HIBS fans look away now. If 1902 is a year seared on the brains of all those of an Easter Road persuasion as the last time their team won the Scottish Cup, some of the gloss might be stripped away if they were to discover it was also the year Hearts were crowned world champions.
Fanciful? Well, a little bit. Hearts’ status as global giants is a little contrived and stems from two games they played in season 1901-02 against Tottenham Hotspur, tomorrow’s Europa League opponents. The matches came about because each side had won its national cup competition the previous season and the duel was promoted – in London, at least – as the world championship.
At the turn of the 20th century, football was far from being the global phenomenon it is now, and Britain remained the pioneer and leading exponent. With this sort of background, it didn’t take much persuasion to promote a match between Scotland and England’s leading clubs as a meeting of the world’s best. Nevertheless, there was more than a whiff of arrogance in billing the game in such lofty terms.
In Hearts’ defence, it all came from the Tottenham side, with the London club displaying a deft grasp of marketing which was ahead of its time.
“It was totally unofficial but Spurs did it with a bit of style,” explains David Speed, the Hearts historian. “Neither FA was involved but Spurs marketed the game very well and got a big crowd. The official attendance for the first match in London was given as 10,000 but was probably nearer 12,000 as Hearts’ half share of the gate money was £146, with fans paying sixpence each.”
The first match, played on 2 September 1901, finished goalless. It was played at Spurs’ current home which was known in those days as the High Road ground. The moniker White Hart Lane only came into play some years later, its roots lying in the ground’s close proximity to the White Hart pub.
Tottenham had yet to join the Football League but were clearly a team going places. The previous season they had become the first (and only) non-league club to win the FA Cup, defeating Sheffield United in a replay after the first game attracted a remarkable 114,000 to Crystal Palace.
Hearts, meanwhile, had won the Scottish Cup with a thrilling 4-3 defeat of Celtic.
“At that time, the cup was regarded as the most prestigious competition you could win,” says Speed. “The leagues hadn’t really taken off so the cup was the blue riband. Indeed, the first history of Tottenham describes them as the ‘champions of England’ after their 1901 FA Cup win.
“Spurs were a club on the move. They were in the Southern League at that time and joined the Football League four or five years later.
“They gave Hearts lavish treatment. They were piped on to the pitch by the Scots Guards band and the players and officials were well looked after.”
Hearts stayed at the Covent Garden Hotel and travelled home overnight by rail in a saloon car, which they hired for the club’s private usage at a cost of £2. The travelling party from Scotland were impressed by the way they had been looked after in London, and Hearts’ official minutes show that the players voted it their best trip.
As the match was drawn it was decided to play a second, this time in Edinburgh, and on 2 January 1902 Tynecastle played host to Spurs.
Around 8,000 were at the game, another good crowd considering Hearts had played host to Hibs 24 hours earlier in the traditional new year game, a match which attracted 500 fewer.
This time, Hearts defeated Spurs fairly comfortably, winning 3-1 with goals from Charlie Thomson, Bobby Walker and Tom Lorne.
Players such as Thomson and Walker were established internationals and Walker in particular was regarded as one of the finest players in Europe.
In truth, Hearts probably considered Spurs as slightly beneath them and did not take seriously the billing of the matches as “world championship” deciders.
Nevertheless, a similar result would be more than welcome down Gorgie way this week.