Death of Hearts hero of 1956, keeper Willie Duff

TRIBUTES were paid yesterday to Willie Duff, the goalkeeper in Hearts’ Scottish Cup-winning team of 1956, who died suddenly on Monday. He was 69.

Duff spent five-and-a-half years at Tynecastle just as the Gorgie side embarked on a period of success unprecedented in the club’s history.

Dave Mackay, the former Hearts captain, remembers him as a friend and team-mate whose life was intertwined with his own during the early stages of their careers.

"We broke into the Hearts team at roughly the same time, although I think I made my debut just before him," said Mackay. "I remember him playing at Saughton Park when I was living just along the road at Glendevon Park. In those days he played at left-back and right-back but he ended up an excellent goalkeeper.

"During National Service we were in the Army team together and I played with him against the French Army in Paris. He was a lovely guy. He was a joiner to trade, like me, and we used to go to night classes together at Tynecastle School."

Born in Winchburgh, West Lothian, Duff played for Juniper Green YMCA, Slateford Athletic and Easthouses Lily before manager Tommy Walker signed him for Hearts in 1952 for 200.

Duff’s finest moment with Hearts came in 1956 when the club won the Scottish Cup for the first time in 50 years. He was outstanding during the run to the final, particularly in the 4-0 quarter-final win over Rangers.

Hearts met Celtic in the final and took a 2-0 lead through goals from Ian Crawford. Celtic pulled one back when Duff was shoulder-charged in mid-air - the only goal he conceded during the tournament - but Alfie Conn struck to give Hearts a 3-1 win. "Willie was brilliant in the final," said Mackay.

Duff had made his competitive debut during the previous season in a League Cup match with Dundee at Tynecastle in August 1954. Hearts progressed to the final where Duff helped them beat Motherwell 4-2 thanks largely to a Willie Bauld hat-trick. It was Hearts’ first trophy in 48 years.

He left Tynecastle in the early part of the 1956-57 season to begin National Service in Surrey and turned out for Charlton during this period. The move was made permanent in January 1958 in a 6,500 deal.

After a spell with Peterborough, he signed for Dunfermline and helped them reach the semi-finals of the European Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1969. They beat Apoel, Olympiakos and West Bromwich Albion before succumbing to Slovan Bratislava.

He tried retiring from the game on several occasions, but kept getting calls to return due to injuries to other goalkeepers, and turned out for East Stirling, Hamilton and Albion Rovers amongst others. He also began a joinery business in Edinburgh before emigrating to the United States. He returned to Scotland last December and celebrated his golden wedding anniversary with wife Elma earlier this year.

He is survived by Elma, son Bill, daughters Elaine and Diane, and eight grandchildren.