Homecoming at Hearts

“This is my story… it’s no idle talk

At some point in the sixties my father and his two older brothers strayed from the path my grandfather took to Alloa Athletic on a Saturday afternoon, forging their own way towards Tynecastle Park and a lifetime of supporting Heart of Midlothian. The eldest brother was the first to ‘see the light’ quickly taking my other uncle with him, but for Dad the transition took longer. Firstly he was seen as too young by my grandparents to travel with the bigger lads so continued to visit Recreation Park with his old man. Then there was the fact he also harboured a desire for Glasgow Celtic as I recall from a dogeared, sepia photograph from around that time with him in a Lisbon Lions era shirt. Yet by the time Dad moved to Yorkshire for work in 1975 he was maroon through and through and when I came along seven years later The Jam Tarts were supposed to be the team for me. For a good long while they actually were. Today I return to Gorgie for the first time in twenty four years, coming full circle to the first place I was ever taken to see live football as Hearts welcome Kilmarnock. Sadly I return without Dad, the only time I’ll have been to Tynecastle without him, but perhaps he will be looking down from the Heavens this afternoon; only if he’s forgiven me for going to Easter Road back in August I suppose.

My decade long love affair with The Jambos began around 1988, not long after starting school where the first question from any football obsessed wee boy was usually “What team do you support?” Dad was a Hearts guy, so were my uncles and cousins, therefore I guessed I must be one too and embraced this realisation wholeheartedly. I asked for Hearts’ shirts for birthdays and wore them proudly; initially they were manufactured by Bukta then in later years Asics, Pony or Olympic Sports. In the days before Sky or BT Sports I studied footage from ScotSport or Sportscene and, when I learned to read, the back pages of The S*n and Sunday Mail were scoured for news of The Jam Tarts. My idols became players like Henry Smith, John Colquhoun, Gary Mackay and most of all ‘The Hammer of the Hibs’ John Robertston. To this day when asked about childhood heroes I always say Robbo and ‘The Nature Boy’ Ric Flair.

Despite my rapidly blossoming love affair with the boys in maroon I had to wait a couple of frustrating years before my first walk down Gorgie Road, as just like my father before me I was deemed not old enough to attend a match day at Tynecastle Park. Given the state of the place back then and the eighties being the decade of football hooliganism I now understand & appreciate my parents’ consideration for their child’s safety. Then one day a friendly fixture was announced for the 13th of August 1990 that Dad simply could not refuse to take me to, it was Hearts against a Tottenham Hotspur side containing two English superstars of Italia ’90; Gary Lineker & Paul Gascoigne. Being both Jambos daft and having just watched every single minute of that World Cup it was like all my Christmases had come at once when the folks told me I was going. Alas my memories of the day have mostly slipped away, but I do recall being awed by the size of both the ground and crowd while not quite believing those I’d only ever seen on TV were playing just yards in front of me.

Even after making my Tynecastle debut appearances at Hearts games were sporadic and usually near the beginning of a season. I’m not certain why Dad and I went to so few games but I guess that living an hour away from Edinburgh and money being tight played a major factor. I do know we went to games early in campaigns because it was the time of year when Uncle Tom, the oldest brother, returned to visit my grandparents with his branch of the family from their home in Zambia. Two such games stick out, the first being against Rangers on the 18th of August 1991. The Gers were quite the force then, getting into their ‘Nine in a Row’ stride while fielding players the calibre of Johnston, Hateley, Stevens & Gough that afternoon. No one showed the script to Scott Crabbe before kick-off however, as he lobbed Andy Goram (freshly signed from the Hibernian) in the first minute to score the only goal of the game. Two years later in September ’93 I was present when Spanish giants Atletico Madrid rolled into town with future internationalist Kiko up front. The Rojiblancos were no match for The Jambos in this UEFA Cup first leg as second half goals from Robertson and Colquhoun saw Hearts take a 2-1 lead over to Spain. Best not to say much about the second leg except that it was one of the most disappointing matches I ever watched on Ceefax.

By the end of the Wallace Mercer era my love for Heart of Midlothian was on the wane with Dad and I visiting Tynecastle for the final time together in August of 1995. The match was a League Cup 2nd round tie against The Wasps (rather fittingly, looking back) with goals from Brian Hamilton, Dave McPherson and Scott Leitch putting The Jam Tarts through to the next round. I continued to call myself a Jambo up until the 1998 Scottish Cup Final, taking great pride in seeing the club lift their first trophy during my lifetime. However the next season, having reached the age where teenagers want to go the fitba with friends and not fathers, my allegiance switched to Alloa. I was back on the footballing path created by my grandfather decades before, my mates and I attending most home games for a couple of seasons until university & Saturday jobs got in the way.

Pre-match Pint

Since I was thirteen the last time I was here my knowledge of the local pubs is nil, luckily my cousin is a season ticket holder and thus my expert guide for this afternoon. After meeting at Haymarket’s famous & pricey Ryries we are off to towards Gorgie.

The first stop is Benson’s Bar; a pretty straightforward looking place serving a fine pint of Guinness and Tennents with two and a half inches of heid poking above the rim of the glass. There are Hearts banners decorating one end while remanents of Christmas decorations linger in corners throughout. Quiet at noon, yet a few Jambos are present but instead of discussing the game the conversation revolves around an elderly regular, of both the pub and Tynecastle, ‘hilariously’ burning down his kitchen.

Benson’s is grand but I feel I’ve not seen it in full swing where no doubt it’s a great laugh. As one fan said it is perfect because it is far enough away from the ground so as not to get mega busy but close enough to saunter up to the game just in time for kick-off.

Next up we have The Athletic Arms better known as Diggers due to it’s proximity to the local graveyard. Upon entering I actually gasp at it’s beauty; in a huge room bedecked in light wood we have a marble topped central bar covered in real ale pumps and beer taps. Staff are attired in crisp black uniforms, embroidered with the pub logo and high up are a vast array of rare malts, each labelled with their rightfully extortionate prices.

It’s getting busy but there is no problem getting served and I opt for a Diggers 80/-, a maroon hued beer created specifically for the pub by local guys Stewart’s Brewing. The crowd is a mix of mostly Hearts fans and a decent number of Killie supporters, yet there is no issue between the groups as blue and maroon even mingle at a few tables. Awesome stuff at a bar I’d love to visit when not on ground hopping duty.

Finally at the ground itself we enter a packed Tynecastle Arms. Glorious to look at, its wooden cladding is darker than diggers and it is covered in vintage Jambos memorabilia including signed shirts, ancient squad photographs and many other one-off bits and pieces. Despite the throng of supporters in here it doesn’t take too long to get served while we can comfortably stand, converse and drink our beers. Both doors have a bouncer on carefully clicking in the punters so there is zero risk it will get too busy. I can’t believe how near the ground this boozer is, going out the back door leaves you standing right in front of Tynecastle’s main stand; our next stop.

The Ground

My first thought is how have they fitted an almost 20,000 seater stadium into such a small space with old sandstone buildings mere yards away from the back of one stand. I think the new main stand looks pretty good from the outside; criticised in the press for looking like Ricky Gervais’ old workplace in The Office, it has a sleek curve to it which you don’t see in pictures taken straight on.

We have a couple in the fans bar, which one is required to show their ticket to gain access. It is a big space, nicely decorated and decently priced. If only it had more tables however, as we need to take turns holding each others drinks so each of us can go for a pee. Next door is a megastore selling an amazing selection of Jambos merchandise, I buy a replica ’86 shirt before we head on out to see the action.

For the second time today I enter a place and gasp. Inside Tynecastle Park is totally changed since my last visit and utterly gorgeous. Four matching, single tier stands are tight to the pitch and rise steep and high above it. Nowhere in this ground can possibly have a poor view. Despite Tynecastle fitting into a tight space the pitch appears massive and immaculate too. I do like that the disabled supporters have spots on the concourse a third of the way up each stand when usually they are stuck at pitch side at most grounds with a pish view. I wasn’t a huge fan however of the Eiger like trek up to seat, but boy the view was worth it.

The Game

The day had been going so well then the fitba started and it was pure unadulterated pish; a ninety minute spell of mundane drudgery. BBC Sport called it a feisty encounter but a few bookings for careless tackles does not equal a passionate battle of enemies.

The positives are few but one of them was Zlamal in the Hearts goal who looked confident and comfortably dealt with early Killie chances. Souttar was solid too while big Mulumbu, on loan at Rugby Park from champions Celtic, ran the midfield for Kilmarnock and was instrumental in the only goal of the game. In the 86th minute Stuart Findlay blasted home from eight yards as the Hearts defence failed to clear. The thousand plus Killie fans went wild, at least some folk enjoyed the game.

Aye it wasn’t exactly ‘Glorious Hearts’ today, their main issue being the complete failure to do anything in the final third. Levein is notorious for non-attacking fitba and without the likes of Naismith, or even Lafferty, they don’t seem able to score.

The Aftermath

All childhood loyalties aside an afternoon at Heart of Midlothian comes highly recommended. Firstly it is convenient, being a short trek from Haymarket with pubs either great or totally excellent dotted along the way. They you have a ground that caters well for fans with an excellent bar and the place to get all the maroon garments you could ever need. Talking of Tynecastle, that ground may be one of the best in the country and perhaps the most beautiful. It puts the likes of Pittodrie and Tannadice to shame as well standing up to other excellent stadia I’ve already visited like Ibrox and… ahem… Easter Road. Plus the team can’t play like that every week.

For me it was quite the day coming full circle to my first ever ground. Yeah it wasn’t a classic Spurs or Atletico night but that doesn’t matter. What does is that I had a great time and for the first time in a quarter of a century I got to spend a day as a Jambo.

One thought on “Homecoming at Hearts

  1. being a jambo myself since the late 50s i think what you say covers all bases. i used to travel by train from fife and ryries was first stop. the past 20 years ive travelled by car so cant manage a few pints now.
    more power to your elbow as youre posts are entertaining and amusing



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