Continuing a look back at key Hearts men – the 1980s had loads, so here is part 2. Part 3 to follow next week ….
Sandy was one of several Hearts-daft local boys who were overlooked or rejected by the Tynecastle club in the 1960s (John Greig being another). A cultured footballer noted for fair play, he spent most of his Rangers career as an over-lapping right-back, with occasional spells at centre-forward and sweeper. As manager John Greig sought to replace an aging team in the early 1980s, he alerted Alex McDonald to the fact that Jardine was available – so in 1982 at the age of 33, Sandy joined his former team-mate at Tynecastle as assistant player-manager. He provided much-needed calmness and experience on the field as Hearts slowly but surely grew in stature during the next 2 years. Craig Levein`s development from raw youngster to international-class defender owed much to Jardine’s teachings. At the age of 37, the “Indian Summer” which Sandy had been enjoying at Tynecastle resulted in him being voted “Player of the Year” by the Scottish Sportswriters. When Aberdeen were looking for a successor to Alex Ferguson in 1986, Wallace Mercer promoted Jardine to Joint Manager (alongside Alex McDonald) to disuade him from showing interest in their vacancy. That worked, but a degree of inconsistency seemed to grip Hearts following the events of season 85-86, and Jardine was dismissed in 1988. However, I feel privileged to have seen a player of his class and dignity in our team for the last few years of his playing career – and his influence on the club and team was immense.
Hearts signed this unknown Lanarkshire boy from Leeds United reserves for the sum of £ 2,000 in 1981 at a time when we simply didn`t have £2,000 !! But what a bargain it turned out to be, as the gangly keeper turned out to be a fans favourite for 14 years -spanning a time of considerable achievements and agonising disappointments. His playing stats make him Hearts` all-time record keeper – playing 701 times, with 598 of them being competitive matches ? and recording 214 clean sheets in them.
Clark was bought from Rangers in 1984 to take over from Jimmy Bone. His mission was simple – be a target man, hold the ball up and lay it off to the hungry youngsters. Most fans would probably agree that Sandy wasn`t the most skilful player in the 1980s Hearts teams – but with Messrs Mackay, Robertson and Colquhoun around, he didn`t have to be. Despite that, he still managed a scoring rate of a goal every 4 games – while making a nuisance of himself for opposing defences, and allowing Robbo to make a name for himself. He played at Tynecastle until 1989, when he made a disastrous start to his coaching career at Partick Thistle. He returned to Hearts as Youth coach in 1990, helping to nurture Gary Locke and Allan Johnston, and became manager when Joe Jordan was sacked in 1993. His job only lasted a year however, when he was dismissed by the incoming new owners Chris Robinson and Leslie Deans.
John started his senior career at Stirling Albion under the guidance of Alex Smith in 1980, and was already attracting bigger clubs before Celtic paid £60,000 for his services in 1983. His opportunities at Parkhead were limited however, since Davie Provan was usually preferred on the right wing. Alex McDonald saw JC as an ideal next piece in the Hearts jigsaw, and brought him to Tynecastle in 1985 for £50,000. Immediately, he became an integral part of the squad which came so close to winning the “double” that year, and each subsequent year saw him enthral Hearts fans with his running, ball control, dribbling and shooting.
Although John usually hugged the right touchline, he had an eye for goal and often cut inside to drive into the opponent`s penalty area. Indeed his scoring record is very impressive for a winger – 82 goals in 425 competitive appearances.
JC often seemed to mesmerise his opponent for a split second during a run, in a way which is hard to explain. He would make a very slight motion as if was about to cross the ball – which enticed the defender to prepare to block the impending cross, slowing him down. Meanwhile John simply continued his run past the committed player as if nothing had happened !! Quite amazing to watch.
I remember watching him send a beautiful lob over Alan Rough’s head into the net one wet night at Easter Road in 1987 ?. and then repeat the feat 10 minutes later !! That same year, Billy McNeill cheekily described JC`s long range dipping goal at Tynecastle in a 1-1 draw with Celtic as a “fluke” – which it most definitely was not !!
John wanted to try his luck in England, and was sold to Millwall in 1991. Things didn`t really work out for him, and with a move to Sunderland proving no better, he happily jumped when Sandy Clark brought him back to Tynecastle in 1993. One of this first tasks was to play a part in continuing Hearts fine 22-in-a-row Derby run by sending 2 trademark looping shots past Jim Leighton at Easter Road !!
One of his last appearances was the 1996 Scottish Cup Final, when he scored our consolation goal in a 5-1 defeat to Rangers. He retired in 1997, becoming a media pundit and player`s agent.
For sheer enjoyment, excitement and anticipation from watching a Hearts player during my lifetime, JC is my number ONE – even ahead of goal machine Robbo. Since those days, I`d suggest that Rudi Skacel has come closest in terms of grace, athleticism, skill and impact.