Craig Gordon on the emotional bond between Hearts and Rangers

This afternoon will be about one team trying to exert their authority as current league leaders and the other side hoping they can capitalise on home advantage and remind everyone of the threat they pose this term.

Hearts goalkeeper Craig Gordon played alongside Marius Zaliukas and against Fernando Ricksen. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)
Hearts goalkeeper Craig Gordon played alongside Marius Zaliukas and against Fernando Ricksen. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

But it will also be a chance to raise awareness and funds to bolster the fight against motor neurone disease, a degenerative neurological illness that cut short the lives of former Hearts captain Marius Zaliukas, in 2020, and Rangers legend Fernando Ricksen, in 2019.

Hearts will warm up wearing the number 26 in memory of the Lithuanian, while Rangers players will don the number 2 associated with the Dutchman.

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“I was here when Marius first came,” recalled the influential current Hearts captain Craig Gordon. “He was one of the loudest and bubbliest characters out of the lot that came over. Always speaking and if there were jokes going on he’d always be involved. He was a real good character to have in the dressing room.

“It’s not an easy thing for a foreign player to come in and captain Hearts the way he did. But he had the personality for it and the performances to match. He was a good defender and maybe that gets glossed over but he’d put his body on the line, he was a real leader, and everyone who remembers him who’s still at the club will likely have a little moment in the lead-up to the game.

“He led by example perfectly in the Scottish Cup final that will be remembered at this club forever.

“We’ll be remembering Fernando Ricksen, too. I played against him during my first time at Hearts and what a great competitor he was.”

The most fitting way to honour two such competitors is on the pitch, vying for three points.

The fact Hearts managed to produce a performance worthy of that when Celtic came calling earlier in the season, set the tone for their positive early points return and current third-place position and gives them confidence that they can upset the odds against the Premiership leaders today.

“I think for us, coming back into the league, that made a bit of a statement, I think everybody sort of sat up and took notice,” said the in-form Scotland goalkeeper. “And, not just outwith, I’m talking about guys in the squad. It was a case of ‘ok, we are back, we’re here, we can do this’. It was nice to prove that to ourselves, that we can compete at this level. This is where we belong and we belong at the top end. That needed to happen early on in the season so that everybody could get that confidence boost.

“At the moment we are doing well but we want to keep trying to improve. We have ground out a few results recently but we would like to play better. We are happy with the points we have on the board but we feel there are a few that got away.

“This is where we need to continue to be. There’s no point doing it over half a season. It’s got to be a full season or even two, three, four seasons in a row to fully establish ourselves back as a major force in Scotland and then try to move forward.”

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