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Dens memories reduce former Hearts manager to tears

APRIL will mark the 50th anniversary of Hearts' Scottish Cup victory over Celtic, and the club are to hold a celebratory dinner. The following month, however, marks a more recent anniversary - one that no-one connected with Tynecastle will wish to celebrate, but which is nevertheless the subject of a television documentary this evening.

The latest instalment of the BBC series That Was The Team That Was looks at the Hearts team of 1985-86, the one which lost the double in eight traumatic days in May. Players, the management team and the then chairman, the late Wallace Mercer, all recall that remarkable season, in which the league was lost on goal difference to Celtic, and the Scottish Cup was lost to Aberdeen in the final a week later.

It soon becomes clear that the memories of the defeat at Dens Park remain too raw for many to deal with. For instance, Alex MacDonald, whose management partnership with Sandy Jardine was critical to stabilising the team in the Premier Division after the yo-yo years, is still moved to tears when he thinks back on how close his team came to glory. But it should be added that there are also some bittersweet moments, as well as some comic recollections.

The low point, off the field at least, was the version of the Hearts Song which was released as a single - or, to be more exact, the B-side. While Archie Macpherson recited the names of the team and did a voice-over of a few match highlights, a chant could be heard: "Marshall's, the Chunky Chicken champions". As John Colquhoun says, "To be involved in that for somebody who was a Joy Division fan was too embarrassing for words."

On the field, one obvious low point was the last afternoon of the league season, when Hearts, requiring just a point against Dundee, lost 2-0. But in hindsight, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Hearts' whole year was how they came so close to winning two trophies after beginning the season so badly.

A 6-2 defeat early on to St Mirren, for instance, was hardly a harbinger of great things to come. After eight matches, Hearts were languishing near the foot, with only two wins and a draw.

But 1985-86 was one of those transitional seasons, as is this current campaign, in which the Old Firm are more vulnerable than normal. Dundee United and Aberdeen had been champions for the previous three seasons, Celtic were rebuilding and Rangers were just falling apart.

The league, therefore, looked to be there for the taking to any club which could put together a consistent run, and Hearts slowly set about doing that. They owed their strong run of form to consistency of selection, with the team being virtually the same every week. Craig Levein, John Robertson and Gary Mackay were key young players, with Sandy Jardine and Sandy Clark lending experience in defence and up front respectively.

They went top just before Christmas, and got the new year off to a flying start with two 3-1 wins in four days - in the Edinburgh derby and then in a near snowstorm at Motherwell. By the end of January they had knocked Rangers out of the Scottish Cup, and it just kept getting better.

There is one drawback as That Was The Team That Was seeks to document this apparently irresistible rise, and it should be said that for a TV programme it is a pretty serious one. A dispute between the broadcasters and the Scottish League kept football off the screens between September and March, and as a result the only evidence shown of many of Hearts' results are the match reports from The Scotsman. These are, of course, masterpieces of the journalistic art, but cannot wholly compensate for the absence of filmed footballing action.

There is footage of the early 1-1 draw with Celtic - although the cameraman does manage to miss Colquhoun scoring - and of later matches including the 1-1 draw with Aberdeen which was the first league game to be televised live and was played on a Sunday. The climactic match at Dens and the cup final at Hampden are also shown, but it would have been nice if the misery had been offset by some of the more exhilarating afternoons.

• That Was The Team That Was . . . Hearts 85-86 is on BBC1 Scotland tonight, 11.05-11.35pm.

 
 
 

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