Craig Gordon: Why 2021 ranks as a positive year for Hearts and Scotland goalkeeper

Craig Gordon’s ongoing renaissance was one of the major positives of the past year but, looking ahead to 2022, the Hearts and Scotland No 1 says there is scope for things to get even better.

Craig Gordon turns 39 today. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)
Craig Gordon turns 39 today. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

The goalkeeper turns 39 today but, with a burgeoning collection of top class saves and a rejuvenated international career, he is looking ahead to a new year with all the enthusiasm, ability and agility of someone half that age, as he considers the prizes on offer with both club and country.

“Yeah, it’s been some year for me. A good year,“ agrees Gordon. “There have been some obvious highlights for me this year.

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“Here at Hearts, getting promoted at the first attempt was really important for the club, just to get back into the Premiership. I played a big part in that and really enjoyed it.

Craig Gordon during a Scotland training session. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

“That was in front of no fans but we still had to get the job done, and that does make it difficult.

“Beyond that, I’ve really enjoyed the national team games and getting back into that starting line-up.

“We’ve gone on a great run, a really good campaign with the amount of points we have and to be back playing at that level, at this age, is really exciting for me.

“I know that there might not be many more opportunities for me, so to still be at that level and be playing with guys who are so much younger than me, being part of a successful team, it’s great for me.

“Hopefully we can keep that going in 2022. Because there have been lots of highlights along the way in 2021. Even getting to the Euros, even though I didn’t play, to be part of that squad, it does feel like a squad effort when we’re away with Scotland. Everybody plays their part.

“So I was delighted to be part of that squad for the Euros and then play in those World Cup qualifiers.”

Finishing second in their qualifying group, they now face the play-off semi final against Ukraine at Hampden and then, hopefully, the final away to either Austria or Wales,in March, with the prize of the nation’s first involvement in a men’s World Cup since 1998.

But, if the performances on the international stage have earned him kudos, and fulfilment, it is his almost-weekly heroics in goal for Hearts that gained the two-time Scottish Football Writers’ Player of the year re-entry to that domain as the club sit third in the cinch Premiership.

“I think we’re sitting in a good position. We’re looking to kick on in the second half of the season and get as many points on the board as we can.”

The wrapped up 2021 with victory over Ross County, their fifth win in eight games and will now have the opportunity to regroup, recharge and get ready to kick on when the action resumes in mid-January.

“Yeah, we’ve been on this good run and we feel in a good place as a squad. I’m sure the manager will be looking to add more players, and continue our progression.

“We’ve got a few fixtures when we come back that we’re looking at and feeling like we pick up points and keep the pressure on the teams below us.

“If we concentrate on ourselves and keep doing that, we give ourselves a chance to maintain this – and look at the two teams above us. If they are to drop any points, we can be there. But that comes from concentrating on ourselves and keeping everyone else below us.”

Having advanced the winter shutdown in the hope that top tier football can body-swerve the worst of the covid restrictions, the absence of the usual new year derby clashes offers the Hearts captain the chance to wholeheartedly enjoy his birthday for a change, further underlining the personal good fortune enjoyed in 2021.

“I actually get to celebrate my birthday this year, which makes a change. It’s not often in my football career that’s happened. Although, we’re actually in training that day!”

But, taking the time to ponder life’s riches, he can’t wait for matches to resume, provided the gates are opened to fans once more. At Hearts and with Scotland the fans’ backing has been phenomenal since the original lockdown measures were lifted and he hopes it won’t be long before the current restrictions are dispensed with, too.

“Yeah, we’ve still got a few months to go [until the Ukraine head-to-head], so hopefully we can get through this, everybody stays safe and we reach the other side of this as quickly as we possibly can.

“Then we can look forward to playing in front of fans again. Because nobody looks forward to playing in empty grounds. We need to get them back in as soon as possible – if it’s safe.

“I think people realised what they were missing out on, the whole occasion that a football match can bring. So, it added to the atmosphere when fans came back. They’ve made a noise and really enjoyed the games, whether that’s with Hearts or Scotland. And we love having them back.

“I’ve got a lot to look forward to in 2022. And a lot of difficult games so we’ll need to play really well – both here at Hearts and with the national team. With Scotland, we’ll be up against two other teams – hopefully – who have done well to qualify for the play-offs as well.

“It’s going to be really difficult, a real challenge, but it honestly couldn’t get any more exciting than that. Hopefully we can win the necessary games to achieve on both fronts.”

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