Craig Gordon facing more than 30 games in just over three months with Hearts and Scotland
The goalkeeper won’t take part in Hearts’ pre-season friendlies until Saturday, when Bonnyrigg Rose visit Tynecastle Park, thus easing him back into action gently. He joined the team’s pre-season training camp in Spain less than two weeks after playing in Scotland’s Nations League tie in Armenia on June 14.
That was Gordon’s 59th outing of a demanding campaign and the next one will be no less exhausting. At 39, he is facing the prospect of more than 30 matches for club and country in just over three months. That’s a ratio of one game every three and a half days between now and the winter break, which starts on November 13.
His pre-season friendly appearances will precede 16 Premiership fixtures, eight European ties and potentially two Premier Sports Cup knockout rounds with Hearts in that time. Factor in three Nations League ties with Scotland and Gordon can expect to be an extremely busy man.
Whether he is required to play in all of the above remains to be seen. Even the club captain deserves a break at some stage, particularly in light of his shortened summer hiatus. Just don’t expect him to ask to be left out at any point.
Gordon smiles when asked if he has had enough time to rest and recuperate ahead of season 2022/23. “It'll do! I had about ten days. It's just about getting back into things,” he replies.
“I've had a good week's training in Spain and I feel really good. The rest of the boys have had a good week as well. We've had no injuries and it's been a real good camp. Another week's training and I'll probably be ready for getting back and playing games as well.
“My form was probably as good as it's ever been last season. It'll be a challenge to keep that going at that level but certainly it was a good season for me personally. I made a lot of saves. Just the way that everything came together for Hearts in general, the feel-good factor that we had.
“Getting that relationship with the fans back was great. They really backed us, Tynecastle was a good place to play football again and difficult for other teams to come to. That is what being at Hearts and being a Hearts player is all about.
“Tynecastle when it's full and has a good atmosphere like that, it's a great place to play in. If we can keep them onside, trying to play our best football then they appreciate the effort we're trying to put in to be successful.
“We've got a good group and a good understanding. There's a lot of good people trying to do their absolute best for the club and it feels as if the club's on an upward trajectory at the moment. It's up to us to keep it going that way.”
No-one is quite sure how long Gordon’s international career will continue. Not even the man himself. “The goals just get shorter and shorter at the moment. We've got a break in November which isn't what anybody wanted and now makes the next three or four months a sort of mini season,” he explains.
“The aim is to get through to the end of there and see how things are after that. I certainly want to keep playing at the highest level, keep training and keep my body in the best condition I possibly can. I've no end date in my mind. If I still feel good, then I'll still play.”
Hearts’ schedule over the next few months will be punishing for not only Gordon. Midweek European ties, travelling, recovery and then domestic weekend fixtures will dictate little time to gather thoughts or ponder the future.
“What the guys are doing, the travel situation, getting us back and resting will be vitally important,” says the keeper. “We're not going to be able to do a great deal of tactical work in between these games, so it's about getting everything as organised as we can in pre-season.
“The manager's already set out how he wants to play and the formations we're looking to play in the next few weeks. We're trying to get everything in place early and that's why he's wanted the new players in quick – to get everything bedded in. When the games do start, it's going to be games and recovery for the first few months.”
Gordon experienced the UEFA Cup group stages with Hearts 19 years ago during his first spell at Tynecastle. The season ahead offers the chance of a return in an expanded and rebranded tournament.
“That was the plan coming back to Hearts and what we wanted to do. We wanted to be successful,” he says. “We've done it very quickly, coming up from the Championship and having a really good year last year.
“We're probably a little bit ahead than what most people would've thought, but certainly the aim was to get Hearts back into the position where they could challenge for European football. We've given ourselves a great chance.
“We're trying to develop all aspects of the club and I think everybody can see that. The fans are buying into everything, they've renewed their season tickets and we've really improved in all aspects. It's a good club to be part of at the moment. There's a real feelgood factor and it's up to us to try and continue that into this season.”