Obituary: Jim Cruickshank, goalkeeper

James Fergus (Jim) Cruickshank, goalkeeper. Born: 13 April, 1941, in Glasgow. Died: 18 November, 2010, in Edinburgh, aged 69.

James Fergus Cruickshank, invariably called Jim, was the embodiment of the loyal club player that was once the norm, rather than the exception, in Scottish football.

In 19 years in senior football, he began with amateur side Queen's Park and had a brief spell at Dumbarton in the twilight of his career, but Cruikie, as the fans all knew him, was first and foremost a player with Heart of Midlothian FC, and was its long-serving and very fine goalkeeper, rated by many as the best in his position in the Edinburgh club's history.

Cruickshank hailed from the South Side of Glasgow and attended Queen's Park secondary. He was a product of Drumchapel Amateurs, the famous youth side from the other side of Glasgow which started the footballing careers of such luminaries as Sir Alex Ferguson, Archie Gemmill and John Wark.

Signed as a teenager by his local club Queen's Park FC, where Ferguson was a contemporary, he had already represented Scotland as a schoolboy. Cruickshank also played for his country at youth, amateur and under-23 level, before manager Tommy Walker signed him for Hearts in 1960.

He made his debut as a 19-year-old in October 1960, but had to wait a few years before he replaced the departed Gordon Marshall as first choice goalkeeper. Always strong-willed and happy to say his piece - or shout it, as many former colleagues will testify - Cruickshank was at one point prepared to leave Hearts in search of first-team football, but was persuaded to remain at Tynecastle and, apart from a few brief spells, from 1964 to the mid-1970s, he wore the first team gloves.

He did so with distinction, achieving a remarkable 102 clean sheets in 394 league matches, and playing 528 games in all competitions, the fourth-highest number of appearances by a Hearts player. Adding friendlies and other fixtures, Cruickshank played 610 times for Hearts.

Not quite the 6ft in height normally required of a goal- keeper, Cruickshank nevertheless had a powerful physical presence, and was renowned more for his athleticism and courage. From his earliest appearances until well into his thirties, he was notable for his shot-stopping ability and regularly made a habit of saving penalties.

Two in particular which are readily recalled were a save from a penalty by Joe Davis of Hibs in the Ne'erday Derby game in 1967, made memorable by the fact that Cruickshank promptly saved two shots on the rebound; and another penalty save later at Tynecastle from Celtic's Tommy Gemmell, at that time proven to possess the hardest shot in British football.With his trademark moustache and, later, fashionable all-black gear, Cruickshank became a familiar figure to the Scottish sporting public, especially after he was elevated to the goal- keeping position for Scotland.

His international career began in 1964 in a 2-2 draw against West Germany, the year before Hearts lost the Scottish League Championship on goal average to Kilmarnock on the final day of the season - Cruickshank had no chance with either of the two goals that gave Kilmarnock victory over Hearts and the title.

Cruickshank never won a major domestic honour, the only blot on his career record, losing out to Marshall for Hearts' 1962 League Cup final victory. He appeared on the losing side in two Scottish Cup Finals in 1968 and 1976, beaten by Dunfermline Athletic and Rangers respectively, and also in the Anglo-Scottish Texaco Cup Final in 1971 in which Hearts lost to Wolverhampton Wanderers on aggregate over two legs.

That he was selected just six times for Scotland, and five times for a Scotland XI on a global tour in 1967, says more about the vaguaries of the Scottish selection committee system at the time than it does about Cruickshank's abilities, though it must be said that Scotland had numerous fine goalkeepers in that era - Ronnie Simpson, Bobby Clark, and Ally Hunter, to name but three, though Hearts fans will always maintain Cruickshank was the best in those times.

The fact that those caps were spread over 11 years speaks volumes for his consistency. At a time when Celtic were the dominant side in Scottish football, his abilities undoubtedly helped to keep Hearts to the fore.

His performance in the 0-0 draw with England at Hampden Park in 1970 was perhaps the high point of his international career as he defied the English side - then the reigning world champions - who would travel to Mexico for the World Cup just a few weeks later.

In the 1970s, the fortunes of Hearts declined somewhat, but Cruickshank remained loyal and ever-dependable between the sticks.

Not many goalkeepers have inspired terracing songs, but Cruickshank achieved such fame, thanks perhaps to his all-black garb which emulated the appearance of the great USSR goalkeeper Lev Yashin. To the tune of the old hit song Ay Ay Ay Ay, the Hearts fans sang: "We all agree, Cruickshank is better than Yashin; Donald Ford is better than Eusebio, And the Hibees are in for a thrashin'."

Cruickshank stayed with a failing Hearts until 1977, leaving to join Dumbarton FC in the then Division One after the club was relegated from the old Premier Division, which soon led to him playing against his old club, the Hearts fans giving him a rousing reception.

He played one season for Dumbarton and after retiring from senior football he had jobs around Edinburgh in public houses, shops and in the NHS.His latter years were perhaps sullied by an unresolved dispute over a testimonial match with the Tynecastle club, yet he never failed to be generous with his time for the Hearts' fans and, in turn, they rightly accorded him the status of club legend, organising a gala night for him in 1975.

In his final illness, Cruickshank was cared for at Edinburgh's Marie Curie Hospice.

A loving father, grandfather and brother, he is survived by his wife Rosalind, children Jane, Lesley and David, grandchildren Adam and Megan, and by his sister Jean.

Jim Cruickshank's funeral will be a private family service later this week.