What can I say about the legend that is Robbo ? A glorious 16-year career at Tynecastle – interrupted by 9 unsuccessful months at Newcastle in 1988 – started with a First Division runners-up medal and ended with a Scottish Cup winners medal. He became Hearts all-time top League goalscorer (214), with 26 of them being netted against Hibernian – beating Jimmy Wardhaugh`s record of 212 League goals. I feel privileged to have witnessed Robbo deliver such a scoring record, at a time when goals were becoming generally harder to score in Scotland (compared to the 50s) – and especially since Hearts biggest problem throughout the previous 20 years had been putting the ball in net !!
His overall total against Hibernian was 27 goals, and it was remarkable just how many of those resulted from defensive “mistakes” – either loose balls in the box, or from a Hibs defender missing a header or tackle.
Sadly, John`s coaching/management career has not gone as smoothly as he would have hoped. He was a player/coach at Livingston when they were surging into the SPL, and then moved to Inverness as manager just as they were also heading towards the top flight. He was always destined to end up at Tynecastle one day – but that day probably came too soon. He succeeded Craig Levein in late 2004 on a temporary basis after the Romanovs had assumed control, but was released 6 months later. His record at Hearts wasn’t at all bad, but he hadn`t reckoned on the unpredictable nature of the new owners. Since then, spells at Ross County, Livingston and Derry City have all ended quickly. Hopefully his current job at East Fife will establish John as a good coach worthy of bigger things in the future. Prior to him being appointed at East Fife, it was good to see that John was still happy to associate himself with Hearts when it came to some coaching and publicity events. A true legend.
Thankfully the club did NOT fail to spot the talent of this Hearts-daft local boy, who rejected interest from Old Trafford to join his boyhood heroes. Although he was perhaps promoted into the first-team a bit too soon during the ill-fated 1980-81 season, he started to gain confidence and strength in the old First Division under the guidance of Alex McDonald to become a regular in the Premier League from 1983 onwards. He holds the record for total club appearances (737) throughout his 16-year career, and 3 losing Cup Finals appearances seems a paltry reward for such a skilful and devoted Hearts man. His scoring record was quite good for a midfielder (64 in total) – he never seemed to score “poor” goals?. they were all well-crafted and executed. Gary`s winner against Clydebank in 1986 at Tynecastle will stick in the mind of many fans, since it summed up his vision and drive.
His venture into management at Airdrie in the late 1990s was short-lived, and he became an agent and media commentator.
Alex McDonald and Sandy Jardine described the signing of Craig from Cowdenbeath in 1983 as having caused them sleepless nights – not because they had any doubts about his ability, but because they didn`t know where Wallace Mercer was going to find the £30,000 fee from !! Craig gradually developed into an outstanding centre-back, under the guidance of Sandy Jardine, and later Dave McPherson – and went on to become an outstanding player for Scotland. Sadly the national team and Hearts were deprived of his services for long periods in the late 1980s and mid 1990s due to knee injuries – and indeed the last of these was to force him into retiral in 1997. His move into coaching mirrored his playing days – starting at Cowdenbeath, before receiving the call to take over at Tynecastle in 2000. Against a backdrop of reducing what had become an unsustainable wage bill, his record as Hearts manager was quite impressive – two 5th place finishes, plus two 3rd place finishes. He left Hearts in late 2004 to try his luck in England, but his style of planned steady change wasn’t appreciated at Leicester. After a couple of years out the limelight, Dundee United gave him his next break in 2007 – where he produced an entertaining team which won the Scottish Cup shortly after he left to become Scotland manager.
After the Romanov takeover, it seems Craig wanted to break away from the “Hearts man” label a bit – although he clearly still has an affection for the club. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that one day we may see Craig back as Tynecastle manager once JJ has decided to call it a day.
Eamonn had been a part-time player at Hearts, while he completed a PE course at Jordanhill College – but still had made a breakthrough into the first-team in the disastrous 76-77 season, as Hearts slid to a first-ever relegation. He then played a strong role in midfield during the following season (alongside Cammy Fraser) as the team secured a quick return to the Premier League – indeed it was fitting that he scored the winning goal at Arbroath to clinch promotion. However the club were in such a dire financial situation the following season as a 2nd relegation loomed, that the Board had to accept a £200,000 bid from Danny Blanchflower’s Chelsea for our star player.
Things didn`t work out for him in London, and Jim McLean saw the opportunity to add a promising young player to his emerging Dundee United team. I used to travel to Tannadice in the mid-80s to watch some of United`s European matches – and always came away with mixed emotions. Delight at the skill and flair of McLean’s excellent footballing side competing against (and often beating) top European opponents – yet a sense of disappointment that our Eamonn was fulfilling his potential away from Tynecastle.
So I was absolutely delighted when Alex McDonald brought Bannon “back home” in 1988. Some fans felt that he was past his best, but he was still able to give Hearts another 5 seasons of fine service – helping to re-pay those fans who felt aggrieved at his early departure the first time round.