THE season has not even begun, and Hearts have won a trophy. If the Supporters Direct Scotland Fans Cup is not exactly the most prestigious
Scorers: Dunfermline Athletic1 - Thomson 64; Hearts - McKay 9, Hamill pen 18
silverware available, the sight of Jamie Hamill lifting it at full-time was symbolic of so much more.
Given that this was a pre-season friendly, arranged to raise funds for these crisis-hit clubs, it was less a celebration than an act of defiance, a reminder that Hearts are still alive and, despite all that has happened these last few months, doing what they were set up to do in the first place.
Of course, surviving in the Scottish Premier League with the handicap of a 15-point deficit will be another matter, but if they can harness the kind of backing they had here, they have a fighting chance. Most of the 4,538 spectators were Hearts fans, who turned up in such numbers that the kick-off had to be delayed.
“Not many pre-season friendlies get held up for ten minutes to let the crowd in,” said Gary Locke, their manager. “I can’t speak highly enough of our support and what they’ve done for the club in the last two years. To come out in a pre-season friendly and see the away end full of maroon scarves and jerseys… it gave me a lift and you could see it gave the team a lift in the first half.
“The support they have given us is nothing short of incredible. They deserve a good team on the pitch. If we can get that kind of backing in every game this season, hopefully we can respond to it and do quite well.”
It was a useful workout for both teams, particularly Dunfermline. Like Hearts, they are in administration, relying on young, inexperienced players, but despite losing two early goals, they dominated the second half, and were unfortunate not to snatch a draw.
This, though, was all about the fans. Football, of course, has always been about the fans, but it has too often pretended otherwise. Only now, when clubs are on their knees, and it is left to supporters to, well, support them, is their importance being acknowledged.
The purpose of this match was to provide financial help for these clubs in their hour of need, which meant going cap in hand once again to the people who have been funding them for years. The gate receipts were split between their respective administrators, while the trophy was thrown in to add a competitive edge.
Hearts, in particular, have asked a lot of their supporters already, calling on them to buy shares, season tickets and anything else that would extricate the club from its self-inflicted plight, but it has not deterred the paying punter. While the Dunfermline support was disappointing, there were more than 3,000 of their counterparts from Edinburgh, filling the stand behind a goal, as well as a good part of the one alongside the pitch.
During the pre-match warm-up, there was a spontaneous moment when the Hearts players paused to applaud their following, a gesture that was reciprocated with a standing ovation.
It was a day when Hearts, past and present, stood as one. Gary Naysmith, who is back training at the club, was out on the pitch beforehand and appeared as a trialist late in the match. Billy Brown, their former assistant manager, was on the touchline, helping Locke on a voluntary basis.
In the Dunfermline dugout was Brown’s old Hearts mucker, Jim Jefferies, assisted by Neil McCann, another former player. Several times during the course of the match, Jefferies’ name was chanted, by Hearts and Dunfermline fans alike, a measure of the esteem in which he is held on both sides of the Forth. At the end, he made a point of applauding both sets of supporters.
Inspired, perhaps, by the backing, Hearts made a flying start. Within 18 minutes, they were two goals up. Brad McKay, partnering Dylan McGowan in central defence, headed in David Smith’s corner at the front post.
Then, when Chris Kane’s innocuous challenge felled Smith in the box, Hamill scored from the penalty spot. “Bring on the Hibees,” chanted the Hearts fans, with next month’s derby in mind.
There was a homespun feel to the occasion, particularly for Dunfermline, whose supporters had collection buckets shaken before them at every opportunity.
They also saw their players wear a temporary kit, hastily cobbled together when the administrators refused to approve the purchase of a new one. The shirt sponsor was a charity – comparisons with Barcelona end there – and the strips, in case you are wondering, will be
auctioned off when pre-season is over. The Fife side, relegated to the Second Division last season, have an even younger team than Hearts, but to their great credit, they grew in confidence as the game wore on. Ryan Thomson, left, fed by Josh Falkingham, grabbed them the goal they deserved by shooting low under Mark Ridgers, a half-time substitute for Jamie MacDonald.
Dunfermline: Hrivnak, Millen (Drummond), Whittle (Williamson), Young, Potter (Martin), Kane (Ferguson), Geggan (El Bakhataoui), Husband (Byrne), Wallace (Smith) (Buchan), Falkingham, Thomson (Spence).
Hearts: MacDonald (Ridgers), Hamill, McHattie (Trialist), McKay, McGowan, Tapping, Stevenson, Robinson (B King), Carrick (A King), Holt (Walker), Smith (Nicholson).
Referee: J Beaton.