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.  

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Heartbreak For Young Hearts in Paisley

Rangers U20s 2 Hearts U20s 2 aet (Rangers win 8-7 on pens)

Scottish Youth Cup Final, Tuesday 13 May 2014 – New St. Mirren Park

Hearts season ended in heartbreak as their Under 20 team lost the final of the Scottish Youth Cup to Rangers at a sun-kissed St. Mirren Park in Paisley on Tuesday evening.

Coach Robbie Neilson – who has now been promoted to first team Head Coach by Hearts new Director of Football Craig Levein – was hoping his youngsters would round off the season with silverware but a combination of poor defending and missed chances meant the Youth Cup would not be returning to Gorgie for the first time in 14 years.

Hearts, with several players having extensive first team experience, dominated the first half and deservedly took the lead after half an hour. Great work from Calum Paterson down the right wing saw the utility man’s deep cross find the head of Sam Nicholson. The speedy winger’s header was saved by Rangers keeper Kelly but Nicholson prodded home the rebound and danced away to celebrate, much to the delight of the large travelling support from Edinburgh. 1-0 to Hearts at half-time.

Hearts began the second half in similar fashion to the way they dominated the first half and spurned a great chance to double their lead moments after the restart. Gary Oliver had an open goal from three yards out but contrived to hit the side netting. It was a missed opportunity which Hearts came to regret. After 52 minutes Rangers Pascazio’s shot from distance was deflected past Hearts keeper Jordan Millar for the equaliser and Hearts young heads were momentarily down. Not for long, though, as Billy King put Hearts ahead again just after the hour mark after a goalmouth scramble.

Despite Rangers pressure Hearts looked like holding on for a famous win. However, with just a couple of minutes left the wee Gers launched another long ball forward. It should have been dealt with by Jordan Millar but the Hearts keeper needlessly came out his goal which enabled Halkett to nod the ball home for the equaliser. There was no further scoring in the subsequent 30 minutes of extra-time which meant the dreaded penalty shoot-out to decide the destination of the trophy.

Both teams matched each other until the penalty shoot-out score reached 7-7. Then, the unfortunate Jordan Millar saw his effort saved by his Rangers counterpart and the trophy was on its short journey to Ibrox.

Rangers: Kelly, Pascazio, Sinnamon, Halkett, Gasparotto, Telfer, Stoney, Murdoch, Gallagher, Dykes, Ramsay.

Hearts: Millar, Smith, Paterson, Gordon, McGhee, Beith, King, Scott, Carrick, Oliver, Nicholson.

Referee: William Wilson

Top man: Sam Nicholson

Monday, 12 May 2014

All Change at Tynecastle

Ann Budge took over as Hearts Chief Executive and Chairperson on Monday and immediately began implementing the changes she believes are required to take the club back to the top of Scottish football. Head Coach Gary Locke, Assistant Billy Brown and Goalkeeping Coach Alan Combe were all advised they weren't having their contracts renewed while senior players Ryan Stevenson, Jamie Hamill, Jamie MacDonald , Dylan McGowan and Callum Tapping, along with reserve goalkeeper Mark Ridgers, were also told their services would no longer be required at Tynecastle.

Budge has appointed former Hearts and Scotland manager Craig Levein as Director of Football while Youth Team Coach Robbie Neilson has been promoted to First Team Coach.  John Murray will also return to his previous role of Chief Scout.

Ann Budge released the following statement which appeared on the official Hearts website

It was clear from my earliest visits to Tynecastle and my earliest meetings with senior staff that the company, Heart of Midlothian plc, was, in every sense of the word, "broken".
There was no overarching strategy for how the business should be run. For far too long, there had been no clear leadership. This coupled with the sole focus on day to day survival had left the club in a sorry and perilous financial state. This led to a fundamental disconnect between the various departments and a mountain of issues to be resolved. Add to this, the under-investment in various parts of the business and the current financial position, and we have a "broken" Hearts. We must all realise that there is no quick fix for these problems.

One thing is very clear. We have come far too close to losing our very existence and we must never allow this to happen again. We must grasp this opportunity to start afresh; to put in place solid foundations that will ensure we never again risk our 140 years of history. 

We must make changes. We must stop thinking short-term. We must put in place a 3-5-year plan that will see our commercial activities totally re-vamped, such that they once again provide a solid financial under-pinning to our football club; and we must also completely revitalise and re-focus the football side of our club. We have some excellent young players, who have done us proud in the last season. We owe it to them to create an environment that will help them to continue to flourish and develop. This will take time, patience and the continued loyal support of Hearts' dedicated fan base. We will implement strategies to grow and strengthen the club. We will live within in our means to ensure that the future of the club is never again put in jeopardy.

We must ensure we have a clear footballing strategy that drives every aspect of our game; everything from who we recruit into our club, from youth academy through to first team players; how we approach coaching, at all age groups and all levels; how we undertake training… and indeed, what kind of football we play at Hearts.

There must be a totally cohesive plan that ties all aspects of our club together. Everyone must be pulling in the same direction.

Next season cannot simply be about getting back up into the SPFL. Of course, we will be striving for that, but we must take a longer-term view and build for the future. One of the key objectives of the new Board is to put in place a Coaching Education Programme that is second to none in Scottish football. Only by doing so, can we realistically attain the continual year-on-year improvement we are striving for and that will add to the value of the players and the club alike, and help to secure our future.

This means change on a fairly major scale. Not everyone will agree with all the changes being put in place, but we must address the issues at hand with our heads and not our hearts. We have made these tough decisions after much deliberation and much discussion. All we ask is that you give the new management team time and we will show we can deliver.

What are the changes?

We must put in place, first and foremost strong leadership. We need new skills, strategic thinking, and strong commercial and footballing management.

Board Level Changes

A new Board of Directors is being put in place over the next few days
• Ann Budge: Chairman/CEO
• Robert Wilson: Deputy CEO/Director of Strategic Planning
• Eric Hogg: Operations Director
• Craig Levein: Director of Football
• Ian Murray (Chair of FOH): Foundation of Hearts Representative
The Board will be expanded over time to include another non-executive Director, with a strong financial background, and a second FOH Director, to further represent the fans.

Operational Management Changes

Both Eric Hogg and myself will assume a very hands-on role in the day-to-day running of the club, supported by the existing management team.

I am delighted to say that the Operational Management Team will be expanded to include a new Head of Commercial. Ann Park will be joining the team with immediate effect. We have worked together over many years and I know she will bring lots of fresh ideas and strong sales and marketing leadership to the commercial team.

Footballing Management Changes

We know it may be an unpopular decision with some of you, but the Board has decided that we cannot offer Gary Locke a new contract as Manager, at the end of his current contract. Please believe me when I say this has been an enormously difficult decision to make. We all know the pressures that Gary and his assistant, Billy Brown, have worked under over the last year. They were set an almost impossible task, which they handled with dignity and determination. For that, we are all hugely grateful to both of them. The players and backroom/support staff at Riccarton will be sorry indeed to see them go…as, I know, will a very large section of the Hearts support. They will both leave with our very grateful thanks and best wishes.

Craig Levein will join the club with immediate effect and will assume total responsibility for everything to do with the playing side of the business. He will be responsible for putting in place an end-to-end strategy for how we are going to implement a youth-driven playing policy within the club.
John Murray will return to his former role as a chief scout. In the short-term, he will also assist with running the Academy, while we identify who should head this up. For the last year, John has taken on a wide sphere of responsibilities in support of the club he loves and for that we owe him a vote of thanks. We are pleased to be able to offer him the opportunity to go back to what he loves best; namely identifying new, young talent.

These decisions have been driven by everything that has been said about needing a long-term strategy, built over a 3-5-year planning horizon. For those reasons, the new Board believes that we need to bring in someone with Craig's experience to guide that vision. With such a strong Director of Football on board, we feel we have to spend our limited resources on strengthening and building the Coaching side of the business, rather than having a 1st team manager. Robbie Neilson will take over as Head Coach for the 1st team and we will bring in a strong support team to work with Robbie in terms of an Assistant Coach and U20s Coach.

Over the next few days, a number of other changes will be announced as we start the process of rebuilding our great Club. We will have to say good-bye to a number of the fans' current favourites; we will do our best to secure all our excellent young players; and we will welcome a group of new players, who will help us achieve our vision.

A number of the decisions we make over the next few days and weeks will be driven by finance. We have to ensure we live within our means. All of the decisions have been taken with a view to ensuring the future stability of our club.

End of statement

Some of Budge's decisions were clearly unpopular with a section of the Hearts support, in particular the decision not to retain the services of Gary Locke. However, it is clear strategic decisions regarding the long-term future of the club had to be made. Locke will always be remembered as a dyed-in-the-wool Hearts supporter who served the club he has supported since childhood with hard work, passion and integrity.

It's time for everyone associated with Hearts - supporters and players alike - to look ahead. Today's changes are the first steps to ensuring a brighter future for Heart of Midlothian FC.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

St. Mirren 1 Heart of Midlothian 1

SPFL Premiership, Saturday 10 May 2014 – New St. Mirren Park

A season which began with much doom and gloom thanks to a 15 point deduction and signing embargo, ended on a high for Heart of Midlothian. Hot on the heels of the news that the club has finally exited administration, Hearts grabbed a well-deserved draw against St. Mirren on Saturday.

More than 2,400 Hearts supporters headed for Paisley which was yet another incredible turnout given the game meant nothing in terms of league status. But it was another demonstration of the passion of the Hearts support.

Manager Gary Locke – whose position at Tynecastle is due for discussion with the club’s new owner, Anne Budge, this week – made three changes from the side that lost to Partick Thistle in midweek. Goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald was restored between the sticks while Jamie Walker and David Smith also made Hearts starting line-up.

As they did against Thistle, Hearts began the game on the offensive with Jamie Walker having a couple of early efforts. However, despite being on top, Hearts found themselves a goal behind just before the half-hour mark. McLean’s shot on goal was blocked by Jamie MacDonald but the ball fell to Newton who slotted the rebound home to give the Buddies a scarcely deserved lead.

A former Aberdeen player, Wylde then combined with a current Aberdeen player - Magennis who is on loan to St. Mirren – with the latter heading wide. McLean then hit a free-kick from 25 yards which produced a superb save from Jamie MacDonald and prevented the visitors from going two goals behind. Despite a bright opening, Hearts were somewhat relieved to be only 1-0 down at half-time. The travelling support, though, seemed to have their minds elsewhere with an eruption of noise emanating from the away end with news of Hibernian’s demise at Easter Road.

Gary Locke may well have had a word or two to say at the break because the Maroons came out for the second half in determined fashion. From a St. Mirren corner, Hearts broke forward with a pace that had the home defenders struggling. Sam Nicholson fed Jamie Walker whose shot on goal looked a winner until Saints keeper Dilo produced a superb save. However, the ball broke to the in-rushing Dale Carrick who kept up his impressive scoring rate of late and parity was restored.

Magennis and McGowan had chances to win the game for the home side but both opportunities were spurned. Hearts also had chances. Fine play from Kevin McHattie set up substitute Gary Oliver but the young striker’s effort went wide. Then Callum Paterson;s header was superbly saved by Dilo. The game ended 1-1 and Hearts time in the SPFL Premiership officially came to an end.

The magnificent Hearts support gave their team a standing ovation at the end of the game. Hope has returned to Hearts and the Maroon Army. With a young team that has markedly improved since the start of the season – they would have consigned Hibernian to automatic relegation but for the 15 point penalty imposed last summer – the start of the new season in the Championship can’t come soon enough.   

St Mirren: Dilo, McLean, McAusland, Newton, Kelly, Naismith, McGregor, Teale, Magennis, Goodwin, Wylde.

Hearts: MacDonald; Paterson, McGowan, Wilson, McHattie; D. Smith, Robinson, Holt, Nicholson; Walker, Carrick.

Referee: Stephen Finnie

Att: 6,311

Top man: Dale Carrick

Friday, 9 May 2014

Anne Budge Takes Over at Hearts

The day Hearts supporters have been dreaming of for almost a year finally arrived today when Hearts exited administration. Anne Budge will take over as Chairperson on Monday and today she delivered this message to the Hearts supporters on the club’s official website.

"I am truly delighted to be able to confirm that I am now the proud majority shareholder in Hearts Football Club. It has been a long hard struggle to get to this point but together we have achieved our goal.

"The next few months - even years - won't be easy as we work hard to rebuild our Club. However, let's not think about that today...let's just enjoy! I have absolutely no doubt that together we will succeed.

"Thanks must go to everyone involved in helping us reach this milestone. Not only to those you all know about, but also to the teams of professional advisors who have helped us get this deal over the line...some of whom didn't get to bed at all last night! I personally owe them a huge debt of thanks as indeed do all Hearts supporters.

"As the days and weeks unfold we will, of course, share our plans for the future. However, as you will all know, we are now into the process of making a formal offer for the remaining shares in the club and while that process is in train, there are some restrictions on how much we can say publicly. press conferences yet, I'm afraid. However, in the meantime, enjoy the moment. This is a great day in the history of our Club."

Ian Murray MP, Chair of the Foundation of Hearts, said:

"We are absolutely delighted as we thought this day would never come. We are only here due to the fantastic efforts of the supporters - without them this would not have been possible.

"We have had to be patient but now that the deal is officially done, the club can move out of Administration with a new dawn.

"The Foundation would like to thank everyone who has worked tirelessly to get this over the line - BDO, and especially Bryan Jackson, everyone at the Lithuanian side, the Club, Ann Budge and her team and, of course, the fans. The Hearts family has come together during its darkest hour to ensure that our Hearts are still beating. Everyone should be very proud of themselves tonight in the knowledge that they have played their part in creating history for generation of Hearts supporters to come."

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Heart of Midlothian 2 Partick Thistle 4

SPFL Premiership, Wednesday 7 May 2014 – Tynecastle

There are many teams for whom the end of the season can’t come quick enough. It’s somewhat ironic, therefore, that Hearts – whose season never really began thanks to the 15 points taken away from at the start of the league campaign – are wishing the season could carry on and on.

Having demolished Kilmarnock 5-0 in Gorgie on Sunday, Hearts made a couple of changes from that side. Hat-trick hero Ryan Stevenson was injured while goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald – named Hearts Player of the Year at the weekend – was rested with young Mark Ridgers given another chance to impress in goal.

Partick Thistle arrived in Edinburgh knowing a victory would boost their chances of avoiding the dreaded relegation play-off. However, it was Hearts who started the brighter of the two teams.

After just 15 minutes the home side took the lead when Callum Paterson ran fully 25 yards before rifling home a superb effort past Thistle keeper Gallacher to put Hearts ahead, much to the delight of the huge home support.

Three minutes later, young Billy King collected Dale Carrick’s brilliant pass but his effort on goal was high and wide. It was a miss Hearts would rue as Thistle grabbed an equaliser after half an hour. A long ball forward found Taylor who held off the attention of Danny Wilson to slot home.

However, with half-time approaching, Hearts regained their lead when Kevin McHattie’s fine free-kick was met by the head of Wilson and the Hearts captain nodded the Maroons back in front. 2-1 to the home side at half-time.

Thistle thought they had equalised early in the second half but Taylor’s effort was deemed offside. The equalising goal was merely delayed though. After 51 minutes, a brilliant long-range effort from fully 30 yards from Fraser restored parity.

It was a rip-roaring game and McHattie and Taylor both had chances to put their respective teams ahead. Midway through the second half, Thistle did take the lead when Mair headed home following a corner. 3-2 to Thistle and this became 4-2 five minutes later when Higginbotham fired the ball past Mark Ridgers, much to the delight of the travelling Thistle support. The final score was 4-2 to the Jags.

Thistle’s victory means they will remain in the SPFL Premiership next season. Hibernian will slug it out with Kilmarnock at Easter Road on Saturday with a winner-takes-all scenario to avoid the relegation play-off. In fact, a draw will be enough for Killie meaning Easter Road won’t be a place for the faint-hearted.

So Hearts ended their final home league fixture of the season with a disappointing result, a reversal of the score when they won at Firhill in April. We all knew Hearts were likely to go down this season but at least the team gave their support much to look forward to with their displays in recent weeks. A special mention too, for a special support. More than 14,000 turned up at Tynecastle on Wednesday evening. At the end they chanted ‘We’ll Support You Ever More’. No one can be in any doubt they will.

Hearts: Ridgers, Paterson, McGowan, Wilson, McHattie, King, Holt, Hamill, Robinson, Nicholson, Carrick. .

Partick: Gallacher, McMillan, Mair, Balatoni, Sinclair, Elliot, Fraser, Bannigan, Higginbotham, Craigen, Taylor.

Referee: Crawford Allan

Att: 14,059

Top man: Kevin McHattie


Sunday, 4 May 2014

Heart of Midlothian 5 Kilmarnock 0

SPFL Premiership, Sunday 4 May 2014 – Tynecastle

Hearts continued their recent excellent form by hitting a hapless Kilmarnock team for five at Tynecastle on Sunday. A week ago, the Maroons were celebrating yet another Edinburgh derby after winning 2-1 at Easter Road. The celebrations this time were equally enthusiastic as Gary Locke’s men exacted revenge and them some on a Killie team who won 4-0 on their last visit to Gorgie on Boxing Day.

It’s a sign of the upsurge in recent Hearts performances that the experienced Jamie Hamill, who was suspended for the Hibs game, could only find a place on the substitutes’ bench as Gary Locke opted for an unchanged line-up. Killie, managed by former Hearts favourite Allan Johnston, have a decent record at Tynecastle and they knew a win would lift them above Hibs in the league table.

However, it was Hearts who began the game with fervour with the ever-dangerous Dale Carrick creating the game’s first chance before Ryan Stevenson got on the end of a cross from Callum Paterson only to see Killie keeper Samson save well.

Hearts had begun the game with style and their adventure was rewarded after 11 minutes. The impressive Sam Nicholson was fouled on the edge of the Killie penalty box. Ryan Stevenson fired the subsequent free-kick through a ruck of players and into the net to give the home side the lead.

Hearts continued to drive forward with the visiting defence being pulled apart at times. It was inevitable Hearts would double their lead and they duly did after 23 minutes. Delightful play from Nicholson and Carrick set up Stevenson and his shot from the edge of the penalty box flew past Samson. 2-0 to Hearts.

Killie’s Kris Boyd, so often the scourge of Hearts, nearly pulled one back for the visitors but Hearts keeper Jamie MacDonald pulled off a fine save to deny the former Rangers and Scotland striker. Another goal did arrive before half-time but it was for the dominant home side. Billy King set off on a run before delivering a superb cross for Stevenson to poke the ball past Samson to complete his hat-trick. The Hearts players left the field at half-time to a standing ovation as well as a comfortable 3-0 lead.

The second half took on the same pattern as the first with Hearts dominating proceedings. Stevenson came close to adding his and Hearts fourth with a shot that hit the post before the goal-hero became goal-maker ten minutes into the second half with a superb pass to Billy King who raced clear and fire the ball home. 4-0 to Hearts.

Just four minutes later it was 5-0. Stevenson again fired in a cross across the Killie goal where Callum Paterson had raced to steer the ball home. There was still more than half an hour to play and Hearts were already 5-0 up. It was a quite incredible afternoon.

Killie managed to tighten things up for the final half an hour and while Hearts were still dominant, there endeth the scoring.

It was, without question, Hearts best performance of the season. Manager Gary Locke was understandably delighted.

"It was a great result, great performance," said the man who once played for Kilmarnock. "We've been threatening to do that for a few weeks and I'm delighted. You can see the youngsters have learned from their mistakes. They're getting better with confidence. Everybody wanted the ball and I thought we played some great stuff today. I'm really happy for the fans because that's the type of performance their support deserves."

Ironically, Hearts demolishing of Kilmarnock was a boost to Hibernian who remain above the Ayrshire side in the league table. Despite the doom and gloom at Easter Road, on the evidence of this afternoon, it’s Kilmarnock who look most likely to be involved in the end-of-season play-offs – ironically, against Queen of the South who Allan Johnston left last season to head to Rugby Park.

Hearts entertain Partick Thistle on Wednesday evening at Tynecastle. Another performance like this will make the final home game of the season a special occasion.

Hearts: MacDonald; Paterson, McGowan, Wilson, McHattie; King, Robinson, Holt, Nicholson; Stevenson, Carrick

Kilmarnock: Samson, Tesselaar, Clingan, Boyd, Johnston, Barbour, McKenzie, Makismenko, Slater, Pascali, Muirhead

Referee: Calum Murray

Att: 13,656

Top man: Ryan Stevenson – hat-trick hero and tormentor in chief.

Friday, 2 May 2014

May 3rd - A Date That Still Haunts Hearts Supporters

Saturday May 3rd 1986. Three years after emerging from the wilderness of First Division football, of the inept tactics of manager Tony Ford, of losing to Queens Park and East Stirlingshire and of being threatened with part-time football, Hearts were on the verge of a climax of an astonishing recovery. Former Rangers player Alex MacDonald had replaced Ford as player manager in 1981 and sought the help of his good friend and former Rangers colleague Sandy Jardine to rebuild Edinburgh’s finest football club. MacDonald brought experienced players such as Willie Johnston and Jimmy Bone to the club and they were instrumental in the development of some promising Hearts kids such as John Robertson, Gary Mackay and Davie Bowman. By the time season 1985/86 commenced, ‘Bud’ Johnston and Bone had departed Tynecastle but they left a younger Hearts team that was now established in the cutthroat Premier Division.

MacDonald was still in charge and with money tight, his eye at spotting a bargain that would nonetheless improve the team was crucial to Hearts continued development throughout the 1980s. In the summer of 1985, MacDonald paid Celtic £60,000 for winger John Colquhoun and the Stirling born player would provide the service to strikers John Robertson and Sandy Clark. Midfielder Iain Jardine arrived a few weeks into the season and with Craig Levein a commanding presence in defence alongside the evergreen Sandy Jardine and the industrious Kenny Black in midfield, the Hearts team was slowly transforming from one that was looking to survive in the Premier Division to one that might actually think about challenging the dominance of the top two in Scotland. And younger readers may be surprised to learn that in the early 1980s Scotland’s top two clubs were not Celtic and Rangers - they were Aberdeen and Dundee United. The Dons, in particular, were one of the finest teams in Europe and under manager Alex Ferguson had won the European Cup Winners Cup in 1983 as well as several Scottish League championships and Scottish Cups that decade. Indeed, they were reigning league champions when season 1985/86 kicked off.

Hearts began the season with a 1-1 draw against Celtic at Tynecastle. New signing John Colquhoun scored the opening goal against the team he had just left and it took a last minute equaliser from Paul McStay to rob Hearts of a brilliant start to the league campaign. That goal from the Celtic midfielder would prove hugely significant on the very last game of the season…

Hearts were then affected by injuries and suspensions - Sandy Clark and full back Walter Kidd were sent off in a 3-1 defeat to Rangers dubbed ‘the battle of Ibrox’ and when the maroons lost to Aberdeen, Motherwell and Clydebank they were sinking towards the bottom of the league - only pointless Hibernian sparing Hearts the indignity….

Slowly Hearts began to get their absent players back but when Iain Jardine scored his first goal for the club in a 1-1 draw against Dundee at Tynecastle in October few of us envisaged this would be the beginning of one of the most astonishing sequence of games in Scottish football history. Seven days later Hearts travelled to Celtic Park and produced the shock result of the day, a rare 1-0 victory in the east end of Glasgow. They followed this up with a 3-0 victory over St. Mirren and a result that instilled bucketfuls of self-belief - a 1-0 win over champions Aberdeen on a rain-lashed Wednesday evening at Tynecastle thanks to a goal from Craig Levein. When Rangers were comprehensively beaten 3-0 in Gorgie a fortnight later heads began to turn Tynecastle way.

After an injury hit start to the season Hearts player were now fit and raring to go. Alex MacDonald had also instilled a discipline into his players so yellow and red cards were kept to a minimum. MacDonald was able to keep the same starting eleven for several weeks and the players had a system where they all knew what each other was doing. In November, Scotland were involved in a two-legged play-off to reach the World Cup finals in Mexico the following year. Difficult enough but their opponents were Australia - meaning those top flight league fixtures involving Scotland’s ‘top four’ were postponed to allow the national side to prepare. Hearts, however, carried on and continued to produce good football and rack up the results. Four days before Christmas, Hearts defeated St. Mirren in Paisley - and proudly sat top of the league. Yes, other teams had games in hand thanks to the Scotland situation but when Hearts defeated Rangers 2-0 at Ibrox three days after Christmas they had well and truly posted their intentions. Hearts had joined the big players at the table and were blowing their cigar smoke in the faces of the big four.

The question was could Hearts maintain their challenge? The acid test came in the last week in January when they travelled to Aberdeen. 5,000 Hearts fans headed to the Granite City to see their team, unbeaten since the end of September, take on the league champions in their own patch. MacDonald organised his troops accordingly and The Dons struggled to break through the silver-shirted Hearts defence. When MacDonald replaced John Robertson with the old warhorse that was Colin McAdam with just eight minutes left, Hearts appeared to have settled for a priceless away point. Then Walter Kidd played a long ball towards John Colquhoun. JC skipped his way past the trailing Aberdeen defenders Willie Miller and Alex McLeish and stroked the ball past a bemused Dons keeper Jim Leighton to secure a famous and crucial Hearts victory. The travelling support in the Beach End were ecstatic. Their chants of ‘We’re Gonna Win the League’ were now a serious prospect rather than a fanciful whim.

Hearts continued their unbeaten run as the end of the season hovered into view. Their nearest challengers for the title appeared to be Dundee United and when Hearts won 3-0 at Tannadice following an unforgettable April afternoon on Tayside it seemed the fantasy of Hearts becoming champions was about to become incredible reality. A week later though came the first signs of nerves. Aberdeen came to Tynecastle and the game was switched to a Sunday to accommodate live television coverage - the first league fixture to be covered live on television in Scotland. Hearts looked out of sorts and had to thank John Colquhoun for a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw. Celtic had now emerged as the main threat to Hearts title aspirations and Dundee would prove key players in the dramatic end to the season.

When Hearts entertained Clydebank on the last Saturday in April, they had just two games left - and were four points clear of Celtic. Back in the 1980s there were just two points awarded for a win and although Davie Hay’s side had a game in hand, Hearts fans knew if their team defeated Clydebank and Celtic lost at home to Dundee the league flag would be on its way to Tynecastle for the first time in twenty-six years. A nervous Hearts team won 1-0 thanks to a Gary Mackay goal - but, as they would do seven days later, Dundee proved party-poopers by losing in Glasgow. Inevitably, Celtic won their game in hand and so were just two points behind Hearts when the curtain came down on the league season on 3 May 1986.

Hearts needed just a single point for glory. In fact, they had a superior goal difference of plus five so they might even lose their first game in eight months and still become champions - providing Celtic didn’t score a barrow load of goals against St. Mirren in Paisley…

15,000 Hearts fans headed for Dundee ready to party like there wouldn’t be a 4th of May. Hearts only needed a draw and were unbeaten in 31 league and cup games. Celtic needed to thrash St. Mirren. Surely, nothing could go wrong…?

The events of that day are ingrained on the memory of every Hearts fan who was there. My wife was expecting our first child just a week later so I was in ecstatic mood anyway. Then I read a copy of the Daily Record on the way to Dundee and read about the events of 1965 when Hearts needed to avoid a 2-0 defeat to Kilmarnock on the last game of the season to clinch the league championship - and duly lost 2-0 to hand the title to the Rugby Park side. In all the excitement, I hadn’t thought about that. Now the first seeds of doubt were planted in my head. I wondered if the same was happening to the Hearts players. Then rumours circulated about a sickness virus affecting the Hearts team. We watched the players warm up on the Dens Park pitch - they looked fine to us. Hang on, though - there was no sign of Craig Levein. Roddy MacDonald was drafted in. It later transpired that the bug had affected five Hearts players. As the game kicked off it certainly looked like it.

Hearts looked a pale shadow of the team that had swept all before them since October. Sandy Clark was bundled off the ball in the penalty box in the first half and 15,000 Hearts fans screamed for a penalty kick. Nothing doing said referee Bill Crombie - ironically from Edinburgh. My anecdotal tale about Mr Crombie is I interviewed him for a job with the council several years later - he didn’t get it…

Hearts struggled all afternoon while Dundee believed if they won and Motherwell won at Ibrox they would be in the following season’s UEFA Cup - so the incentive for the Dark Blues was certainly there. As we stood nervously on the open terracing behind the goal, we wondered if St. Mirren might come to Hearts aid and take a point off Celtic or at least keep things tight. The fella in front of me had a radio to his ear and was nearly embroiled in a fight when he relayed the news to irritated Hearts fans that Celtic were four goals ahead at half time. The Hoops added a fifth in the second half and now had the better goal difference. However, we tried to calm our nerves with the belief that it didn’t matter if Celtic scored ten goals, as long as Hearts secured the single point needed for glory. Although the silver-shirted Hearts players were collectively having a poor game, we still believed they would get this point. I checked my watch for the hundredth time that afternoon. There were just eight minutes to go when Dundee won a corner at the end where the Hearts masses had congregated. As the ball came in it fell at the feet of substitute Albert Kidd. His effort on goal flew into the roof of the net and the Dundee fans leapt for joy. The massed ranks of Hearts fans stood motionless, as if time had stopped. Our world certainly had. As the disconsolate Hearts players made their way to the centre circle to re-start the game, I shouted ‘C’mon Hearts - we can still do this!’ I was a lone voice - in our heart of hearts, we knew the dream was over, a suspicion confirmed when the blasted Kidd added a second goal a minute from the end. It was all over. Hearts lost 2-0, their first defeat in 31 games and eight months. Celtic won 5-0 and therefore clinched the league championship on goal difference.

I lived in Aberdeen at the time and a relatively short journey home turned into the longest trip in the world. My mate and I sat on the bus back to the Granite City and said nothing to each other. On arrival in Aberdeen, we went for a quick pint but our sombre mood didn’t call for alcohol, particularly as more than one smart Alec in the pub noticed our crumpled Hearts scarves sticking out our pockets and made a less than sympathetic comment.

I made my way home and my wife at the time greeted me with the news she thought she felt our first baby might be on its way. Selfishly and to my eternal shame, I ignored her and headed for bed. It was 7.30pm on a Saturday night and I just wanted the world to end. It was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, only surpassed by the sudden death of my father in 1997.

Thankfully, my wife didn’t go into labour that evening. Along with 40,000 other Hearts fans I tried recover some kind of composure and headed to the Scottish Cup Final against Aberdeen at Hampden a week later. However, deep down Hearts fans knew the events at Dens Park had ripped the soul out of the Hearts players and Aberdeen won 3-0 to end any dreams of silverware.

A week later and my first child, Laura was born. Three successive Saturdays in May 1986 saw the three most emotional experiences of my life and, thankfully, ended with the joy and gift of a new life.

Of course, seeing Hearts lift the Scottish Cup in 1998, 2006 and 2012 exorcised some of the ghosts of 1986. But, try as I might, I can never forget that day at Dens Park…