THE celestial team currently amassing in the name of Hearts will be confident of taking on all-comers following the arrival of Bobby Kirk.
The former Hearts full-back died on Monday at the age of 82. Timing was a feature of his game and he turned up at Tynecastle at exactly the right time. Kirk picked up a domestic clean-sweep with Hearts. The middle of the last century belonged to the club. A League Cup win in 1954 set the tone. But better was to come, including league title wins in 1957-58 and 1959-60. Kirk – who joined from Raith Rovers in May 1955 – was on board by the time Hearts stamped their authority on Scottish football.
Kirk can now shake hands again with the likes of Ian Crawford, who scored twice when Hearts defeated Celtic 3-1 in 1956 to lift the Scottish Cup. He died in 2007 at the age of 73. Willie Bauld, of course, died in 1977, when only 49. There are now only three surviving members of that great side; Alex Young, Dave Mackay and skipper Freddie Glidden.
Kirk, who passed away in a nursing home in his native Midlothian following a struggle with dementia, is the latest to depart. His death was marked last night by a minute's silence before the match between Hearts and St Mirren at Fir Park. Kirk played 365 times for the Tynecastle club, scoring 12 times. Despite making his name as a redoubtable full-back, he was never booked in a first-team game for the club.
"He came to the Hearts at the same time as me – 1955," recalled Young. "I was just 18, while Bobby was 25. He more or less went straight into the first-team as Bobby Parker was on the way out."
"He was a strong lad and a straightforward player," continued Young. "Fast and strong. He used to find me a lot and play the ball to my feet in the opposition half. A lot of people might have thought he was not that good – but he was good; professional, and very fast. You see full-backs now over-lapping down the wing. Bobby was doing that even then."
Kirk was a quiet man, whose desire to maintain his fitness levels seemed out of step with the times. He did not smoke or drink. This interest in physical conditioning was maintained after his playing career. Kirk qualified as a physiotherapist in 1961 while still at Hearts. He ran a business in the Churchill area of Edinburgh and was later a physio for Linlithgow Rose, having also coached in junior and east senior football. "At Hearts, definitely, he was the best full-back I played with," said Young. "He was the sponge-man at Linlithgow Rose. Even though he had not played for ten years he was still fast. He was always extremely fit. He lived well."
Hearts were blessed to have Kirk in his pomp. He did not miss a game when Hearts lifted the title for the second time in three seasons in 1960, while he also featured in Hearts' first eight European matches. But the Scottish Cup win of 1956 – Hearts' first since 1906 – remained a favourite memory for someone simply glad to have escaped a life working in the coal pit at Arniston. His playing career, which included stints with Arniston Rangers, Berwick and Dunfermline, lasted over 30 years. "He was a classy player for a back," said Glidden. "He was very reliable."
Mackay noted his talent for supporting the attacking players. "He was a stylish full-back – very quick," he said when contacted by The Scotsman. "He lived in Dalkeith, which was near where I was in Whitecraig. I used to get a lift to games with him, though I had a car myself. But if I was ever in trouble he would give me a lift home.
"He was an excellent defender. He could get forward as well, and was very fit for the time. He replaced Bobby Parker, which was an ordeal in itself. Of all the full-backs I played with, Bobby Kirk would be up there."
Young, too, saluted Kirk, whose modesty meant he was more comfortable in the background. "Give him praise," he urged. "He deserves it. He was a quiet man, and never showed himself a lot. But he was a formidable player. And 100 per cent a Hearts man."
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