Sunday, 17 August 2014

Heart of Midlothian 2 Hibernian 1

SPFL Championship, Sunday 17 August 2014 – Tynecastle 

History was made at Tynecastle this afternoon. Given the amount of times there is an Edinburgh derby these days you may question that statement. However, this afternoon saw the first ever Hearts-Hibs fixture to be played in the second flight of Scottish league football.

After the fall out of relegation for both capital clubs, this summer has seen major changes at Tynecastle and Easter Road. Both clubs now have new managers, a sprinkling of new players and there is now a powerful and successful woman at the helm of both Edinburgh clubs. 

It was with this in mind that a full house packed Tynecastle Stadium for the first of at least four Edinburgh derbies this season. Hearts had something of a pre-match goalkeeping crisis with first choice keeper Neil Alexander ruled out for a month after fracturing his cheekbone in last week’s victory over Rangers at Ibrox and his understudy Scott Gallacher also being ruled out with an ankle injury. It was left to 20-year-old Jack Hamilton, whose loan to Stenhousemuir had to be curtailed due to the goalkeeping crisis, to make his competitive first-team debut for Hearts. 

It may have been a Sunday lunch-time kick-off but it was a typically fervent Edinburgh derby atmosphere at Tynecastle. Hibs supporters, despite their agonies of last season, nearly filled the Roseburn Stand and gave their team tremendous backing. The Hearts support responded in kind and the unfurling of a banner in the old main stand which red ‘Tick Tock Who’s Laughing Now’ was an obvious reference to those Hibs supporters who took great demise in their city rivals sinking into administration just over a year ago.   

The first half, it has to be said, was as far-removed from some of the free-flowing football on display at the World Cup in Brazil this summer as was possible. The midfield became a battleground with a stream of fouls and misplaced passes and one yearned for a playmaker to put their foot on the ball and calm things down. Sadly, this didn’t happen. 

There were few highlights of that opening 45 minutes. Michael Nelson headed just over for the visitors while Hearts Jason Holt delivered an inviting cross into the Hibs penalty box – unfortunately, no one was willing to accept the invitation. 

There was plenty of effort and determination from both sides but with half an hour gone neither goalkeeper had been called to make a save of any note. Then came the game’s first real chance. 

Hibs Daniel Handling raced into the Hearts penalty box with Hearts keeper Jack Hamilton racing to meet him. The Gorgie youngster brought him down and referee Willie Collum immediately pointed to the penalty spot. The Hearts players and fans alike were aghast when the official reached for a card but, thankfully for the home side, it was just a yellow and the goalkeeper remained on the pitch. Hibs’ Liam Craig stepped up to take the penalty kick but his effort went wide to the delight of the goading home support in the Gorgie Stand.

Eight minutes before the interval, Hearts Sam Nicholson volleyed a first-time effort which forced Hibs goalkeeper Mark Oxley into a fine save. Following his remarkable goal against Livingston at Easter Road last weekend, Oxley was being suitably encouraged by the Hibs fans in the Roseburn Stand behind his goal to shoot at every opportunity…

The only other chance of a hugely disappointing first half was right on the stroke of half-time when Hearts young defender Jordan McGhee fired in an effort from 25 yards which whistled past the post. Half-time: Hearts 0 Hibs 0

Those supporters hoping Messrs Neilson and Stubbs might have offered few words of encouragement to their players to actually play football which was pleasing on the eye were somewhat disappointed when the second half quickly began to mirror the first – Hearts Jason Holt was fouled within six seconds of the re-start. Although the game was end-to-end there seemed little danger of the goal nets actually making contact with the ball – until the 76th minute and a most welcome display of skill and finishing.

Hearts Sam Nicholson evaded a weak challenge before striding forward and unleashing a superb shot from 25 yards which flew into the net past a startled Oxley to give the home side the lead. Tynecastle erupted in a cacophony of noise from the home support as another derby win beckoned.

Just four minutes later, Hearts doubled their lead. Hibs Scott Robertson pulled down Prince Buaben in the penalty box and Buaben himself made no mistake with the penalty, shooting high into the net. Robertson was shown a yellow card which, being his second of the game, meant it was an early bath for the Hibs midfielder. And an early exit for hundreds of Hibs supporters who had seen enough and decided to head for home (or the pub to drown their sorrows)

However, Hearts never do things easily. Against ten men and with a two goal advantage, you might have expected the Maroons to comfortably see out the game. Not a bit of it. Hibs striker El Alagui almost pulled a goal back but his effort was brilliantly saved by young Hamilton in the Hearts goal.

Moments later, Hearts were also reduced to ten men when striker Osman Sow was shown a red card for extensive use of his elbow. Having been thwarted minutes earlier, El Alagui did score for the visitors following a mistake from Hearts skipper Danny Wilson, the Hibs man heading past Hamilton.

Hearts were then content to play out the four minutes of stoppage time and when referee Collum did eventually blow his whistle there was much relief from the home support.

After the game, Hearts Head Coach Robbie Neilson was quick to praise youngster Jack Hamilton.

"I had no issues about bringing Jack in. I worked with him last year," said the former youth coach. "He could have been man of the match today. It was an intense atmosphere. He handled it like a seasoned pro."  

Not the greatest Edinburgh derby you’ll ever see but Hearts won’t be complaining too much as they celebrate yet another victory over their rivals. 

Hearts: Hamilton, McHattie, Wilson, Ozturk, Gomis, Holt, Nicholson, King, Buaben, Sow, McGhee.

Hibs: Oxley, Gray, Nelson, Forster, Harris, Robertson, El Alagui, Craig, Stanton, Stevenson, Handling

Referee: Willie Collum

Att: 17,280

Top man: Hearts Sam Nicholson – a wee gem in an afternoon which rarely sparkled.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Times They Are A Changin!

It’s surely fair comment to say that, just a few months ago, not many Hearts supporters expected Sunday's opponents to be lining up for the Maroon’s first home league game of the season in the SPFL Championship. Last season’s 15 point deduction and signing embargo imposed on Hearts following the club’s administration last summer meant the Gorgie Boys were always hot favourites for relegation. That they went down fighting spoke volumes for the players and the truly magnificent support whose backing for the team never wavered and who will be supporting the team in a similarly impressive manner this season. The Maroon Army had to contend with countless taunts from supporters of our city rivals towards the end of last season. I was asked by more than one Hibby if I was going to the final Hibs-Hearts game of the season at Easter Road – ‘as it would be the last Edinburgh derby for several years’

I took this on both my chins, of course. After all, Hearts supporters will never let their Hibernian counterparts forget what happened in the William Hill Scottish Cup Final of 2012. There were many Hibbies who saw Hearts relegation as justified comeuppance for the club living beyond its means, although it’s fair to say this could be applied to many clubs in Scotland, including Hibs themselves.

However, as last season drew to its astonishing conclusion, it was evident the Easter Road club were hell-bent on self-destruction. They required just one win from their final few games to avoid the relegation play-offs. Even a point in their final game at home to Kilmarnock would have been enough. Of course, history will relate they didn’t get it. History will also relate that Hibs took a 2-0 first leg aggregate lead from their play-off against Hamilton Academical – but still succumbed to the Accies in their return leg at Easter Road and lost their top-flight status after a dramatic penalty shoot-out.

There was, naturally, much ribbing from Hearts supporters to their city counterparts. However, some of my closest friends, including the fella who will be best man at my wedding next February, are Hibs fans and I genuinely felt for some of them and the devastation they undeniably experienced.

Hibs demise against Hamilton Academical brought to mind Hearts notorious end of the season game against Kilmarnock at Tynecastle in April 1965. The Maroons were top of the league with the Ayrshire team in second place. The final game of the season between the two had been described as a ‘winner-takes-all’ but it wasn’t even that. Hearts just had to avoid a two goal loss at home to ensure the league title would be heading to Gorgie after a five year absence. Even a 1-0 defeat would see Hearts win the league on goal average as was the way of deciding such matters at that time.

Again, history relates that Hearts lost 2-0, thereby handing the league title to Kilmarnock. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Hearts supporters had to endure similar agonies 21 years later when the silver-shirted Maroons needed just a draw in their final league game at Dundee to win the league title. Hearts had been unbeaten since the end of September and, with just eight minutes remaining at Dens Park and the game still goalless, the title party was about to begin. Until Dundee substitute Albert Kidd proceeded to wreck the party by scoring his first two goals of the season…

This afternoon we are about to witness history. The first ever Edinburgh derby to be played in the second flight of Scottish league football. In a division which also includes Rangers – if anyone had suggested this scenario five years ago they would have been carted off for some medical attention. With just one team assured of automatic promotion, it does mean that at least one of Scotland’s major clubs will spend a minimum of two seasons in the second tier of Scottish football. As former Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen might say ‘that’s simply unbelievable’

Both clubs now have new managers, a sprinkling of new players and there is now a powerful and successful woman at the helm of both Edinburgh clubs. When Hearts lost the league title in 1965, singer Bob Dylan released a single that still resonates in Edinburgh five decades later. For Hearts and Hibernian, ‘The Times They are a-Changin’.

Hopefully, for the better!


Friday, 8 August 2014

Footballer's Hair Styles

This is taken from When Saturday Comes website. It's a short film about football injuries. Chelsea's John Dempsey is interviewed by a young John Stapleton, now a breakfast television stalwart, in the 1970s. You don't see many hair styles like these nowadays...

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Heart of Midlothian 3 Annan Athletic 1

Petrofac Training Cup 1st Round, Saturday 26 July 2014 – Tynecastle 

After a season when the club was traumatised by administration and suffered relegation from the SPFL Premiership as a consequence, Hearts ended their first competitive fixture of the new season with a comfortable victory over League Two side Annan Athletic in the first round of the Petrofac Training Cup at Tynecastle on Saturday. 

That Hearts are in this competition is directly because they are no longer in the top flight of Scottish football. Thus, they faced Annan Athletic for the first time and the outcome of the game was never seriously in doubt. 

Billy King was the tormentor in chief in the early stages and he opened the scoring after just eight minutes with a brilliant effort, dancing past a bewildered Annan defence before blasting the ball into the net beyond Annan keeper Mitchell. 

It was, as you might expect, mostly one-way traffic towards the Annan Athletic goal. However, the visitors did have a free-kick from Hopkirk which Hearts keeper Neil Alexander dealt with comfortably.

After 20 minutes the home side were 2-0 ahead. Dale Carrick flicked a pass towards Osman Sow and the former Crystal Palace striker used his experience to outfox an Annan defender before slipping the ball beyond Mitchell from around 16 yards.

Sam Nicholson was proving a handful for the visitors hard-pressed defence and the youngster had two efforts on goal, one which went just over the crossbar and the other which was directly at keeper Mitchell.  

Hearts did get the third goal their play richly deserved just before half-time. Billy King’s corner from the right was powerfully headed home by Callum Paterson. Sadly, the right back suffered an injury just before the interval and was replaced by Jordan McGhee for the second half. Half-time: Hearts 3 Annan Athletic 0 

The second half followed the same pattern as the first with Sow, King, Carrick, McHattie and Nicholson all having decent attempts on goal. Credit to Annan Athletic, though, who worked incredibly hard, particularly in defence, to keep the Hearts team at bay. There was only one more goal in the second half – but not at the end most people thought it would be.  

In the final minute Annan substitute Davidson scored with a fine finish which went beyond Neil Alexander from the edge of the box. 

Overall, it was another decent performance from Hearts and one can see the way Robbie Neilson wants his young team to play. Possession is the name of the game these days in Gorgie and the ethos seems to be if the opposition don’t have the ball then they can’t do you any damage. It’s certainly pleasing on the eye. 

With several new signings it’s going take a little while for this new-look Hearts team to gel but some of the football they played on Saturday and last Friday against Manchester City has been delightful. If I’m being picky I could say that Hearts need to be more ruthless in the opposition penalty box. It could and indeed should have been 6-1 to the Maroons today. And new recruit Alim Ozturk will need to be told that the Scottish Championship is not a league where he will be able to dwell too long on the ball! 

That aside, the early signs look promising for Hearts.  

Hearts: Alexander, Paterson, McHattie, Wilson, Ozturk, Gomis, Sow, Nicholson, King, Buaben, Carrick.

Annan Athletic: Mitchell, Watson, Chisholm, McNiff, Black, Swinglehurst, McStay, Flynn, Todd, Hopkirk, Carcary. 

Referee: Callum Murray 

Att: 6,708

Top Man: Billy King. The youngster made a blistering start, then faded before coming back into the game again. A real prospect.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Hearts Sign Osman Sow

Hearts today completed the formal signing of Osman Sow after the Swedish striker had appeared as a trialist in some of Hearts pre-seasons friendlies. The 6ft 4” former Crystal Palace player scored in Hearts 2-1 defeat from English champions Manchester City on Friday night and has impressed Head Coach Robbie Neilson. 

Neilson told the club’s official website he was delighted to have secured Sow’s services.  

‘He’s a tall, athletic player who will provide a presence to our forward line. He was highly-rated at Crystal Palace so it’s a real coup to get him’ said Neilson who is rapidly constructing a new-look Hearts team. Sow also scored against East Fife in another friendly. 

Hearts have already signed Turkish Under 21 defender Alim Ozturk, former Hamilton Accies striker James Keatings, former Scotland goalkeeper Neil Alexander, ex Rangers goalkeeper Scott Gallacher, striker Soufian El Hassnaoui and former Dundee United midfielders Morgaro Gomis and Prince Buaben as they prepare to joust with Rangers and Hibernian for promotion back to the top flight of Scottish football.


Friday, 18 July 2014

Heart of Midlothian 1 Manchester City 2

Pre-season friendly - Friday 18 July 2014 - Tynecastle

As pre-season friendlies go, Friday evening’s game between Hearts and FA Premiership holders Manchester City was a pretty decent effort. The glamour fixture, arranged to mark the centenary of the main stand at Tynecastle attracted a crowd of over 12,000 to Gorgie which was a pretty good turnout considering we’re in the middle of the holiday season. 

Hearts had Neil Alexander, Alim Ozturk, Morgaro Gomis, Prince Buaben and Osman Sow making their home debuts and all five players impressed, particularly Gomis who orchestrated things in midfield. 

The English champions weren’t quite at full strength - hardly surprising when you consider how many of the City squad were playing in the World Cup Finals in Brazil – but their starting eleven still included the likes of Samir Nasri, Alvaro Negredo, Micah Richards, Javi Garcia, Jesus Navas and Scott Sinclair, all of whom have considerable first-team experience.

Hearts began the game in sprightly fashion with young Sam Nicholson looking particularly impressive. Sadly, the young winger had to leave the field after just 15 minutes with what looked like an ankle knock. He was replaced by Billy King. 

City had the first real opportunity when Nasri got to a cross from Navas but the former Arsenal playmaker’s effort was saved by Neil Alexander. 

Dale Carrick then had a chance for the home team after he was set up by Jamie Walker and it took a fine save from Wright to deny the young Jambo. 

City took the lead in the 24th minute. Fine play from the impressive Negredo set up Sinclair who buried the ball past Neil Alexander to give the visitors the lead – although there was more than a suspicion of offside in the build-up. The Manchester side, who were cheered on by around a thousand City fans in the Roseburn Stand, went in one goal ahead at the interval. 

City made several substitutions at the break but if Hearts thought things would get any easier they were soon changing their minds when they saw the likes of Kolarov, Fernando and Rodwell appear for the second half. Nonetheless, it was Hearts who scored a fine equaliser in the 55th minute. Great possession play by Dale Carrick set up newcomer Osman Sow and the big centre forward showed fine composure before easing the ball beyond Caballero. The goal was all the more impressive when you consider Sow had taken a knock just before this and his last action before going off was to score Hearts equaliser.

The game looked like ending in a draw which would have been a fair result. However, with ten minutes left, Hearts right back Callum Paterson made a rash challenge on Huws inside the Hearts box to concede a penalty. Kolarov made no mistake with the spot kick and City held on to win 2-1. 

Considering the quality of the opposition, Hearts Head Coach Robbie Neilson can be pleased with his team’s showing. Even on this early evidence, it’s clear Hearts will be contenders for the Championship and promotion back to the Premiership. 

Hearts: Alexander (Hamilton, 70'), Paterson, McHattie, Wilson (McGhee, 75'), Ozturk (McKay, 70'), Gomis (Oliver, 75'), Walker (Holt, 56'), Buaben (Robinson, 59'), Sow (D. Smith, 56'), Carrick (Keatings, 56'), Nicholson (King, 16').  

Manchester City:  First half - Wright, Richards, Leigh, Nastasic, Rekik, Garcia, Zuculini, Sinclair, Nasri, Navas, Negredo. Second half - Caballero, Bossaerts (Clichy, 71'), Boyata, Kolarov, Denayer, Fernando, Rodwell, Sinclair, Huws, Jovertic, Guidetti.

Referee: Steven McLean  

Att: 12,188 

Top man: The highly impressive Morgaro Gomis.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Dark Side of the Beautiful Game is Nothing New

In the build up to this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the BBC broadcast some official World Cup films from yesteryear. I didn’t watch the 1966 one, for obvious reasons, but I did catch some of the official stories of the 1970 and 1974 World Cups. Now those of you who have read my occasionally inane ramblings in these pages - and I thank you both – may well be thinking ‘here he goes again, football was so much better when it was played in black and white etc. etc.’ But bear with me on this.

A good friend of mine – who is even older than I am – quite often bemoans the fact that the first aim of too many football teams these days is not to lose. He despairs at the cynicism in the game today, the diving, the harassment of the officials, and the lack of discipline. Old Charlie infers that the game was much more of a sport in days of old and that rampant commercialism and money-making has made football all the poorer. He might have a point but a look back half a century or more shows these traits are nothing new.

The 1970 World Cup in Mexico is the first finals I can recall, being just 8 years old at the time. By this time, television was making its mark and these finals were the first to be transmitted by colour television. Brazil, of course, lifted the trophy for the third time by defeating Italy 4-1 in the final and this game, dominated by Brazilian superstars such as Pele and Jairzhinho, is seen as the benchmark to which all football sides should attain. However, as the official FIFA film shows, cynicism, negativity and indiscipline were rife even during the self-proclaimed golden era of football.

The gifted Pele, arguably the best player the world has ever seen, was challenged by an Italian during the final and performed a dive which wouldn’t have been out of place in the pool for the Olympic Games held in the same country two years earlier. Pele fell to the ground clutching his ankle and appeared to be in agony. There seemed to be minimal contact, a suspicion enhanced moments later when Brazil scored and Pele bounded across the turf like a gazelle on heat.

Earlier in the finals the Russian team, concerned by the effects of the baking heat at a midday kick-off, opted to put those squad members who weren’t playing to line up for the pre-match presentations to officials prior to the game against hosts Mexico. Thus, those players who were in action were spared the rather unnecessary long wait in the sun before kick-off. Then there was the game between the hosts and El Salvador.

Mexico reacted to the apparent award of a free-kick to El Salvador by kicking the ball away. As El Salvador watched in bemusement, the referee did nothing, permitting the Mexicans to head up the park and score the opening goal. Rightly incensed, El Salvador hustled and bustled the Egyptian referee and even booted the ball out of play from the kick-off in protest. Mexico went on to win 4-0 and progressed to the quarter finals. Let’s face it, having the host nation in the knock-out stages would surely be preferable to having some no-hopers who were in their first ever World Cup finals…?

You may think a lack of discipline is recent affliction to the game. Not so. Forty years ago, Scotland headed to the World Cup finals in what was then West Germany with high hopes. The Scots had qualified from a group which included Czechoslovakia and Denmark and were on their way to their first World Cup finals in 16 years. In the build-up to the tournament, Scotland defeated England - who had failed to qualify for the finals – 2-0 at Hampden and optimism was again a welcome visitor to Scotland. However, it’s ne’er do well pal, indiscipline, was never far away. Celtic winger Jimmy Johnstone got involved in an incident two days before the England game which saw him cast afloat on a dinghy with only one oar on the Firth of Clyde. Of course, ‘Jinky’ as he was affectionately known, had imbibed on one too many alcoholic refreshments. Scotland manager Willie Ormond was under pressure to drop Johnstone for such indiscipline but played him anyway – and the little winger proceeded to destroy the English with a masterful display.

However, when Johnstone was involved in another incident during Scotland’s pre-World Cup friendly against Norway in Oslo – yet again, alcohol was the temptress – the S.F.A. chiefs made their feelings clear to manager Ormond. The result was that one of the best players this country has ever produced didn’t play in the World Cup finals even though he remained part of the squad. And the Scots went out on goal difference due to the fact they only defeated Zaire 2-0 – draws against reigning world champions Brazil and Yugoslavia weren’t enough. Thus, Scotland were the only undefeated team at the 1974 World Cup – champions West Germany lost a group game to rivals East Germany – but may have achieved so much more had the squad maintained their discipline. We can only dream of what Jimmy Johnstone would have done to Zaire had he been given the chance.

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil was a splendid tournament. It produced more positives than negatives. Something not every World Cup finals - even those from the so-called ‘golden age’ – can claim….

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Edinburgh City 2 Raith Rovers 2

Pre-season Friendly, Wednesday 9 July 2014 – Meadowbank Stadium 

There may have been the not so small matter of a World Cup semi-final live on television but this didn’t prevent about 150 people heading to Meadowbank Stadium on Wednesday evening to see Lowland League side Edinburgh City take on SPFL Championship side Raith Rovers in a pre-season friendly. 

On a beautiful summer’s evening, possibly the hottest day of the year, it was shirt-sleeve time in the east end of Edinburgh and the non-league side gave an honourable account of themselves against more senior opposition. 

Raith Rovers, with a smattering of former Hearts players in their side, including the much-maligned Christian Nade partnering fellow ex-Jambo Calum Elliot up front, began sprightly although the best chances, what there were of them, fell to the home side.

It wasn’t until the 24th minute that the first real goalscoring opportunity arrived. Rovers Mark Stewart was fouled in the penalty box – Elliot stroked home the resultant penalty kick and the visitors were ahead. 

Ten minutes later, City were level thanks to another penalty kick although the foul by Laurie seemed soft. Nico Gibson duly despatched the penalty and the home side were level. 

Four minutes before half-time, Ross Allum took advantage of poor defensive play from Rovers to hook the ball home and put the home side 2-1 ahead at the interval. 

Ten minutes into the second half, Rovers drew level when a fine effort from Ross Callachan crashed off the crossbar only to fall kindly for Christian Nade who tapped home the rebound. 

A few minutes later, Nade was involved in an altercation with City’s Joe Mbu and the referee seemed to gesture to the Rovers bench to substitute Nade before a red card came his way. The former Hearts man was none too pleased at coming off. 

The game ended at 2-2, a fine result and display from Edinburgh City who thoroughly deserved their draw against their higher league opponents.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

New Signings for Hearts

Hearts today completed their fifth new signing in recent weeks as they prepare for the new season in the SPFL Championship. Former Turkish Under 21 defender Alim Ozturk has become the latest player to sign for Robbie Neilson’s team after leaving Trabzonspor in Turkey. 

Ozturk, 22, who was born in the Netherlands but qualifies for Turkey through parentage, was previously with SC Cambuur in the Dutch League. He moved to Trabzonspor for a sizeable fee but things didn’t work out as planned and he spent some time playing in the reserve side.  

Hearts Head Coach Robbie Neilson was delighted with his latest capture. He told the club’s website “Ozturk is a very good player. He was sold to Trabzonspor 18 months ago for quite a bit of money and was a big prospect for them. 

He wants to get back playing and has taken a big gamble coming here as he has taken a big hit on his wages. I think the fans will really take to him. He is big, strong and athletic and is good on the ball, too. I think him and Danny Wilson will form a great partnership. 

"We have been trailing him for a few weeks and didn't think we had a chance of getting him but I'm delighted to have signed him and sometimes you just have to wait a little while to get players like him." 

Hearts have already signed former Hamilton Accies striker James Keatings, former Scotland goalkeeper Neil Alexander, striker Soufian El Hassnaoui and midfielder Morgaro Gomis as they prepare to joust with Rangers and Hibernian for promotion back to the top flight of Scottish football.


Thursday, 5 June 2014

Hearts Set to Exit Administration

Hearts look likely to exit administration early next week – just days before the first anniversary of administrators BDO taking over the running of the club. It was June 19 last year when the financial roof metaphorically fell in at Tynecastle but now the news from Gorgie is of the Court of Session rubber-stamping Hearts exit from administration on 9 June.

It is understood Hearts don’t expect any last minute hitches although a precautionary date of Friday June 13 has been set should there be any unexpected problems. BDO would certainly be looking for a final resolution before 19 June as any delay beyond this date would require an extension to the administration period to be granted by a judge – which would prove costly for the club’s new owner Ann Budge.

If Hearts do formally exit administration on Monday it’s expected little time will be wasted in bringing new players to Tynecastle with former Dundee United midfielder Morgaro Gomis and Hamilton forward James Keatings believed to be on Head of Football Craig Levein’s list.

One player who won’t be returning to Tynecastle is former Hearts and Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon who is expected to sign for champions Celtic later this week.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Hearts 3 Hibernian 2 - 1983 Revisited

Photo: London Hearts

Edinburgh businessman Wallace Mercer saved Hearts from oblivion in 1981 when he wrote a cheque for £350,000 to purchase shares in the club and became the majority shareholder. He was a successful property developer, and while he would often cut a controversial figure during his decade and a half as Hearts supremo, it’s frightening to think even now what might have happened to Hearts without his financial intervention and business expertise. Hearts will always owe a huge debt to Wallace Mercer.

In the summer of 1983, Hearts fans were optimistic once more as their team challenged in the top tier of Scottish football for the first time in two years. After a desperate 1981/82 season, when they failed to get promotion and were knocked out of the Scottish Cup by Second Division Forfar Athletic, Hearts stumbled over the promotion finishing line by securing second place in the First Division at the end of season 1982/83 - and were at last back in the top flight.

Scottish football in general was in good shape in 1983. Aberdeen had emerged, under Alex Ferguson, as one of the leading sides in the country and, indeed, was one of the top sides in Europe after winning the European Cup Winners Cup in Gothenburg in the summer. So the task of making an impact on the Premier Division was all the harder for Hearts for, as well as the Old Firm and Aberdeen, there was Dundee United who had won their first ever League championship at the end of the 1982-83 season. However, there was a vibrant air in the west end of Edinburgh and a genuine optimism that Hearts had finally laid their woes to rest.

Alex MacDonald, appointed Hearts player-manager in 1982, may have been relatively inexperienced in managerial terms - although as a player, he had enjoyed more than a decade of success at Rangers - but he knew he needed more experienced players if Hearts were to avoid yet another relegation. It wasn’t fanciful to suggest that, despite chairman Wallace Mercer’s financial backing, the club’s future would be in doubt if they were to be demoted again. Hearts did have talented youngsters such as Gary Mackay, Davie Bowman and John Robertson but MacDonald knew he needed players who had experience of the Premier Division - but he also knew he had little money to acquire them. However, MacDonald was an astute manager. He persuaded veteran striker Jimmy Bone, a hero of Partick Thistle’s victorious League Cup winning team of 1971, to return from a spell in Hong Kong to sign up for the Tynecastle cause. Although now 34 years of age, Bone was the ideal man to nurture the talents of young strike partner John Robertson. MacDonald also secured the return to Tynecastle of the hugely popular Donald Park, who Hearts fans believed should never have been allowed to leave Gorgie in the first place. With former Scotland youth captain George Cowie recruited from West Ham United to fill in the full back position and players already at Tynecastle who had experience in the Premier Division, Hearts at least looked better prepared for the challenges that lay ahead. MacDonald was as honest as ever when he stated that Hearts aim was to avoid relegation - anything else would be considered a bonus. What would transpire as the season progressed would be a spectacular bonus.

Having ditched the sectional stage as a format for the League Cup in the past few seasons, Scottish League officials adopted a curious logic for the 1983-84 competition. They began with two knockout rounds played over two legs - but then, inexplicably, drew the remaining 16 teams into four groups of four - in other words, a return to the sections that had proved less than popular throughout the years. Hearts required penalty kicks to see off Second Division Cowdenbeath (although, after the tie they signed the Fife club's promising young centre-half Craig Levein) and finished second to Rangers in a section that also had Clydebank and St Mirren. However, only the group winners went through and so it was another despairing year in the League Cup for the Jambos.

The league season though, was to get off to a spectacular start for Alex MacDonald's men. An awkward trip to Perth on the opening day of the season to face promotion bedfellows St Johnstone was rewarded with a 1-0 win thanks to a goal from veteran forward Jimmy Bone. As the Saints were to face Aberdeen, Dundee United and Rangers immediately after the Maroons, it seemed likely the Muirton Park team would be left at the stalls in the race for survival. Hearts next game attracted their biggest home crowd for nearly seven years when just over 20,000 fans swarmed to Tynecastle - for the meeting with Hibs.

Inspired by a noisy support, Hearts began in positive fashion and youngsters Robertson and Bowman both forced Hibs and Scotland goalie Alan Rough into action. However, Hibs then took over. The ever-dangerous Irvine was unsettling the Maroons defence and it was no real surprise when Hibs opened the scoring after just 11 minutes. After a Murray shot had cannoned off Hearts keeper Henry Smith, Ralph Callachan rubbed salt into the wounds of those in maroon who used to idolise him, by lashing home the rebound to put Pat Stanton's side one goal ahead.

Hibs then dictated the game for the remainder of the first half, with young midfielder Rice controlling the centre of the park. But for some inept, finishing Hibs could - and should - have added to their lead. However, for all their dominance, half time arrived with the Hibees just the one goal in front and their fans on the Gorgie Road terracing must have wondered if one goal would be enough. They were to get their answer in dramatic fashion in the second half.

Alex MacDonald tried to pep up his Hearts players during the break but, as the second half got underway, it was clear that Hibs still had a stranglehold in midfield. Ten minutes into the second period, MacDonald brought himself on in place of youngster Gary Mackay and the transformation was almost immediate. Two minutes later, Hearts equalised with one of the best goals ever scored in an Edinburgh derby - and it proved to be the first of a derby record for another Tynecastle youngster by the name of John Robertson. Home goalkeeper Henry Smith launched the ball forward and with wind assistance, it landed at the feet of the 18-year-old striker. With a breathtaking piece of skill rarely seen by Hearts fans since the golden age of the 1950s, 'Robbo' controlled the ball with his right foot. With his back to goal, and a deftness of touch reminiscent of Scotland legend Kenny Dalglish, Robertson turned Hibs veteran Arthur Duncan, spotted goalkeeper Rough off his line and curled a magnificent left-foot shot past the startled Hibs custodian to level the scores at 1-1. It was one of those goals that remained etched on the memory, and the fans in Gorgie who saw it still talk about it to this day.

It set an already intriguing derby alight and the Hearts fans celebrated wildly. However, their celebrations didn't last long. Eight minutes later Hibs, stung by the turn of events, regained the lead. Home defender Roddy MacDonald failed to clear a Thomson header and Irvine was on hand to steer the ball past Henry Smith. 2-1 to Hibs and it looked as if the points were heading for Easter Road. Pat Stanton's men had seemingly weathered the storm after losing the equaliser but the never-say-die attitude which Tynecastle boss Alex MacDonald had installed in his troops came to the fore in dramatic fashion.

With 20 minutes left, Hibs full back Brazil, attempting to take the sting out of the game, was short with a pass-back to keeper Rough. John Robertson was on hand again to pounce and sweep the ball home to level the scores at 2-2. Tynecastle was now in frenzy as the Hearts support acclaimed the birth of a star who had been banging in goals in the First Division the season before, but was now proving himself in a big way in the top league. Play now swung from end-to-end and the match was turning into one of the best derbies seen in years. With just 13 minutes to go, Robertson showed that he could turn goal maker as well as goal taker when he delivered a glorious 25 yard cross field pass, which carved open the Hibs defence and reached Donald Park. The wee man, who revelled in derby games, quickly despatched the ball into the penalty box where veteran striker Jimmy Bone headed past Rough to put Hearts in the lead for the first time at 3-2.

The home support erupted and while Hibs threw everything into attempting to get the equaliser, Hearts held on for a famous victory. The joyous scenes at the end of the game told their own story as the maroon-shirted players hugged each other and punched the air with delight. It was Hearts' first victory over their rivals for almost six years, their first derby win at Tynecastle for almost a decade and, remarkably, only their third league win at Tynecastle over Hibs in two decades. It had been one of the best games between the two sides since the halcyon days of the 1950s and was the clearest signal yet that Hearts were heading in the right direction.

It was two wins out of two for Hearts and, buoyed by this success, the Maroons, to the astonishment of the country who weren't used to such performances from a promoted side, went on to win their next three league games - one of which was a highly impressive win over Rangers at Tynecastle. Incredibly, after five games, Hearts   shared   top   spot   in   the   Premier Division with champions Dundee United and Celtic, with a 100% record and Tynecastle fans pinched themselves to make sure it wasn’t a dream. Their run ended when Aberdeen won 2-0 in Gorgie, but Alex MacDonald’s men kept on producing highly creditable results that included wins over St Johnstone, St Mirren and a hard fought 1-1 draw at Celtic Park where Henry Smith saved a penalty kick. Hearts, unusually for a side that had gained promotion, were proving hard to beat and as 1984 began, delighted Jambos were beginning to think more about the prospect of a UEFA Cup place rather than the expected fight against relegation. The Maroons did stutter heavily at Dens Park in January and in the return fixture at Celtic Park a few weeks later, but with youngsters Bowman, Mackay and Robertson maintaining form, Hearts clinched fifth place in the Premier Division at the end of a hugely satisfying season - and did indeed clinch a place in the following season's UEFA Cup much to the delight of Jambos everywhere.

In the Scottish Cup, there was the potential for Hearts to slip up in their tie against First Division Partick Thistle but the Maroons won 2-0 at a barely playable Tynecastle. The luck of the draw deserted Alex MacDonald's men in the next round, however, when they were faced with the perilous trip to Tannadice to face league champions Dundee United. Hearts famous battling spirit was to come to the fore once more with a pulsating performance, but the sending off of Jimmy Bone turned the game in United's favour and the Taysiders squeezed through 2-1.

Hearts supporters eagerly awaited the following season with the added anticipation of a plum draw in the UEFA Cup - French cracks Paris St Germain. Season 1983-84 had been an unqualified success and had seen the birth of a new star at Tynecastle. A star who, at just 18 years, had already taken the first steps to acquire the name 'John Robertson, Hammer of the Hibees!'
Hearts Greatest Games still available in all good bookshops and at

Ronaldo Gets Double-Bluffed

With the World Cup about to kick off in Brazil, here's a wee clip of two former Brazilian World Cup winners.

Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, commonly known as Ronaldo, on the left, was one of the greatest footballers of his generation. Despite being plagued by injury, his two goals in the 2002 World Cup final win over Germany in South Korea were the highlight of an illustrious career.

José Roberto Gama de Oliveira, known as 'Bebeto' was a forward who helped Brazil win the trophy when it was played in the United States of America 20 years ago. With 39 goals in 75 appearances for Brazil, Bebeto is the fifth highest goalscorer for his national team.

Ronaldo and Bebeto are great friends as the above clip shows when Bebeto tries to 'double-bluff' his compatriot in a poker game.

Friday, 16 May 2014

36 Years of Hurt Comes to an End

                            Photo: The Scotsman
In July 1995 Falkirk manager Jim Jefferies stood outside Brockville Park to tell the waiting media and anxious Bairns supporters - "I'm staying at Falkirk".  The former Berwick Rangers manager had been given the opportunity to take the manager's post at Hearts and, being a former Hearts captain as well as a lifelong supporter, the temptation was keenly felt. Jefferies had worked a minor miracle at Falkirk, not only taking the club to the Premier Division but also earning a respectable mid-table position when many pundits were tipping The Bairns for relegation. But, within forty eight hours of stating his intention to stay put, Jefferies' uneasiness at turning down what may have been the opportunity of a lifetime intensified. When Hearts chairman Chris Robinson went back to try again, Jefferies changed his mind - and history was in the making.

Two years later Jefferies was beginning to make his mark at Tynecastle - but the Scottish media was obsessed with Rangers attempt to win the league championship for a record tenth season in succession. The other eight Premier Division clubs were written off even before a ball was kicked. But a new challenge was rising in the east. Hearts recovered from an opening day defeat at Ibrox to thrash Aberdeen 4-1 at Tynecastle and it was a taste of what was to come from Jim Jefferies' side. Rangers still led the way but defeat from Motherwell meant that a rapidly improving Celtic and a born again Hearts were soon snapping at their heels. The Jambos were producing highly impressive performances, particularly away from home as was evident in a 4-1 win at Motherwell and another 4-1 victory at Pittodrie.

At Christmas there was a three-way split at the top of the Premier Division with Celtic, Rangers and Hearts streets ahead of everyone else. When Rangers went to Tynecastle on 20 December many observers thought it would be the acid test of Hearts championship credentials. Walter Smith's side coasted to a 5-2 win and everyone waited for Hearts bubble to burst, a view reinforced on New Year’s Day when The Jambos let slip a 2-0 lead in the Edinburgh derby with Hibernian to end with a 2-2 draw. But Celtic's victory over Rangers twenty four hours later meant Hearts were still in the title race and would remain so until almost the last three weeks of the season.

When the Scottish Cup came around some commentators had been so impressed with Hearts displays that they thought the Tynecastle side were a good bet to take the trophy - even though it had been thirty six years since silverware last graced the west end of the capital city. The Old Firm, they reckoned, would be too involved with the championship but Jambos boss Jim Jefferies wasn't worried about that being an apparent backhanded compliment.

Hearts were given a home draw against Second Division Clydebank in Round Three and were somewhat fortunate to win 2-0 given that The Bankies created the better chances in the game. It was Third Division opposition in Round Four when Albion Rovers visited Edinburgh and Angolan winger Jose Quitongo inspired Hearts to a 3-0 victory before their penchant for home ties was illustrated again in the quarter finals with a 4-1 win over Ayr United. Hearts eighth semi-final appearance in the Scottish Cup in twelve years had many people believing their name was on the trophy when they avoided both the Old Firm and drew First Division Falkirk. Hearts luck in the cup held firm. Despite their poorest display of the season during which The Bairns outplayed them, Hearts emerged 3-1 victors (two goals in the last two minutes sinking their lower league opponents) and their third cup final appearance in two years beckoned.

Their opponents were the side that had thrashed them 5-1 in the Scottish Cup final of 1996 - Rangers. Ibrox boss Walter Smith conceded that Hearts were a much improved team from the one that capitulated two years earlier but the Govan men were still firm favourites for the trophy. More than 48,000 supporters headed for Celtic Park on a warm May afternoon to witness one of the most emotional cup finals in recent years.

Hearts: Rousset; McPherson; Naysmith; Weir; Salvatori; Ritchie; McCann; Fulton; Adam; Cameron; Flogel. Substitutes: Hamilton, Robertson; Murray.

Referee: W. Young

It was a sign of the cosmopolitan times that, of the Rangers side, only Gordon Durie and Ian Ferguson were born in Scotland (Gough was born in Stockholm while Goram and McCall were born in England of Scottish parentage). Even the Hearts side contained two Frenchman, an Italian and an Austrian.

Both sides were affected by pre-match blows. Rangers influential German, Jorg Albertz was sent off for violent conduct the previous week at Tannadice while injury ruled out Swede Jonas Thern. Hearts captain Gary Locke, who was stretchered off injured after just seven minutes during the 1996 final, missed the '98 final because of a hamstring injury and, being a Hearts daft youngster, his anguish was felt by every Hearts supporter.

Rangers-Hearts Scottish Cup finals have a history of having remarkable beginnings. The 1976 final between the pair began at two minutes to three, Rangers scored within 80 seconds, and so Hearts were a goal behind before the official kick-off time! Astonishingly, the 1996 final kicked off at a minute to three and Hearts lost their captain within seven minutes. The fans wondered what the 1998 final would have in store - they got their answer after just 33 seconds!

 From the kick-off Hearts stormed upfield. Stand-in captain Steve Fulton burst into the Rangers penalty box only to be halted by Ian Ferguson. Halted illegally said referee Young and he awarded a penalty to Hearts. It looked initially like the foul had been committed outside the penalty box but, tellingly, few Rangers players protested. Colin Cameron stepped up to slot the penalty kick beyond goalkeeper Andy Goram and Hearts had a sensational lead after just eighty seconds. Maroon clad supporters erupted in the Celtic Park cauldron and it was certainly a start to the match few people - even in Edinburgh - had predicted.

Rangers, although stung by such an early setback, responded. Rino Gattuso embarked on a powerful run from midfield, which ended with a shot, which was comfortably saved by Rousset. Then Brian Laudrup had an effort which was blocked by nineteen year old Gary Naysmith.  Hearts, however, weren't just sitting back. Despite a significant change in tactics by manager Jim Jefferies which saw the team adapt a more rigid 4-4-2 formation rather than their normal swashbuckling style of 4-3-3, the maroons were still capable of lightening raids on the break, epitomised by young Naysmith who was having an outstanding game at full back. The Scotland Under 21 star had just been named Young Player of the Year and his assured defending and attacking abilities were there for all to see at Celtic Park.

After half an hour Rangers Ian Ferguson - a veteran of St. Mirren's cup triumph in 1987 - was put through by Laudrup but pulled his effort wide. Then came Rangers best effort thus far. Accepting a short free kick some thirty five yards out, Lorenzo Amoruso fired in a magnificent shot which appeared to be heading for the top left hand corner of the net. But as Rangers prepared to celebrate the equaliser Hearts keeper Gilles Rousset leapt majestically to palm the ball past the post. It was a fantastic save and a defining moment. In the 1996 final, the big Frenchman let a shot slip through his fingers to give Rangers a two goal advantage from which they never looked back. It was a schoolboy error and Rousset hid his face behind his hands at the realisation at what he had done. But now, two years later, he produced one of the great stops and the twenty three thousand Hearts supporters stood to acclaim the moment. Half-time arrived with Hearts still ahead and one wondered if history was about to be made.

At the start of the second half Rangers replaced the unhappy Stensaas with the veteran campaigner that was Ally McCoist. It signalled an all-out attacking policy by Walter Smith and for the opening five minutes of the second period Hearts were pinned back in their own half. Within minutes McCoist received a pass from the tireless Brian Laudrup but his effort went into the side net. Urged on by captain Richard Gough -playing his last game for the Ibrox club - Rangers swept forward and one wondered if Hearts could hold out. But, on fifty three minutes, the Hearts support erupted once more. Gilles Rousset launched a long ball down field from a free-kick and it seemed that Rangers Amoruso would clear the danger. But the Italian dithered as he went to strike the ball and Frenchman Stephane Adam nipped in behind him. Taking the ball into the penalty box, Adam fired in a powerful shot which goalkeeper Goram could only parry into the net. 2-0 to Hearts and Adam ran with outstretched arms to an ecstatic Jambos support to milk the celebrations.

The noise from the Hearts end was deafening. Was the dream about to come true? Was thirty six years of anguish about to end? The supporters, so often kicked in the teeth by countless near misses from their side, could scarcely believe it. But there were still thirty five minutes to go. And a wounded Rangers side is when they are at their most dangerous.  Seconds later Hearts almost ended the argument when Austrian Thomas Flogel headed a Steve Fulton free-kick powerfully towards goal but his effort was well saved by Goram. But, inevitably, Rangers stormed back.

Ally McCoist, despite being written off by some people at 35 years of age, was proving a real handful for the youthful Hearts defence. A snap shot from the striker from just six yards out was well saved by Rousset before the former Sunderland player appeared to be fouled by Dave McPherson. Time was running out for Rangers but, with nine minutes to go, McCoist finally got the goal both he and his side deserved. Ferguson played the ball forward to Gattuso. The Italian slipped it to McCoist who drove the ball past Rousset and into the net from 18 yards.

The last few minutes of the 1998 Scottish Cup final were tense, nervous and fraught for supporters of both sides. Rangers threw everything at the Hearts defence but the Jim Jefferies’ side scented glory. But there was still time for more drama in this epic cup final. With two minutes to go, McCoist went down in the penalty box after a foul by David Weir. Referee Young immediately blew his whistle. For a moment it looked like a penalty to Rangers and Hearts hopes appeared to be cruelly dashed once more. But, after a nod from the assistant referee, Young awarded a free-kick on the edge of the penalty box much to the disgust of McCoist. Brian Laudrup's free-kick was deflected wide and Hearts and their supporters breathed a huge sigh of relief. The period of injury time seemed to last forever. Fully four minutes stoppage time had been played when, at last, referee Young blew for the end of the match. The Hearts support roared themselves hoarse and danced for joy. Jim Jefferies almost crushed his assistant Billy Brown with a hug of delight. Hearts had won the cup for the first time since 1956 and four decades of heartbreak had come to an end.

The scenes which followed at Celtic Park were remarkable. Grown men wept and the tide of emotion that washed over those in maroon seemed almost to overpower them. Veteran striker John Robertson, a substitute but who never came on, was clearly overcome. 'Robbo' had been at the club for seventeen years but had yet to win a medal with the club he loved. Now, in his last season at Tynecastle, his dream had come true as it had for the thousands of jubilant supporters who found it difficult to comprehend just what had happened. When Steve Fulton went to collect the trophy he invited club captain Gary Locke to go up with him. The injured Locke - a dyed in the wool Hearts fan if ever there was one - didn't need to be asked twice and the two players held the cup aloft to a huge ovation from the Hearts support.

Edinburgh partied all weekend as the players paraded the cup through the streets of the famous old city and on to Tynecastle Stadium for a truly emotional homecoming. An estimated one hundred thousand people welcomed them home and Edinburgh let down its collective hair. Manager Jim Jefferies had said before the game that the players could become legends if they won the cup and there's little doubt that the Hearts support treated their heroes in a way befitting such a status.

It was an emotional end to an emotional season. In the last quarter of the league season Hearts championship challenge, admirable though it was, faded as the side dropped points to Motherwell, St. Johnstone and Aberdeen. The final nail in their title coffin was, ironically, driven in by city rivals Hibernian who recorded a rare win in the Edinburgh derby by 2-1 at Easter Road in April. It was, however, Hibernian's last hurrah – they were relegated at the end of the season.

Such upheavals meant little to those connected with Heart of Midlothian, however. It's true to say that the club had become something of a laughing stock in Scottish football as a result of their lack of success and their almost constant failure to produce the goods when it really mattered. Season 1997-98 changed all that. Throughout the season Hearts had consistently produced a sparkling brand of fluent, attacking football which delighted the purists. They had given the Old Firm the fright of their lives in the race for the league title.

And, after 36 years of hurt, they had finally brought silverware back to Tynecastle.