I was in Edinburgh last week to visit the Fringe and reacquaint myself with some of the refreshing beverages that I developed a taste for as a student there. On the final day of my stay I took a break from watching comedy to see Hearts’ first SPL game of the season against St Johnstone.
After a week of schizophrenic weather, Saturday was a glorious day in the Scottish capital and I found myself sweltering in the heat from my vantage point in the Roseburn Stand. Hearts had signed a new strike force in the days before the game but both Kevin Kyle and Stephen Elliott started on the bench at Tynecastle. In the St Johnstone ranks were Michael Duberry and Jody Morris, two players who turned out for Chelsea back when the only European trophy they were regular contenders for was the Cup Winners’ Cup. Between the posts for the side from Perth was Peter Enckelman – he of the most famous mis-control in the history of the Brum derby – who had joined the club so recently that he was not listed in the programme.
Studying the programme, I was struck by one or two articles about Hearts’ past. The club is celebrating Tynecastle’s 125th birthday this season, ranking the stadium in the top ten of Britain’s oldest grounds (Deepdale heads that list, having hosted Preston’s home games since 1875). Straddling the Gorgie and Dalry areas of Edinburgh, not far from where I used to live, Hearts’ home ground welcomed its first visitors on 10th April, 1886. Bolton Wanderers were beaten 4-1 and, as an insight into the tactics of the game back then, the away side’s goal was not credited to one player but to a “scrimmage” (occurring when a group of forwards conspired to overwhelm the opposition defence and rush the ball over the goal line). Before Tynecastle was built Hearts had played their matches at a number of smaller venues around the city, including a field very close to the site of the current stadium that suffered from a pronounced slope. Settling in the west of the city positioned Hearts within a thriving community of railway and brewery workers. Trains still rumble along a bridge that goes over the nearby Gorgie Road.
Another article focused on the programme that was printed for the corresponding fixture of 73 years ago – on 14th August, 1937 – when St Johnstone were also the visitors. Rather than an action shot of a first team regular, as most modern programmes go with, the front cover boasted an advert for De Reszke Minors cigarettes with the slogan: “10 minutes to wait – so mine’s a Minor.” An editorial on the day’s game betrayed the era it was written in less obviously, however, referring to St Johnstone in polite and complimentary terms but making reference to the desire to win two points from the fixture rather than the three that a league victory now earns.
Back to the present day, St Johnstone came to play and moved the ball forward on the ground when they got the chance, but Hearts pinned them back in their own half for most of the game. The overlapping runs of Lee Wallace from left back impressed me and it was his cross that brought about the home side’s opening goal from Calum Elliot. There were only seconds left on the clock before half-time but Hearts still contrived to concede an equaliser from Sam Parkin before the referee blew for the interval. The game fizzled out in the second half and not even a red card for St Johnstone’s Steven Anderson was enough for Hearts to convert their possession into a winning goal as the match finished 1-1.