This weekend sees the visit of a team who haven’t been to Gorgie since season 2004/05. Dundee take to the Tynecastle pitch on Sunday, having taken the place of Rangers in the Clydesdale Bank SPL. However, for Hearts supporters of a certain vintage, the name Dundee still invokes painful memories from more than 26 years ago.
When the final day of the league season arrived on 3 May 1986, Hearts were two points clear at the top of the table. The only team who could catch them were Celtic - but even then, Hearts were four goals to the good on goal difference. Hearts needed just a draw, a single point from their final game at Dundee. Celtic needed a goals avalanche at St. Mirren - and hope Hearts would lose their first competitive game in eight months. I won’t dwell on what happened - more than a quarter of a century on, it’s still painful to write about. Suffice to say Hearts lost 2-0 at Dens Park - Dundee substitute Albert Kidd writing his name into Scottish football folklore by scoring his first - and second - goals of the season in the final eight minutes at Dens Park. At the same time, Celtic were cruising to a 5-0 win at St. Mirren Park - and thereby snatched the league title from the under the noses of the despairing Hearts players.
For those of us who were at Dens Park that fateful May afternoon it’s easy to associate Dundee with failure from a Hearts perspective. Particularly when you consider that even further back in the mists of time - 1965 - Hearts charge to the league championship was caused significant damage when Dundee visited Tynecastle in February 1965 and inflicted a 7-1 thrashing to the Maroons. The more mature Hearts supporter won’t need reminding that Hearts also lost the league title on the last day of that season, by 0.04 of a goal on goal average, to Kilmarnock. While Killie won the last game of the season 2-0 at Tynecastle, the damage caused by the thrashing by the Dees was significant.
However difficult it might be, I prefer to associate the Dark Blues with more positive times for Hearts (a rare show of optimism, I kmow) Eighteen months after that day at Dens Park, Hearts entertained the Dark Blues at Tynecastle. On calm, Halloween afternoon in 1987, Hearts seemed to release their pent-up frustration and produced a display that, in my view, remains one of the best I have seen in over 40 years of following the Hearts. This was a time when many teams still played not one, not two but three players up front. Hearts had a diminutive forward line in John Robertson, John Colquhoun and Wayne Foster - and those three players destroyed Dundee in a magical first half that took the breath away. Hearts were 3-0 ahead at half time thanks to two goals from John Robertson and one from John Colquhoun. In fact, Robbo should have had a first half hat-trick but the wee man missed a penalty kick - a rare occurrence for Hearts legendary striker. Hearts display in that first half was mesmerising. The pace of Colquhoun and Wayne Foster down the flanks was too much for the Dundee defence and Hearts looked like scoring every time they went forward - which was incessant in that first 45 minutes. In midfield, Kenny Black had one of his finest games in a maroon shirt and this enabled Gary Mackay to display his array of passing skills - the man who would score for Scotland against Bulgaria ten days later was a magnificent reader of the game and his defence splitting passes had the visitors literally on the run.
Hearts eased off slightly in the second half - it would have been nigh impossible to match that superb first half display - and won 4-2. However, it had been a joy to watch the maroons that afternoon. Many of the more mature Hearts support likened Hearts performance to that of the team of the halcyon days of the 1950s when the Gorgie boys dominated Scottish football. That period was before my time (honestly!) but I could understand the comparison. Even a certain journalist by the name of Jim Traynor opined in The Herald that, on their first half display, there was not a team in the country that could stop Hearts winning the league championship.
Those of us who stood motionless and crestfallen on the terraces of Dens Park in May 1986 will never forget that day. Three Scottish Cup wins since may have helped the mental scars heal although they’ll never fade completely. However, a similar display from Hearts on Sunday to the one against Dundee in October 1987 would be the ideal way to welcome Dundee back to Tynecastle.