago for international duty. Sadly, few of Levein’s team mates that day did anything of note in the managerial field. However, for some of the Dunfermline team, it was a different matter.

Defender David Moyes marshalled the Pars defence that afternoon. Moyes would go on to make a name for himself as one of the top managers in the Barclay’s FA Premiership, conducting minor miracles at Everton with a budget only a fraction of some of the top clubs. In midfield, was Dunfermline’s new signing - former Rangers player Billy Davies. He signed from Leicester City and spent three years at East End Park before moving to Motherwell where he became player-manager. A successful spell at Preston North End followed before Davies took Derby Country into the FA Premiership. Davies was manager at Nottingham Forest until the end of last season.

David Irons was approaching the end of his playing career but was clearly taking on board what was required to be a decent manager. Irons would go to become part of the Gretna fairy story and played against Hearts in the Scottish Cup Final of 2006 at Hampden Park. A year later, he was manager of the club and he led them to promotion to the Bank of Scotland Premier League. Sadly, things turned sour for Irons and for Gretna thereafter.

Another member of the Dunfermline team from that afternoon 21 years ago - Ian McCall - would also forge himself a reputation as a manager of some standing with successful spells at Airdrieonians and Falkirk leading to the former Rangers player being appointed manager of Dundee United. Things didn’t work out for McCall at Tannadice and after leaving Tayside, he took over at Queen of the South and then Partick Thistle.

Paul Smith was alongside McCall in that Dunfermline team. Smith would later join Hearts for a brief spell in 1995 under the short managerial reign of Tommy McLean. Jim Jefferies then sold him to Ayr United but he was then appointed manager of Berwick Rangers for seven years from 1997. Indeed, he was manager of the English side when they held Craig Levein’s Hearts to a goalless draw in a Scottish Cup tie at Shielfield Park in January 2001.

It says a lot for that Dunfermline team that drew at Tynecastle more than two decades ago that so many of them made a decent stab at the managerial game. The side was fairly workmanlike - their star player was Hungarian Istvan Kozma who sensationally signed for Liverpool for £300k two years later - but the studious nature of their manager at the time, Ian Munro, clearly rubbed off on some of the players.

One of whom in particular - Andy Rhodes - must feel his heart swell with pride at seeing his son now being touted as the next Scots scoring sensation!

Twitter @Mike1874

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Lawrie Tierney

1977 was a wretched year for Hearts supporters. Years of selling our best players to keep the financial wolves from the front entrance of Tynecastle had resulted in relegation from the top flight of Scottish football for the first time ever. I was just 15 years old but had already experienced nearly a decade of being a Jambo and learning that disappointment was never far away from the streets of Gorgie.

Willie Ormond left his post of manager of Scotland to take the Hearts job in the summer of 1977 and he was charged with getting the Maroons back into the Premier Division at the first time of asking. Season 1977/78 would prove to be a difficult one and there were times when many Hearts fans wondered if promotion would be achieved. Ormond turned to some of the younger players for salvation with Eammon Bannon and Walter Kidd given their opportunity to shine. As was a young midfield player called Lawrence Tierney.

I first saw 'Lawrie' play for Hearts against Montrose on a cold Wednesday evening in October 1977. These were dark days for anyone associated with Heart of Midlothian FC and the Maroons struggled from start to finish against their more spirited opponents. Montrose won 3-1 that evening, Drew Busby grabbing Hearts goal. However, there was a shining light in the gloom - the performance of the teenage Lawrie Tierney who gave a performance above his years in midfield.

Tierney became a first team regular that season, making 30 league appearances. He scored the winner against Queen of the South at Tynecastle in January 1978 in what proved to be a crucial victory as Hearts gained promotion back to the top league by the skin of their teeth. However, it proved to be a brief respite as Hearts struggled again the following season and Tierney made just 14 league appearances as Willie Ormond struggled to put together a team good enough to compete in the cut-throat Premier League.

Tierney's appearances in maroon became fewer and in 1980 he left Hearts for six unhappy months at Hibernian before a spell at Wigan Athletic. Lawrie ended his playing career in the United States.

Today, came the news that Lawrence Tierney has passed away at the tragically young age of 52. Those of us who remember Hearts dark days of the late 1970s knew that Tierney may not have been the greatest player ever to wear maroon but his commitment, work-rate and dedication to Hearts cause could never be questioned.

May I pass my condolences to his family and those who knew him.


Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Real Mackay & Thru'penny Bits

Like many other Hearts supporters, I sat in awe at Tynecastle in the middle of August as Tottenham Hotspur ripped the Jambos apart with a devastating display in the first leg of the final qualifying round of the Europa League. It seems Harry Redknapp’s side have got even better since then and have surged up the Barclay’s FA Premiership table. Last month, ‘Arry was waxing lyrical about a player he brought to White Hart Lane shortly after his side demolished Hearts - Scott Parker. After a sublime display against Queens Park Rangers, Redknapp likened the midfielder to the legendary Dave Mackay. The day after the Spur manager’s comments, the BBC Sports website saw it fit to run a feature called ‘Who is Dave Mackay?’ Granted, this was likely aimed at younger readers but I have to say my heart sank when I read that the country’s principal national broadcaster felt it had to clarify who one of the greatest players this country has ever produced is.

I reach the half century next year and I must confess to feeling my age, particularly when I discover the BBC feels it has to explain to the world about Dave Mackay. Now, I never saw the great man play in a Hearts shirt, the player having joined Tottenham Hotspur three years before I was born. However, like thousands of other Hearts fans, I didn’t need to see him play to understand what a great talent and a huge influence he was on the Hearts team of the 1950s and the Spurs team of the 1960s.

Perhaps I‘m at that stage in life. I’m presently writing a book on Hearts 50 Greatest Games and doing the huge amount of research required is something of a labour of love. There’s no doubt that football has changed so much over the past 40 years or so - and not all for the better.

Something that has vastly improved from decades gone by is the match programme. When I mentioned to a fellow Hearts fan several years my junior, that buying a Hearts match day programme in 1970 cost just a shilling he gave me a look of pity that suggested he was looking for a nurse to assist in coming to rescue me. Talk of ‘old money’ from before 1971, i.e. shillings, sixpences and thru’ penny bits went way above the lad’s head. When I further ventured that Tommy Murray, the Hearts player of the early 1970s, was a tanner ba’ player who could turn on a sixpence, my younger Jambo associate ran away. Perhaps it was something I said.

I attended the excellent Billy Bragg gig in Edinburgh last month, which was hugely enjoyable. However, when I purchased the tickets from the Queens Hall box office in the capital city, the pleasant and well-meaning young lady placed her hand on my lower arm and said ‘you do know it’s mostly standing at this show’. Clearly, she felt I wouldn’t be able to last two hours or so standing up. I was tempted to launch into a tirade about how I used to stand on the Tynecastle terracings every home game, probably before she was born. However, I realised this would merely come across as the ramblings of someone who should know better and would likely increase her pity shown towards me.

I have to confess I stand guilty as charged at looking at decades gone by through rose - or should that be maroon-tinted spectacles. Much as I enjoyed watching Tommy Murray, Rab Prentice, Drew Busby and Donald Ford strut their stuff in the 1970s, I can’t forget the pain endured when Hearts suffered relegation for the first time in their history in 1977. Or the trouble on the terracings when Hearts visited the likes of Dumbarton, Alloa and Queen of the South during their sojourns ‘downstairs’. But part of me does hanker for more simpler times when one didn’t have to buy a ticket to go to the game; when fans swarmed on to the terracings ten minutes before kick-off; when Tommy Murray sat on the ball at Ibrox before passing to Jim Brown who delivered a cross for Donald Ford to score a goal; when Hearts played Hibernian on a Saturday afternoon at three o’clock (ask yourself, dear reader, when did that last happen?) A time when the media didn’t have to explain to its audience who Dave Mackay was.

One thing is for sure - nostalgia ain’t what it used to be!

Twitter @Mike1874