The day we put Rangers to the sword

In the second of our features on Hearts' incredible 1985-86 season, Barry Anderson talks to one half of a deadly duo

FOURTEEN league games into the 1985/86 season and Hearts were gaining momentum, but their intentions were properly signalled by a resounding 3-0 defeat of Rangers at Tyne- castle. It was November 16, 1985.

Sandy Clark scored twice, John Robertson once as one of the Jambos' finest ever attacking duos secured a shock victory in Gorgie.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Clark and Robertson, a stereotypical big man-wee man combination, were to contribute 32 of Hearts' 59 league goals during an inspired campaign which took the team to within touching distance of the Premier Division championship.

The exploits at Tynie that afternoon indicated how their understanding could outfox even the best defences in the country.

"We just clicked from the first game we played together, which was at Morton in 1984," recalled Clark. "We won 3-2 and both John and myself scored. We had a good relationship on and off the park. I was a good bit older than John, who was just a youngster making a name for himself.

"John's an intelligent footballer, he's coached and managed since he stopped playing. We both had a real interest in the game. He was bright enough to recognise my strengths and I was bright enough to recognise his. If I could get him on the ball inside the 18-yard box, there was a real chance he was going to score. He also knew that, if the ball came in towards me, he had to be round about me. Some of the deliveries from out wide were excellent and I knew John would be there trying to link up."

Clark and Robertson's bond grew even stronger off the park despite an eight-year age gap. "It wasn't just John and I," continued Clark. "We were close on the park and we spoke a lot about our play in general conversation. But off the park the whole team had a really good bond and we did a lot of socialising. We probably had two groups within the squad, the older ones and the younger ones. Any time we did go out we would split up because the younger ones wanted to do slightly different things from the older ones. But invariably we ended up back together, not through planning, we all just enjoyed each other's company.

"Alex MacDonald, our manager, certainly tried to create that bond, that's what he wanted and it certainly helped us on the park."

It seemed at one point that Clark and Robertson would score every week during 1985/86. Both players' confidence, like that of the entire Hearts team, was soaring. A sequence of enthralling performances produced an unbeaten league run stretching seven months in total. It was only interrupted by that horrible afternoon at Dens Park, Dundee.

Clark still harbours a grievance. "My most important memory is the penalty we never got at Dens Park," he said. "Colin Hendry brought me down and, believe me, it was a stonewall penalty."Why Bill Crombie the referee never gave it, I'll never ever understand it.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"It haunts me. I think it was unfair Bill Crombie was the referee that day. It was well known he was Hearts-orientated. I think he was frightened to give that penalty in case people thought he was trying to influence us winning the league. Because of that he over-compensated because I can assure you it was a blatant penalty. I'm not saying we'd have won the game, but if we'd scored first it might have been a different outcome."

As it was, Hearts lost 2-0 and missed out on a league title on goal difference to Celtic.

"The group of people at Tynecastle during that period, plus the fans who were coming to every game, will never forget it," added Clark.

"The fact is we didn't win anything, so not as many people will recognise that campaign. But it was a marvellous time and I think we were sensational as a team.

"We over achieved big time and that bond I mentioned is still there. I still speak to a lot of the guys from that era and the spirit is still there any time we get together.

"I remember we made a record which can only be described as horrendous in terms of the singing, but it was a good laugh. We went away in January to Spain for a few days and that helped the camaraderie.

"I remember we drew 0-0 at Easter Road early in the season and I missed a right good chance that would probably have won us the game. An extra point that day would have won us the league. That's how I looked at it and a lot of the other guys say similar things.

"We lost to St Mirren early in the season, Motherwell and Clydebank too. These are teams we wouldn't have seen in our road later in the campaign. There were chances to go and win it."