Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Other 5-1...

Heart of Midlothian 5 (five) Hibernian 1 - Bank of Scotland SPL
Sunday 11 August 2002 - Tynecastle
In 2002 it’s fair to say Craig Levein was making a name for himself in football management. Here was a young, articulate scholar of the game who, at the height of his playing career, was a brilliant defender in the Franz Beckenbauer mould. He suffered two serious knee injuries, which meant he had to give up the game prematurely - his decision to do so was announced at a tearful Tynecastle press conference in the autumn of 1997. Now, he was back at the club he served so well and where he made his name.

By the time season 2002/03 started, Levein had rebuilt the Hearts team to his specification. Just a little over four years had passed since his predecessor Jim Jefferies had led Hearts to Scottish Cup glory, but most of that team had now left Gorgie for pastures new. This was now Levein’s team. One of his first signings was Andy Webster, a stylish centre-half very much in the Levein mould. Levein paid a handsome sum of £70,000 in March 2001 to Arbroath for the services of the 19-year-old Dundonian. Like Levein, Webster would go on to play for Scotland. He would be a crucial component of Levein’s side that would go on to produce some memorable results, both domestically and in Europe, in the years that followed.

Hearts began season 2002/03 with a steady, if unspectacular, 1-1 draw at Dundee, before welcoming Hibernian for the first Edinburgh derby of the season. The BBC had switched the game to a Sunday afternoon for live television transmission and although it was early August and the Edinburgh Festival was in full swing, the weather was more like November. Torrential rain lashed the capital city all day but this didn’t stop more than 15,000 fans heading to Tynecastle for a game always hugely anticipated.

The game began rather like the weather conditions of the day - with Hearts flooding the Hibernian half. One of Hearts new signings, French winger Jean Louis Valois, was clearly in the mood and took little time to display his obvious skill.  Hearts other significant signing of the summer - Dutch striker Mark de Vries - was making his first start of the season, having come off the substitute’s bench the previous week at Dundee and his big physical presence seemed to have an unsettling effect on the Hibs defence right from the start. Valois, despite the monsoon like conditions, was revelling in the atmosphere and the Hibs defenders were clearly having trouble containing him. That said it was Hibernian who nearly opened the scoring when Townsley played a neat pass to O’Connor whose shot dipped over the crossbar. To say Hibs opening the scoring would have been against the run of play would be akin to saying there was a shower in Edinburgh that day. However, Hearts finally got the goal their play so richly deserved after 18 minutes, when keeper Niemi launched a long ball forward that was nodded on by de Vries towards Andy Kirk. Ulster Andy, as he was affectionately known, produced a lob of some quality over the Hibs keeper and immediately ran to the jubilant Hearts supporters in the Wheatfield Stand. 1-0 to Hearts and Kirk really should have made it 2-0 a few moments later, when he headed a sublime cross from Steven Boyack over the crossbar. In the 27th minute, Hearts thought they had scored a second goal when, following a corner, Valois found Scott Severin, but the midfield man’s spectacular diving header crashed off the Hibs crossbar with the Hibs keeper beaten. As half-time approached, some Hearts fans felt edgy about only having a one goal lead for all their team’s dominance. However, four minutes before the break, that man Valois delivered another fine cross into the Hibs penalty area and de Vries poked the ball beyond Caig to give Hearts a 2-0 lead at the interval.

Hearts fans, of course, can never take anything for granted and a two-goal lead quite often isn’t enough. Five minutes into the second half, Hibs Ian Murray headed home a cross from Brebner and it was game on in the Edinburgh derby. The goal gave the visitors hope and the game developed into an end-to-end affair. Valois continued to torment the Hibs defence and he provided yet another inviting cross, only for Kirk to fail to accept the invitation - but only just. Ulster Andy then produced a ferocious effort from six yards out, which Hibs keeper Caig brilliantly tipped over the crossbar. Hearts swarmed forward again on 64 minutes with Valois, inevitably, involved. The Frenchman struck a shot that Caig could only parry and de Vries slammed home the rebound to put Hearts 3-1 ahead to the ecstasy of the home support.

Hibernian brought on the old warhorse Mixu Paatelainen - who played a significant part in Hibs 6-2 win over Hearts at Easter Road two years earlier - in an attempt to score the two goals needed to salvage a draw. Two further goals were indeed scored as the game entered its final stage - but not by those in green and white. As the 90-minute mark approached, some of the home support began whistling for referee Mike McCurry to blow his whistle for full-time. However, the magnificent Maroons - and Mark de Vries in particular - weren’t finished yet. As Hibs pressed for a lifeline, Hearts broke up field in the final minute of regulation time. Good work by substitute Gary Wales set up de Vries, who buried the ball past Caig for Hearts fourth. With the Roseburn Stand emptying quicker than a pint of 80 shillings ale at The Diggers on match day, three quarters of Tynecastle was rocking. Deep in injury time, Steven Boyack delivered a deep cross into the Hibs penalty box, which the inevitable figure of de Vries met with his head and the ball bounced over the flailing Caig to make the final score an incredible Heart of Midlothian 5 Hibernian 1. The big Surminese striker had astonishingly scored four goals on his home debut. Being against Hibs, it was a performance that would place the name de Vries in Tynecastle folklore.

As the fans spilled out on to Gorgie Road, the rain was still hammering down in the capital city but the jubilant Hearts support did not care. They were in dreamland. They had waited years for a result like this over their city neighbours, who still referred to Hibs 7-0 win at Tynecastle on New Years Day 1973 and the aforementioned more recent 6-2 win at Easter Road. Now revenge was sweet indeed.

Few players have made such a debut in the Edinburgh derby as Mark de Vries did that day. The 6ft 4ins striker from Dordrecht 90 was sensational and, incredibly, Hearts manager Craig Levein said afterwards he expected even more from the big man - once he was fully fit! However, as impressive as de Vries’ scoring exploits were that day, the man of the match was not the big striker - but another new boy, winger Jean-Louis Valois. The Frenchman simply destroyed the Hibs defence that rain-soaked afternoon and he was instrumental in Hearts dominant performance. The former Luton Town player, who began his career at Auxerre under the legendary Guy Roux, was signed by Craig Levein on a free transfer and Hearts fans were wondering just how on earth any team could have simply allowed the gifted Frenchman to leave for nothing. The answer would become apparent in the months ahead. On his day, Valois was sublime, but there were other days when he was anonymous - almost the archetypal Scots winger! He was brilliant in season 2002-03 and he enthralled the Hearts fans with his skilful displays. Sadly though, Valois became something of a one-season wonder. A regular in his first season at Tynecastle, something seemed to happen to the Frenchman in the summer of 2003 and he failed to reproduce his form in season 2003/04. After losing form, he fell out of favour with Craig Levein and was released early from his contract in January 2004. After a brief spell in Spanish football, Valois returned to Scotland at the somewhat unlikely port of call that was Clyde. He then signed for Burnley and featured in their famous FA Cup victory over Liverpool in January 2005. Again though, he flattered to deceive and left Lancashire for the United Arab Emirates later that year. As for his Dutch colleague that day, it would not be the last time de Vries would feature prominently in a Hearts game - more of this later!

The next Edinburgh derby following the 5-1 thrashing of the hapless Hibees came at Easter Road in November - and, in many ways, was as sweet as the August hammering. Hearts had struggled all afternoon and trailed 1-0 with just five minutes remaining. As Hibs eyed a small measure of revenge, they reckoned without Hearts substitute Neil Janczyk. Four minutes from the end, the young midfielder crossed for big Kevin McKenna to nod past Hibs keeper Colgan to give Hearts an unlikely equaliser. Two minutes into stoppage time, Janczyk provided a sweet pass to Phil Stamp who darted into the Hibs penalty box, before stroking the ball past Colgan to give Hearts an even more unlikely winner. Even when Hearts played poorly, as they had done that afternoon, they were still good enough to beat Hibs! Craig Levein’s men ended the season in third place in the SPL - and qualified for the UEFA Cup.

Hearts had a decent run in the League Cup, reaching the semi-final before they lost to a solitary goal by Rangers Dutch star Ronald de Boer at Hampden on a cold, miserable February evening. However, Hearts reserved their worst performance of the season for the competition that means so much to the fans as it’s the one we all think Hearts - unlike other teams from Edinburgh - have a realistic chance of winning. Namely, the Scottish Cup. Hearts were drawn away to Falkirk in the third round (the first round that included the top flight clubs)  The Bairns were in the First Division at the time and Hearts had prepared for the game with  a mid winter break in Portugal. Perhaps the players were still thinking about this when they took to the field at ramshackle Brockville Park on a freezing cold January afternoon; it certainly wasn’t the cup-tie they were thinking about in a shambolic first half in which they found themselves four goals down to their lower league opponents, thanks to a hat-trick from Colin Samuel and a goal from Owen Coyle. There were shades of a 6-0 hammering at the same ground a decade earlier. Small wonder few Hearts supporters mourned the passing of  Brockville when it was demolished to make way for a supermarket a few years later (okay, perhaps I felt a tinge of sadness, given Brockville was where I saw my first Hearts game in 1968)

Such thoughts, however, could not have been further from the minds of celebrating Hearts supporters as they left Tynecastle in August 2002 after hammering the Hibs. We were too busy asking our Hibby supporting associates what the time was - as we made it five past!

Mike Smith

Hearts 50 Greatest Games is available in all good bookshops or on-line at Amazon

Saturday, 20 July 2013

The Golden Age of Broadcasting

BBC Scotland had live television coverage of Celtic’s UEFA Champions League qualifier against Cliftonville the other night. I watched about ten minutes of it before I felt compelled to switch it off. It was an easy enough win in the end for Neil Lennon’s side but what made me reach for the off button on the remote control was the incessant chattering from the BBC commentator. Now, I’m sure Liam McLeod – for it is he – is excellent at what he does and his pre-match research was meticulous. It’s just that his Aberdonian accent grates me more than a little – and I speak as someone who was born in the Granite City. Not only that, but McLeod does appear to enjoy the sound of his own voice. Perhaps this is understandable as the summariser sitting next to him was former Rangers and Aberdeen striker Billy Dodds, a man who puts the ‘oy’ into annoyance.

A couple of days later, I purchased a book entitled ‘A Game of Two Halves’ – the autobiography of former BBC sports commentator Archie Macpherson. The book, first published in 2009 by Black and White Publishing, was on sale at a considerably reduced rate (hence my purchase – did I mention I was born in Aberdeen?) but my initial thoughts are it seems likely to be an excellent read. And it brought back memories of what is perceived by many to be the golden age of broadcasting.

I have to confess I’m one of those people who looks back at a bygone age with rose-tinted spectacles. As a child growing up in the 1970s, a live broadcast of 90 minutes of football was a rare event four decades ago. There were just two broadcasters – the BBC and ITV, the regional arm of which was Scottish Television for viewers north of Hadrian’s Wall. In the early part of the decade the annual Scotland-England game was live on ‘the box’ as well as the occasional Scotland World Cup qualifying tie or European Cup tie – in the days when Scotland actually qualified for the finals of the World Cup or European Championships and Scots clubs i.e. Celtic reached the latter stages of the European Cup. Even the Scottish Cup Final wasn’t covered live until 1977. Other than these small morsels all we got was an half hour edited highlights programme – the BBC’s Sportsreel, later to become Sportscene on a Saturday night and Scottish Television’s Scotsport, usually on a Sunday afternoon.

Archie Macpherson was BBC Scotland’s main man in the 1970s and he was ably assisted in the commentating stakes by Alastair Alexander, a man who seemed to have secured a lifetime sponsorship deal with Brylcreem. There was an authority about Macpherson in particular, akin to a middle aged uncle who knew a bit about life and a lot about football. There’s a famous scene in the film Trainspotting where Ewan McGregor’s character Renton has sex and proclaims he hasn’t felt so good since Archie Gemmill scored Scotland’s third goal in their 3-2 defeat of the Netherlands in the 1978 World Cup Finals in Argentina. Archie Macpherson’s description of that goal is being played in the background. I wouldn’t go as far as to agree with Renton but I still feel goose bumps when I hear Macpherson’s commentary of Scotland’s 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Wales at Anfield towards the end of 1977, especially the second goal which secured Scotland’s place in the finals. ‘There’s an overlap, Martin Buchan…good running by Buchan, read it well…there’s Kenny Dalglish in there……OH, WHAT A GOAL!! OH YES! THAT DOES IT!’ Macpherson’s description was a passionate as any Scotland fan and encapsulated the feeling we all felt that night.

Perhaps Macpherson let his emotion get the better of him for Scotland’s first goal that evening when Joe Jordan appeared to punch the ball in the Welsh penalty box only for the referee to award a penalty to the Scots. ‘A handball if ever there was one’ opined Archie. Not many Welsh people agreed with Archie’s assertion although the referee’s decision, thankfully, was the final one…

Macpherson was also the commentator when Hearts headed to Dens Park on that final, fateful day of season 1985/86 requiring just a single point from their last game against Dundee to secure their first league title for over a quarter of a century. As a Hearts fan I naturally took my place on the terracing behind the goal but I don’t care to dwell on what happened that day. It took me several months to listen to snippets of Macpherson’s commentary that afternoon but only he could have described the build up to the game so vividly as the silver-shirted Hearts players took to the field – ‘who, away back in August blessed with the second sight, the seventh son of a seventh son could have foreseen Hearts on the very last day of the season playing for the championship, requiring only one point….?’  Words worthy of Keats…

Macpherson’s ‘rival’ over on Scottish Television  - although in truth they were good friends - was Arthur Montford, whose commentaries, particularly on Scotland games, have become legendary. Montford commentated on Scotland’s famous 2-1 victory over Czechoslovakia in the World Cup qualifier at Hampden in 1973, a win which took the Scots to the World Cup Finals for the first time in 16 years. The bold Arthur quite rightly dispensed with neutrality when, towards the end of the game, he shouted ‘watch your back, Denis’ as Scotland’s Denis Law was about to be tackled by a Czech player. Five years later when Don Masson infamously missed a penalty against Peru in the 1978 World Cup Finals, there was a stunned silence for a few seconds before Montford was barely able to utter ‘disaster for Scotland’.

This was a different era, decades before Sky Television, when games weren’t subjected to camera angles from every square inch of the ground, every refereeing decision wasn’t dissected and analysed, managerial tactics weren’t studied in depth and every substitution wasn’t theorised. It was a much simpler age and quite often the renowned commentators of the time just let the football do the talking.

I recall Arthur Montford, resplendent in sports jacket, smiling in the Scotsport studio on a Sunday afternoon welcoming viewers with the words ‘with the top game of the day in Scotland being the Old Firm clash, we took our cameras to Cappielow for the meeting between Morton and Partick Thistle’ And we watched nonetheless.

Macpherson and Montford might have occasionally irritated some viewers, particularly those who didn’t support the Old Firm. And they were from a much less technical era where multi-media coverage was still light years away. However, people of my generation still recall them with great fondness. They were both household names and both afforded respect.

Times change but not always for the better. Kick-off times and dates are changed at Sky’s behest – just after midday on a Sunday for the Edinburgh derby next month is yet another example of the satellite broadcaster completely ignoring the views and the wishes of the fans. The subscription monster that is Sky Television now dictates, leaving the terrestrial stations to grab what they can. Even ITV’s deal to cover the UEFA Champions League is shared with Sky leaving the BBC to make do with Celtic’s pre-qualifier against a part time team from Northern Ireland. 40 years ago we were lucky to get three games a year live on television. Now, thanks to Sky, there can be three a day. Blanket coverage gives credence to the adage you can have too much of a good thing.

Something you could never say about Archie Macpherson and Arthur Montford…  
Mike Smith
Twitter @Mike1874

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Hawick Royal Albert 1 Heart of Midlothian XI 6

Pre-season friendly, Albert Park, Friday 12 July 2013

Billed as: Hawick RA's manager is a friend of the brother of Hearts manager Gary Locke and the Maroons agreed to play a friendly.

Reality: Hearts fielded their under 20 side which was mostly 16, 17 and 18 year olds. On a scorching summer's evening in the Borders, the young Hearts team took control of the game straight from kick off and, a ten minute spell at the start of the second half aside, dominated from start to finish.

The good: If this is the future of Hearts then there is plenty to look forward to. Yes, it was a friendly and the Tynecastle men boys were streets ahead fitness wise of their part time opponents. Nonetheless, the Hearts laddies had skill, pace and vision and I suspect more than one of them will make the first team before the end of the season.

The bad: A wee defensive lapse or two - quite awful defending led to the home side's goal. Something that needs to be addressed.

Reaction: A fine summer's evening and a fine display from the Hearts youngsters.  The accompanying photograph is copyright to Brian Sutherland. For clarification, that's not George Clooney in the background with his two daughters although the likeness is admittedly uncanny...

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Spartans 0 Forfar Athletic 2

Pre-season friendly, Ainslie Park - Tuesday 9 July 2013

Billed as: A chance for one of the favourites for the new Scottish Lowland League to pit their wits against Division Two side Forfar Athletic who were involved in the play-offs in the SFL last season.

Reality: With a Ramsdens Cup preliminary tie against Threave Rovers on Saturday, Spartans were keen on getting their fitness levels up. On a beautiful summer's evening in Scotland's capital city, it was a pity there weren't more people at Ainslie Park to witness a decent game.

The good: Both sides tried to pass the ball wherever possible - they both play on an artificial surface and this does lend itself more to a passing game.

The bad: Sadly, a distinct lack of atmosphere. 'This is Ainslie Park, Let's Make Some Noise' rather fell on deaf ears!

Reaction: An enjoyable game with The Loons just deserving their win. With the experienced Gavin Swankie and Chris Templeman, Forfar always carried more of a threat up front. It was Templeman who opened the scoring after just three minutes and while Spartans worked hard the game was ended as a contest with 15 minutes left when Muhsin fired in a ferocious effort which Spartans keeper Bennett could only palm into the net.

Enjoyable stuff and this may be the first of several visits I will be making to see Spartans this season.