Hearts FC: Eric Milligan’s Buckfast toast to Hearts’ Scottish Cup win

He was one of the Capital's more colourful councillors of recent times, never one to shy from a photo opportunity whether in his palatial City Chambers office, flashing his Osmond-like whitened gnashers or celebrating a Hearts' win with a slug of Buckfast.

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Eric Milligan was Labour councillor for the Sighthill/Gorgie ward, Convener of the Lothian and Borders Police Board and one of Edinburgh's most instantly recognisable Lord Provosts, holding the post between 1996 to 2003. He stood down after 43 years as a councillor in 2017.

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However, it’s one unlikely moment in his public life that still brings a smile to the faces of many.

Eric Milligan enjoys a wee sip of Buckfast wine with Hearts fans after their team beat Rangers 2-1 to win the Scottish Cup 1998 Pic Adam Elder
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A self-confessed supporter of Heart of Midlothian FC, Mr Milligan raised more than an eyebrow or two when in 1998 he was snapped slugging Buckfast - a brand once described as "a badge of pride amongst those who are involved in antisocial behaviour," by former First Minister Jack McConnell on BBC Scotland's The Politics Show - from the bottle as Hearts' fans celebrated their team's Scottish Cup win over Rangers.

Mr Milligan's now infamous swig came as he joined fans celebrating their team's win on the streets of Gorgie awaiting the arrival of the open top bus carrying the triumphant team and the opportunity to cheer on their heroes, players such as Gary Locke, Paul Ritchie and John Robertson, who were all celebrating on the upper deck when the bus arrived.​

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It might have been Hearts first Scottish cup victory in 42 years but that didn't stop controversy brewing over Mr Milligan’s impromtu thirst quencher, one letter to the Evening News branding his behaviour “disgraceful” although others did rally to support him.

Captured on film by Evening News photographer Tony Marsh, the moment was also memorialised for posterity by the paper’s then cartoonist Frank Boyle, who took great delight in poking fun at his cup win celebrations - that cartoon went on to hang in pride of place in the 'gallery of art' that lined the walls of the politician’s City Chambers office.

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Eric Milligan celebrates with young fans and shares in their bottle of Buckfast

Remembering the occasion in an appreciation he wrote of his fellow Labour councillor, the late Elizabeth Maginnis, Mr Milligan recalled, “When Hearts won the cup I was invited to place a bottle of Buckfast to my lips. Who was whooping and hooping alongside me? Elizabeth”.

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In 2012 he was again reminded of his street tipple when he was appointed leader of Edinburgh’s Licencing Board, and championed the use of ‘drunk tanks’, holding stations for those who had over-imbibed rather that police cells.

He argued, “I’m certainly in favour of that and I’m not in favour of young people consuming so much drink that not only are they a threat to themselves but everyone else. And I don’t see why we should fill up the prison cells with people who have simply overindulged.

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“There is an immediate issue as to whether the streets of Edinburgh should be filled with people completely out of their heads and all the expense for the police that goes with that. So there will be another fresh look at the drunk tanks.”

Eric Milligan shares his delight and that of the fans with Buckfast, while they await the return of the team from Celtic Park with the Scottish Cup Pic Tony Marsh
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Despite his firm stance on excessive consumption, Mr Milligan also expressed a keenness to promote a European style cafe culture in the Capital.

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He said, “It is no surprise to me that Paris and indeed New York are among the most visited cities in the world because they offer the ultimate in enjoyment and sophistication. I want Edinburgh to be seen as a place where people are welcome to enjoy our bars and restaurants but there will be a balance to ensure people who live in the city centre don’t have their lives turned upside down.”

Whether Buckfast had a place in those plans is another thing.

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Originally created as a tonic wine, Buckfast is today one of Scotland's most notorious refreshments. Invented by monks in an Abbey in Devon, the drink is now huge business for its producers J Chandler & Co. The original recipe for the tonic wine was, according to the brand's website, attributed to French monks who settled in Devon in the late 1800s.

Using imported mistellas from Spain, they would then add their own ingredients to create the tonic version of the wine. Buckfast, in its modern form, began to take shape in the 1920s when the distribution of the bottles was given over to a wine merchant, who, to increase the appeal, advised ‘enhancing’ the formula to create a smoother flavoured medicated wine to ‘help you cope with life's little ups and downs’.

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Comprising as much caffeine in a 750ml bottle as there is in approximately eight cans of Cola, each bottle also contains around nine grams of sugar, consequently the drink has been given a few nicknames over the years including ‘Wreck the Hoose Juice’, ‘Commotion Lotion’, or more commonly, just ‘Buckie’.

Today the fortified wine has become endemically entwined with the problems the country has with alcoholism and anti social behaviour in the more deprived areas of Scotland, consequently it’s never too far from newspaper headlines.

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Calls for a change to the recipe have fallen on deaf ears in the past, a spokesperson for JC Chandler spokesperson once arguing, “It's been there for over 80 years. Why should we go about changing the recipe of something just to satisfy somebody's whim?”

The drink continues to be popular and the former Lord Provost isn't the only public figure to have enjoyed the taste of Buckie, singer Ed Sheeran once confessed to getting drunk on Buckfast while on a Scottish night out​. ​

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