Ageless Craig Gordon sets out Hearts and Scotland targets: signing deal on bus, why Celtic date is on radar, loan not an option
Age is just a number, right? That appears to be Craig Gordon’s mantra as the everlasting Hearts and Scotland goalkeeper continues to prolong his impressive football career.
Anti-ageing cream companies should be tapping up Gordon for all his secrets. He is now 41-years-old yet sitting with him at Hearts’ Oriam training base, he looks younger than many players in their mid-30s. One of the journalists jokes that he will play until he is 50. “I'll probably say that is definitely not happening,” laughed Gordon. But having signed a new contract earlier this week to stay at Hearts until the summer of 2025, one thing is for sure: Gordon still has much to offer.
Spurred on by commitments with club and country, Gordon says it was easy to commit his future to Hearts, the club were it all began as an academy graduate. This is home for the Balerno boy. He has successfully recovered from a particularly gruesome leg break on Christmas Eve of 2022 and after making his first appearance for almost a year last month in the Scottish Cup against Spartans, he will hope to get another run-out when Hearts continue their cup quest against Airdrieonians on Sunday evening.
“I feel good,” said Gordon. “There is no reason not to extend and take it into next season. I’m happy that it's been done. It was very quick, very straightforward. I spoke to Joe [Savage, sporting director] a couple of times. A couple of texts and then he sent the contract over and I signed it. That was it.”
Gordon was so relaxed about his future that he ended up ratifying the deal en route to Perth for Wednesday night’s match against St Johnstone. “I signed it on the bus on the way and sent it back to him. As quick as that,” he smiled. “That was a first. Signing in 1999, you sat there with your pen, I don’t think there was the facility to e-sign it and send it back. It’s changed days, but there’s probably lots of things in football and life that have changed since back then.”
Gordon’s capabilities haven’t altered. He still looks as fit as a fiddle and by all reports continues to make excellent saves in training. But one thing that has changed is that he is no longer Hearts, or Scotland’s, No 1. Zander Clark has kept the Tynecastle gloves amid a ten-game unbeaten run when most expected him to cede his place to Gordon. And at Scotland, Norwich’s Angus Gunn has more than ably deputised for Gordon in the past year, helping Steve Clarke’s team reach this summer’s European Championships. Gordon is in a jovial mood but underneath that is a steely determination to win his place back. He still has the desire, that’s for sure.
“For Hearts we are doing well in the league at the moment,” continued Gordon. “And if we could qualify for Europe for a third season in a row I think that would be a very good achievement. If you look at where the club has finished historically over the last 50-60 years, to finish third/fourth/third would be a real stable period for any club in Scotland outwith Rangers and Celtic. That shows what we are trying to achieve. I don’t think Hearts have done that, maybe ever? I want to be part of that.
“Also the opportunities coming with Scotland, the Euros coming up, even the games coming up in March, that’s something I can still try and aim for. I want to play games between now and then and hopefully get back in the manager’s thoughts for a place in that squad as soon possible.”
Gordon is acutely aware of what’s still on offer in terms of landmarks. Already one of Scotland’s most decorated players with 74 caps and the oldest man to represent Hearts, another appearance for the national team would mean he takes that specific record off David Weir. “That’s something to aim for,” admitted Gordon. “I have become the oldest player to play for Hearts, so why not Scotland as well? That would be another great achievement. I probably already have the longest career span between first and last games. So if I could be the oldest as well, I may as well give that a go.”
The short-term goal is to be involved in the Scotland squad for the friendlies against Netherlands and Northern Ireland next month, then it’s Euro 2024 and then the Nations League, with Scotland up against Croatia, Portugal and Poland after Thursday’s draw. All the talk was whether Luka Modric (38), Cristiano Ronaldo (39) and Robert Lewandowksi (35) will still be playing and Gordon is bidding to be there with them.
“I remember when we qualified for the Nations League Group A after the draw with Ukraine and saying to the boys in the dressing room that I would try my very best to be playing and be part of that squad that was taking on some of the biggest teams in Europe,” recalled Gordon. “They say yeah you will probably still be here because things were going quite well, pre-injury. But I still feel that’s a possibility and what I will be working towards for the next few months and make sure I give myself that opportunity.”
To do that, Gordon probably needs to get more game-time under his belt. Clark has raised his game with the Jambos legend breathing down his neck. But going out on loan last month was never a consideration for Gordon. “Gov [Michael McGovern] went on loan [to Livingston] so we couldn’t loan two goalies!” quipped Gordon. “I’m happy here. I still think I have an opportunity to play a good number of games. I want to start playing as soon as possible and keep that position. From my point of view it’s about training as well as I can to keep putting that pressure on to stay in the manager’s thoughts. That’s my side of it and that’s what I need to do.”
It remains to be seen if he will be start at the Excelsior Stadium on Sunday but there is one milestone date on Gordon’s radar. “The Celtic game on March 3 will be 23 years since I first appeared in a Hearts squad at Ibrox, March 3 2001,” he said. “That’s the next one. I don’t know what the next one after that is but I’ll figure it out after that!
“If I play one more game in Europe I would break the record and hold the most appearances for Hearts. I’m aware of these things. There are always things to strive for. Any little thing you can use to motivate yourself to push on to the next level. It’s 25 years since I signed here, you have to move with the times and look for the next thing. And I’ll always look for something to aim for to try and achieve.”
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