Date: 16th May 2008 at 10:57am
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Can you actually believe that it’s now TEN years to the day that Hearts finally ended their 36-year trophy drought with that famous 2-1 win over Rangers at Parkhead?

It’s unbelievable how quickly time passes by isn’t it? It’s also amazing how quickly that things change in the world of football, as we found out to our cost just a few short months after that
gloriously sunny day in the east end of Glasgow.

If only Jim Jefferies’ class of ’98 had remained together at Tynecastle for just a little longer, they could well have gone onto achieve much more than merely a single Scottish Cup win. Just think about the team we could have had if we’d been able to retain the services of Neil McCann, Davie Weir, Paul Ritchie, Gary Naysmith and Colin Cameron for another few years, especially if Hearts still went onto sign Antti Niemi and Steven Pressley (as they did) to add to that squad. They’d at least have been a match for the Old Firm clubs for the next few years, which is a lot more than they ended up being!

I can still vividly remember the first game of the following season after the ’98 cup win, where the fans were possibly even more excited than the cup final itself. That day Hearts ‘welcomed’ Rangers to Tynecastle, who were now under the guidance of big-spending Dutchman Dick Advocaat. Rangers had some big names in that side, none more so than their summer signing Andrei Kanchelskis, the former Manchester United and Everton winger. But it was Hearts who went onto take the headlines again after recording their second successive win over the light blues (a very rare feat), and the manner in which the result was achieved led many to believe that this could be the year that Hearts finally bring the championship back to Gorgie. After all, in the previous year they’d been neck and neck with the Old Firm for most of the season, and it was only a lack of squad depth and probably real belief that prevented them from going all the way. But with the cup win under their belt confidence was now sky high……if only they could keep the team together……….

Sadly we all know what subsequently happened – Hearts were very much a selling club back then (I’ve no idea what we are now!) and when the big boys came in dangling their considerable…er…. cheque-books in front of some of our better players, it was the beginning of the end for that potentially great team.

It was a shame in so many ways really, because although Hearts most definitely suffered for the loss of these guys, in most cases those who left the club in and around that time struggled to ever seriously better themselves anywhere else. Davie Weir probably went onto have the most successful career of those who left, doing a sterling job for Everton and very recently with Rangers. Neil McCann had a good first season with Rangers but injuries then took their toll on him and have forever plagued him since. Gary Naysmith got a big money move to Everton and this ended up quite similar to McCann’s move to Rangers in that he started well but injuries then started to get the better of him, to the point where he’s struggled to ever get back to anywhere near the levels he’d reached before. Colin Cameron eventually moved to Wolves and although he did well there, he still didn’t quite hit the heights he had done at Tynecastle, and was still unable to carve out the international career that his abilities merited. And then of course there was Paul Ritchie, who in my opinion moved on far too quickly to a club that were never going to do him any favours, Rangers. He never kicked a ball for them during a ridiculously short spell at Ibrox and to be honest has hardly done a thing since, with injuries once again playing their part in destroying his career. A tragic waste.

Of course, there were a few players who did stay on at Hearts for a few more years, but with the exception of Stevie Fulton none of these guys were the men who truly made the difference when it came to being winners or not (Flogel was skilful but not particularly influential, whereas Jim Hamilton could score but needed quality around him to do this). And to be honest, the only reason that we were able to retain Fulton’s services was his perennial struggle to keep the weight off! That ’98 cup-winning season was probably one of only two years where Fulton truly was in great condition as a Hearts player, and it was clear to see the difference that this made to his performances – he was exceptional during that period. Others, like Gilles Rousset, Stephane Adam and Stefano Salvatori, were nearing the end of their careers and moved back to their homelands.

Aye, a lot has happened since the ’98 cup final, but I’m quite sure I’m not alone in being able to recall the day like it was yesterday: the penalty being awarded before 3am, the tension in the ground as Mickey ran up to take it (three guys in front of me were actually facing me when this was happening!), the scorching sunshine beaming in over the old main stand at Parkhead right into our faces for the entire match, Amoruso blasting countless free-kicks from dangerous positons over the bar in the absence of the deadly Albertz, Adam’s shot taking an age to squirm over the line in front of the partially constructed stand, McCann heading it straight at Goram when it looked easier to score and put the match beyond doubt, Rousset’s point-blank save from Laudrup, the air of dread all around us as McCoist pulled a goal back, Fulton’s legs seemingly turning to jelly, Hammy being thrown on as an auxiliary defender, that heart-stopping moment where it appeared as though Willie Young had pointed to the penalty spot when McCoist hit the deck, those longest few minutes of our bloody lives waiting on the final whistle, the unbelievable feeling of elation when we finally heard it, Rousset getting a respectful hug of congratulations from Goram, Lockie and Baggio lifting the trophy to a background sea of maroon and white, Robbo lifting the cup to encourage a tear out of even the hardest of Jambos(!), the departing Rangers players (Gough, McCoist, Goram, etc) applauding the Hearts supporters, the people waiting on the buses returning from Glasgow with flags draped out of every window……….the list goes on.

These are wonderful footballing memories. I sincerely hope that all of the current negativity surrounding our club will one day subside and we’ll once again have an occasion like ’98 to experience. Even if it takes another 20 or 30 years, for those of us able to be there, I’m quite sure it will be worth it………..

 

2 Replies to “The ‘Glorious Hearts’ Of 1998”

  • Excellent trip down memory lane, Mr H. And as you said in your recent article, these were REAL Hearts players, assembled and coached by a REAL Hearts manager, who had improved the squad each season. In the current situation, its little wonder that we recall the achievements of that squad with such affection

  • Yeah – we always will look upon those times with affection, but the current situation is probably magnifying that somewhat.

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