They had played at the same stage twice before then – Hearts winning 4-3 in 1901, Celtic triumphing 3-0 in 1907 – but the closest they have come since is the semi-final in 2012, won by Hearts en route to their unforgettable 5-1 victory over Hibernian. They have never met in the League Cup final.
The relative rarity of the fixture may be one reason why that 3-1 victory in 1956 is held in such high regard by the Hearts support, but its real significance is as an isolated milestone in the history of the Gorgie club. Hearts had gone 50 years without a Scottish Cup win by then, and would wait 42 years for the feat to be repeated. For older generations of fans, it therefore represented the end of a long drought; while for those growing up in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, it stood as a memorial to a bygone golden age, the pinnacle of a period that became the most successful in the club’s existence.
Because, although the only Scottish Cup win in an eight-decade stretch, that trophy was also just one of seven major wins by the club from 1954 to 1962. There were also two league championships, in 1957-58 and 1959-60, and four League Cups, in 1954, ’58, ’59 and ’62. The 1954 League Cup win, being the first senior success in 48 years, sparked scenes of wild celebration in the capital – unprecedented, and, some predicted, unlikely to be seen again. But they were seen again, a mere two years later.
“It was such a fantastic night for staid Edinburgh that we all said it could never happen again,” Albert Mackie wrote of the 1954 homecoming in The Hearts, the history of the club published in 1959. “But it did, with embellishments, the following season, for on Saturday, 21 April, 1956, a Hearts team was making the same triumphant journey, but this time with the ever-coveted Scottish Cup. How Edinburgh blew her dignified top, how her citizens flipped their immaculate lids . . .
“This time Scottish Omnibuses had taken the roof off one of their double-deckers to carry the victors. The bus was brilliantly floodlit, dressed in maroon and emblazoned ‘Hearts are Trumps’ and ‘Well Done, Hearts’. With the floodlit Castle dominating the scene, there were 15,000 people, according to the police, crowded into the West End where the team were to have their victory dinner, and many thousands along the route.
“Learning from experience of the League Cup crowds, the police were out in strength holding back the enthusiasts to let the players into the Charlotte Rooms where their party was to be enjoyed, but some of the officials were held up in the middle of Princes Street when the crowd broke through the police cordons. One old Hearts supporter fell from the roof of a bus and was hustled off to the Infirmary.”
Old Hearts players had been part of the celebrations too, with three of the team who had beaten Hibernian at Logie Green in the 1896 final having been guests of their former club at Hampden. Sadly, none of the 1956 side has survived to be at Hampden this Saturday, but their names are still honoured, and just as generations of Celtic supporters memorised the Lisbon Lions line-up, so many Hearts fans learned to recite their cup-winning team in the 2-3-5 formation of the day: Duff; Kirk, Mackenzie; Mackay, Glidden, Cumming; Young, Conn, Bauld, Wardhaugh, Crawford.
The Terrible Trio – Willie Bauld, Alfie Conn and Jimmy Wardhaugh – were the most celebrated members of the squad, and Conn got Hearts’ third goal after Ian Crawford had scored twice. But for at least one reporter, there was a different key trio in the win.
“Three tough guys did it,” Jimmy Stevenson of the Daily Mirror wrote in the Hearts programme for the following week’s league match against Raith Rovers.
“Cup winning is a grim strain, and the tough guys took the strain when it mattered most. If there were to be nerves at Hampden, it was not to be from David Mackay, Freddie Glidden or John Cumming.”
Bill Heeps of the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch took the long view of the result. “Saturday was the end of a long, long road for Hearts. It was I think an end before the beginning, an end of 50 years of frustrated Scottish Cup effort . . . . and the beginning of a bright new era.
“The Cup was a long time in coming to Tynecastle, much longer than it should have been considering the grand football which has been played by successive Hearts teams during that barren half-century. The Cup was always just around the corner, like so many of the other soccer prizes, but Hearts never managed to take the turn. Now they are round and there is a bright horizon stretched before them.”
There was a crowd of 132,000 at Hampden that day, and for many of them the strongest impression of the game was not so much the goals as the recovery by Cumming from a head wound that these days would surely have ruled him out of the rest of the match. James Bathgate, this reporter’s father, is one of those for whom that injury is an abiding memory of the day.
“We went through to Hampden on a bus hired by the Harewood Hearts Supporters’ Club,” he recalled. “I don’t remember much about the game – the one thing I really remember about it is that Cumming was injured and he played with a bandaged, bloodied head. I remember the celebrations coming back to Edinburgh. There was a lot of cheering.”
My mum knew Hearts had won when he came home hoarse.