The Archibald Leitch stand will look down on her last competitive match today as Hearts play their final league game in front of the iconic structure before it is filleted and the remnants are demolished next Monday.
As 250 supporters were taken on a final tour yesterday, along old corridors and sacred spaces that have offered sanctuary to maroon-clad legends for more than a century, former player Jimmy Sandison admitted the sentiment was beginning to get to him.
But as he and son Calum guided one of the tours, he said it will be next weekend when the memories are likely to overwhelm. That is when the Hearts Legends legends will take to the pitch as part of the family fun day. It will be the last time the former defender, who spent eight years playing for the Gorgie club, sits in the home dressing room, where once he, along with every other player, had to take care of their own laundry, where Alex MacDonald and several managers before and since put the fear of god in their charges and where the ghosts of more exalted predecessors always offered a reminder of what it means to run out in front of a Tynecastle crowd.
“It is so sad that it is coming down because there have been so many fantastic players who have come through those doors and so many magnificent games have been played in front of it, like Bayern Munich being out there under the floodlights,” said Sandison.
“I was 17 years old when I came through the doors here to walk into a dressing room with players I had read about on the back of the Evening News. It was a real workplace. We would come in here and then we would go out to train at Roseburn.
“I remember making my starting XI debut in 1985 and I was overcome by huge nerves, playing Celtic in the first game of the season. I was running down the tunnel and heard the huge roar of the support and my old schoolteacher was in the stand and put his hand over and wished me all the best. It almost reduced me to tears. That finished a 1-1 draw and that was the season Hearts went close to winning the league.”
This afternoon’s match will be a time for poignant goodbyes but it is only when the doors lock after next weekend’s fundraising antics that the reality will set in. “We are playing a legends game out there the day before it comes down and that will be emotional,” admits Sandison, “because this is a stand steeped in tradition and it was home to many of us for a good number of years.”
In the boardroom it is clear how the transient nature of today’s game differs from the past. As the club won trophy after trophy throughout the ’50s and early ’60s the faces in the team photos rarely change, while the pictures of players posing with more recent silverware show an ever-evolving squad.
“That’s it, a number of these Hearts players have been here a year, maybe two years but I was here eight years and some of the others in the legends were here even longer. The feeling you get from running out of this stand is embedded in us and I have no doubt I will shed a wee tear and raise a wee beer to it and I won’t be the only one. But we have to move on. If we don’t knock it down, it will probably fall down and we are ambitious under Ann Budge and we need a main stand that reflects that.”
Leitch designed a structure that would stand the test of time and the memories made inside it are just as durable. As the tour groups squeezed inside one of the least welcoming away dressing rooms, they learn of the quick plastering and painting job performed by director Eric Hogg to spare the club’s blushes on the morning Manchester City were due in town to help to mark the stand’s centenary, and the gamesmanship by which heating in the tiny room was cranked up on match days to leave the opposition feeling hot and bothered before they even ran out into the cauldron of a ground.
Sandison talks about the stand as though it is an old family home. Fans do the same. “My old man was born in Edinburgh and because my dad was a Jambo, I’ve been brought up that way myself,” explains Bruce MacKenzie, a 35-year-old season ticket holder with an accent that suggests Celtic or Rangers may have been a more predictable calling. He is planning on moving from the Gorgie stand next year to the new main stand. “If not then we will go to the Wheatfield so we can look at the new bonnie stand. Of course I will miss this one but I am right excited to see the new one.”
For Ian Jenkins, a Hearts fans since 1954, evolution has long been part of the deal. He has seen leagues won here and witnessed the club score record numbers of goals and pick up record numbers of points and in those early days he got to watch what he describes as “the best ever team”. “As a boy and a young man I was in the terracing but now I sit in the front row of this stand,” he said. “I want to be in the new stand but I’m hoping to move back a wee bit because I get wet when it rains.”
Lewis Tibbetts is part of the new wave of fans. Just seven years old, for him it is about Jamie Walker not Bobby but courtesy of a season ticket in the main stand he has experienced the club’s rich history. “I will be sad to see it go but maybe it is time,” said his dad, Craig. “Seeing some of the facilities in there, I never knew it was so bad, to be honest.”
His cousin apparently managed to get one of the old wooden seats as a memento following a previous upgrade and he would like to keep his current seat. “I would like that but I’ve been told that will be quite hard.” But he will always have the memories. “Especially the derbies!”
They return next term, but the old lady won’t be around to watch them.