In 2006 Christophe Berra had to settle for a supporting role, as one of the unused subs as Hearts defeated Gretna in the Scottish Cup final. Thirteen years on and he is hoping he will be cast as one of the leading men.
In his second spell with the capital club, he admits he has thought about what it would mean to walk up the Hampden steps as club captain and lift the trophy, stating “it would be the pinnacle of anyone’s career”.
But first they have to book their place in the final. In their first visit to the national stadium in six years, the Tynecastle side head to Glasgow as the favourites, backed despite sore defeats in their last two outings, to overhaul Championship side Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
“You want to get to finals, you want to have that opportunity to lift a cup,” added the defender. “Everyone does – we’re no different. It’s a big task but, hopefully, Saturday will take care of itself. If we can perform like we did at the weekend [whilst losing 2-1 to Hibs], I’m positive we will get a result. We need to make sure we hit the right standards.”
That Gretna final gave him one of his two winners’ medals, the other coming as part of Wolves’ Championship-winning team, but it also gave him valuable insight and that makes him wary of the challenge of John Roberston’s Highland team today.
“I was on the bench that day and it was a great occasion. But when I look back on it, it could have gone either way,” said Berra. “It was a penalty shootout against a team that we were expected to beat. The team Hearts had at the time was probably on a much bigger wage bill with players who, no disrespect, had a lot higher profile than those we have now. That shows you how difficult football can be.
“If we hadn’t won that, we all would have got slaughtered. But the team scraped through on penalties, which shows you how fine the margins are in football and, no disrespect, but Gretna were a smaller team than Inverness are.
“That shows you it doesn’t matter how good you are. We finished second in the league that season. We were flying high but it was a still a tough game in the cup final.”
He is hoping for an easier afternoon this time but says that the result will be all that matters when the players walk off the park.
Berra is only too well aware of how tensions have been mounting as fans who lauded the impressive start to the season have become frustrated by the team’s recent form and focused their ire on manager Craig Levein. However, he says the players have to take their share of the blame.
“Ach, I’m not daft. If you play football you have to take criticism on the chin,” said Berra. “If the fans want to criticise, you need to take it, it’s not the first time the gaffer has been there and it won’t be the last time. At any club if you lose games there will always be people who want to have a go.
“Unfortunately we are not Manchester City, who win all the time, and even they got criticised after they got beaten by Tottenham and Pep Guardiola is one of the best managers in the world.
“Every game brings pressure from the fans but first and foremost from ourselves. We’re favourites because we are in a higher league but Inverness have earned the right to be in the semi-final.
“We played Partick Thistle [in the previous round] and we dominated, but the longer the game goes on and you don’t finish it off, it can become difficult. Inverness will be no different and it’s a high-pressure game with a lot at stake but our focus is on winning.”
The fact that a season that promised so much comes down to this means that the demands are now even higher.
Berra added: “No matter how well we started it was always going to come down to this, whether we were fighting for second or third. But you always put pressure on yourself. If you play s**** you reflect on it.”
With time running out on a career that also served up international caps, 34-year-old Berra admits he is more analytical than he ever was.
“Time is running out, certainly for me. I’m not naïve enough not to realise that. So yeah, you reflect on everything and hopefully come tea-time I’ll be reflecting on the fact we won and we’re through to the final. We would like to do it in a nice, easy way and with a good performance but in the end no matter how you play it is all about winning.”