Cup win over Hibs eclipsed even euphoria of 1998 for Leslie Deans

A HEARTS supporter both man and boy, Leslie Deans thought he could never emulate the pleasure felt at the 1998 Scottish Cup win by the Tynecastle club. Deans had, by then, risen to the position of chairman, and took his place on the open-topped bus as Hearts celebrated a first trophy success in 36 years.

However, not only has Saturday emulated this feeling, the thrill of beating local rivals Hibernian to win the same trophy has, says Deans, exceeded an occasion he thought would always remain the pinnacle of his Hearts-supporting lifetime.

“I never thought I would have a better day in football than May 1998,” he told The Scotsman yesterday. Too young to be taken to Hampden Park in 1962 to see Hearts win the League Cup with victory over Kilmarnock, Deans was present to feel the crushing disappointment of the Scottish Cup final defeat by Dunfermline Athletic six years later.

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This experience kicked-off an extended run of disappointments, reaching a new low with what he describes as “those dreadful seven days in 1986” when Hearts lost out on the league championship on the final day of the season and were then beaten by Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup final. Deans witnessed another Scottish Cup final defeat, this time to Rangers in 1996, and was at Celtic Park to see the same side triumph over Hearts in the Coca Cola Cup final a few months later.

“Finally we got to 1998, I still remember that day vividly,” he said. “I remember being in the tunnel about ten minutes from kick off, having a very brief word with Jim Jefferies. I said to him: ‘Jim, there is something different about today. I have just walked to the edge of the tunnel and that huge north stand here at Celtic Park has 27,000 Hearts fans in it. When the players come out this normal feeling of ‘oh, we are in Glasgow’ will be washed away’.

“I still feel that gave the players a psychological lift. As everyone knows we went on to lay the bogey against Rangers and bring the cup back to Tynecastle for the first time in 42 years. I felt enormously privileged to be chairman at Tynecastle when that happened, and I said at the time – and I stood by it – that nothing, nothing, could possibly be better for me personally than that day.”

However, Deans has had to hurriedly revise this opinion following the epic events of Saturday, when Hearts defeated their fiercest rivals to lift the Scottish Cup for a third time in 14 years. According to Deans, this victory has eclipsed all others, including 1998. “The feeling that the day at Celtic Park would be the best has lasted all of 14 years,” said Deans. “But I have to say, nothing felt better than Saturday. I thought we played absolutely magnificently.”

The clinching factor in the occasion occupying the No 1 place in Deans’ list of all-time Hearts memories is the identity of the opponents. “That has made it extra special,” admitted Deans. “And this in a season which has been played out against a backdrop of very well documented financial difficulties, with the players not getting paid on time. There has been one man who has conducted himself with the utmost dignity, with class and professionalism, and who has been the glue who has held everything together – I refer, of course, to the manager, Paulo Sergio. I simply cannot speak highly enough of him.”

Deans also praised owner Vladimir Romanov. “It’s now been seven years since I sold Mr Romanov my shares, and you must remember that without his financial input in these last seven years what happened on Saturday simply could not have occurred,” he said.

“Hearts were on the brink of selling Tynecastle to a firm of builders. Tynecastle would now be a block of flats, not the scene of a Scottish-Cup winning parade. Hearts would have moved to Murrayfield to become tenants of the Scottish Rugby Union. A lot of people at the time said it would be the death knell of Hearts, and I believe that would have been the case. Vladimir Romanov’s money has made the present-day Hearts,” he added. “Every Hearts supporter should be due a tremendous debt of gratitude to Vladimir Romanov. That does not mean to say you have to agree with every decision he has taken. He has made decisions I believe are debatable, and in private moments he might admit that himself.

“But, in the greater scheme of things, his input has been colossal. He has pumped a sum in the region of £30-40 million – that is the level of investment he has made. Yes, Hearts have debt, but it should always be remembered that the debt is owed to an organisation of which our major shareholder is also a major shareholder. It is like the left-hand pocket owning money to the right-hand pocket.

“Hearts are not in the terrible position of having creditors lining the club up against a wall, as Rangers are, and as Dundee and Motherwell have been in the past. That is down to one person.”