21st April 1956.
Heart of Midlothian defeated Celtic in the final of the Scottish Cup and the stage was set for the Jam Tarts to go on and establish themselves as a side who could win major honours and compete with the Old Firm on a regular basis.
What happened next was, well, not that.
In fact the goals from Ian Crawford and Alfie Conn which secured the Cup for Hearts in 1956 were to be the last that any Hearts player would score in a Scottish Cup final that actually ended in winners medals for players in maroon shirts…for forty-two years.
Over the course of those forty-two years Hearts managed to reach other Scottish Cup finals…and conspired to lose them all. As a result a fanzine was spawned entitled…Always the Bridesmaid. That was Hearts. Frequently there at the big day but, seemingly, always destined to be no more than a bit part player. Our role was to make the prettier and more popular sides look prettier still and to solidify the adoration of their lovers, while simultaneously eroding the adoration of our own.
But what can you do?
You can’t change your team.
Obviously you can change your team…lots of people do, they are easy to spot as they are almost exclusively clad in Manchester United, Manchester City and Celtic tops in airport departure lounges and on Spanish beaches despite the fact that they have never been to a game featuring any of those sides in person.
What’s the word?
It will come to me.
I knew I’d get it.
If that sounds a bit bitter and snooty that’s because I am bitter and snooty…all football supporters are. Convinced that their own side are somehow “the best” despite all the evidence suggesting they are, in fact, “the worst” and equally convinced that their choice of team makes them superior, in some undefined way, to the supporters of other clubs.
It’s a funny old game.
My support for Hearts was never in doubt. I was taken to my first match by my dad in 1978 at the age of just five years old. I don’t remember the game itself but I am fairly sure that the whole experience would have followed the matchday routine of every other game I attended with my dad until I was about 12.
My dad and I would leave our home in Fife and on our way to the ground we would stop at a newsagent where my dad would buy me a copy of “Whizzer and Chips” or “The Beano” and a ten pence mixture. Inside the ground I would get a plastic carton of orange squash…the carton was a sort of corrugated plastic with a lid on the top that you pierced with a straw. I don’t think it was Kia Ora but it did look a lot like it.
I don’t think I ever really watched the games.
I just sat there stuffing my face with sweeties, laughing at “The Numbskulls” and slurping on orange, sugary water while my dad lost himself in the highs and lows of the match. On one of these occasions my dad nudged me and said “There’s Gary Mackay.” Gary was one of the star players in the Hearts team of my youth, a combative but skilful midfielder and a Hearts supporter as well.
We were sat in the old stand, probably because my dad knew that the terracing was no place for a little boy like me. I was a delicate flower as a child…quite different to the bruiser who sits here typing this today. Because I didn’t actually watch the games I didn’t know what Gary looked like. I cast my gaze around the crowd but couldn’t identify anyone who might have been a professional footballer. After several, what must have been agonising, moments my dad placed his hand on the top of my head and turned it to face the man sitting directly in front of me…Gary Mckay. I asked him for his autograph because I knew that was what you were supposed to do when you met somebody famous…but I didn’t have an autograph book or a piece of paper or even something for him to write with. In the end somebody struck a match and with the charcoal nib of the Swan Vesta this Hearts legend scribbled his name across the front of my comic.
A few years after this encounter and I would endure one of the most crushing lows ever to strike any football supporter anywhere in the world.
The 1985-86 season promised very little for any Hearts supporter with any sort of grip on reality. The side had yo-yo’d between the top two divisions for a few years and, truthfully, nobody would really have been surprised had we ended up flirting with another relegation that season. There were reasons to be cheerful…we had a management team who knew what it took to win things having spent their careers with Rangers. Alex MacDonald and Sandy Jardine had joined the club at the start of the decade as a player/management duo but things had been…inconsistent. Further encouragement could be found in the collection of experienced professionals and bright young things that made up the side…especially the likes of Neil Berry, Craig Levein, John Colquhoun and John Robertson.
By the end of the season Hearts had come within one win of securing the league title and had also made it to the Scottish Cup final. A league and cup double was within our grasp. To the horror of every Hearts supporter and the glee of every Hibernian supporter we conspired to end the season with nothing…other than the dreams/nightmares of what might have been.
In 1996 the Heart of Midlothian, Hearts, the Jam Tarts, the Jambos, the Gorgie boys…or the Yams for any of my Hibernian supporting readers…made it to the Scottish Cup final. We were faced with the prospect of playing against Glasgow Rangers. What a prospect that was. Under the stewardship of Walter Smith they were closing in on a record equalling nine league titles in a row and had, for several years, been the dominant force in Scottish football. A quick look at their side for the final reveals the presence of Andy Goram in goals, one of the finest goalkeepers ever to play for Scotland alongside 8 other full Scotland internationals and remember that this was at a time when Scotland were regularly qualifying for World Cups and European Championships. The side was given a sprinkle of magic by the presence of two of the greatest players ever to grace a football pitch in Scotland for any side…Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup.
By contrast the Hearts side was a rag-tag bunch of journeymen, youngsters and loyal club servants nearing the end of their time as regular first team players. There were club legends in that side for sure like John Colquhoun, Gary Mackay, John Robertson and Dave McPherson and their were two cult heroes in the shape of French goalkeeper Gilles Rousset and Italian God Pasquale “the animal” Bruno but, in truth, their was a clear gulf in class between the two sides. The final provided ample evidence of quite how wide that gulf was with Rangers running out as victors with a five-one victory. While Gordon Durie scored a hat-trick the real star of the show was Laudrup who gave a masterclass in how to tease, torment and tantalise with a football. He was beyond brilliant.
As I exited the car at my digs in Paisley I popped my head back into the car to speak to my two younger brothers, both of whom were traumatised by what had just happened, and told them not to worry because “We’ll win it next time”. I didn’t believe it of course but I wanted to apply the soathing balm of Gilead to the emotional wounds they were wearing. It didn’t work, my youngest brother looked close to tears.
The truth was that we had been beaten by a better side…but there were other factors at play too. Our young right-back, Gary Locke, had to leave the pitch with a serious injury after a “challenge” from professional hitman and part-time footballer, Ian Ferguson on 21 minutes and then our goalkeeper made a blunder of the sort that even after dozens of viewings you can’t quite explain that gave Rangers their second goal and finished the game as a competitive event.
If there ever was a next time.
There was a next time.
Two years later.
It was nineteen-ninety-eight and Britpop was gasping its last gasp…it wasn’t quite dead and buried but it was edging closer and closer to the grave. I was twenty-five, had finished University, was in a full-time job and was about three months away from getting married…for the first time. I was, really, a grown up and all the thrills and spills of the era were beginning to slip slowly from my memory already.
Heart of Midlothian v Rangers.
Plucky little Hearts would face off against the same side who had so comprehensively dealt with them just two years prior. Once again the Rangers side was a heady mixture of Scottish internationals and exotic Europeans…but this time there was a genuine sense of belief among the Hearts support that we were going to do it. There was a feeling that this Rangers side was not what it had once been and that the collection of players assembled by manager Jim Jefferies could, at their best, be the better of the two sides.
Can I be honest?
I was convinced we were going to lose.
The sun was shining and that, couple with the amount of alcohol the average fan consumes on such occasions, was creating a party atmosphere. It wasn’t helping me…I don’t drink and my sober mind kept replaying the last time we had met Rangers in a final. I tried to focus on the positives…tried to convince myself that we could do this. It didn’t work.
Then the stadium announcer played a song that changed everything.
I turned to face my middle brother and his grin was even wider than mine.
The entire crowd went…mad.
Not a single person was in their seat.
It was evidence of the reach of Britpop that a b-side was as instantly recognisable to a crowd as diverse as this as something by The Beatles or a “standard” like “American Pie”. It also highlights the way in which Oasis had wormed their way into the affections of football supporters the world over…a gang of working class kids making music for working class kids, no matter how old they were.
The shot of adrenalin that “Cum on Feel the Noize” gave me flipped my entire mindset and I turned to my dad and brothers and said, “We’re going to do this.”
And we did.
An early penalty that was calmly dispatched by Colin Cameron, a fine strike by the Frenchman Stephane Adam and a nervy final nine minutes after an Ally McCoist strike and we were there.
Scottish Cup winners.
When the final whistle went their was a brief silence as we all came to terms with the fact that after forty-two years we had done it and then the stadium exploded. Tears of joy streamed down the faces of grown men while their kids leapt into the air and screamed themselves hoarse. I had never known a joy like it.
When the Hearts went up to lift the Scottish cup…I was there.
In the Rangers end many of their supporters stayed behind to applaud their own sides efforts, of course, but also to applaud the Hearts side as they took their lap of honor. As we made our way back to the car after the match I had my hand shaken by a dozen or so Rangers fans who congratulated me and told me to make the most of the day. The drive back to Edinburgh to be there to greet the team when they returned to the stadium was a blur…horns tooting, scarves waving, people stood on bridges with banners congratulating the team. It was incredible.
The heady mix of football, family and music make that day one of the best of my life…maybe the best of my life outside of getting married to “the one” and becoming a dad. Whenever I hear “Cum on Feel the Noize” I can see myself in the stands at Celtic Park, my dad, brothers and granddad by my side, the sun shee-ining and in front of me, clad in the famous maroon, are Rousset, McPherson, Weir, Ritchie, Naysmith, Flogel, Cameron, Salvatori, Fulton, McCann and Adam…legends each and every one of them along with the manager Jim Jefferies. There have been two other Scottish cup wins since that day, one of them pretty special in its own way, but I remember the first time with particular fondness.