I have to confess I didn’t go to Tannadice last month for Hearts Scottish Communities League Cup victory over Dundee United. Work commitments meant I couldn’t make it to Tayside in time for the earlier than usual kick-off time of 7.15pm (thank you, BBC Scotland) so I opted for sitting in front of the television at home with a couple of cans of ale (well, perhaps more than a couple…) My joy at Calum Paterson’s opening goal - the big man seems to relish playing at Tannadice - was tempered by United’s equaliser against the run of play soon after. When Darren Barr was sent off ten minutes before the end of the regulation ninety, I feared the worst. However, the boys in white and maroon were immense as they held out during extra time to take the tie to a penalty shoot-out. And here’s where I must make another confession (that’s two already)
When Danny Grainger and then John Sutton missed Hearts first two penalties, I switched off the television - and headed for bed. My better half tried to console me when I told her Hearts had lost on penalty kicks. Her remark of ‘at least you won’t have to pay to go to the semi-final in January’ was well meant if somewhat ill-timed.
When I arose somewhat bleary-eyed the following morning I switched the television on to see the lovely Catriona Shearer announce Hearts had won 5-4 on penalties. Thinking standards were falling at the BBC, I tut-tutted before checking the excellent Hearts website. Catriona was, of course, spot -on (see what I did there?) Hearts had indeed won the penalty shoot-out. My better half was concerned for my mental well-being but when I explained what I had done, she quite rightly questioned my faith in the team I have followed for 44 years. And here’s yet another confession - it’s not the first time I’ve not waited until the fat lady has sung at a Hearts game.
Nearly a decade ago, on 2 January 2003, I was at Tynecastle watching an epic Edinburgh derby. Hibs were 3-2 ahead with a minute to go when they got a penalty kick. The eternal pessimist in me led me to head for the exits even before the penalty was taken. I was heading out as Grant Brebner slotted the rebound from Hearts keeper Roddy McKenzie’s save from Paatelainen’s penalty to make it 4-2 to the Hibees. My mate and I were well along Wheatfield Street when we heard the cheers from those Hearts fans still inside Tynecastle celebrating Graham Weir’s goal to make it 4-3; and on Gorgie Road when Weir scored again to snatch a sensational equaliser. That 4-4 game is etched in the annuls of Tynecastle folklore - just a pity I wasn’t brave enough to stay to the bitter end.
My defence is that this damned team we support has a regular habit of kicking us in the teeth so, in my view, there isn’t much to be gained by prolonging the agony. I was 14 years old when I first decided to head for the exits rather than watch my beloved team succumb to defeat. Back in March 1976, I watched in disbelief with 8,000 other fans, mostly Jambos, Premier Division Hearts trail First Division Montrose 2-1 in the Scottish Cup quarter final at a packed Links Park. I was almost at the exit gates, having walked away from the proceedings, when suddenly there was an almighty roar and thousands of Hearts supporters leapt for joy on the crumbling terracing. Graham ‘Shuggie’ Shaw had scrambled home a last gasp equaliser - well, I say scrambled home, for all I know he could have unleashed a forty-yard screamer - to dramatically keep Hearts in the cup and force a replay. Hearts required two replays to get the better of the Angus side but eventually went all the way to the final against Rangers at Hampden. Being still in my teenage years, I found the emotion of such a reprieve all too much and fought back the tears. It wasn’t the first time I had cried at a Hearts game - and it certainly would not be the last. Similarly, it wouldn’t be the last time I would leave a Hearts game early in the mistaken knowledge the game was all over. You might think someone of my age and Hearts supporting experience would know better.
Sadly, as my actions in retiring to bed on Halloween before Jamie MacDonald and company performed heroics proved, I haven’t learned my lesson.
As the legendary John Robertson once famously quipped - it ain’t over til the fat striker - or Lithuanian captain - scores!