As rebels go, Craig Gordon cut an unlikely figure when he sat in front of the cameras to reveal the dressing room unrest at Heart of Midlothian in October 2006.
While captain Steven Pressley – who delivered the speech about the squad’s “unrest” with Vladimir Romanov’s running of the club – and midfielder Paul Hartley both showed the same combative nature that characterised every performance for Hearts, Gordon was an unexpected addition to the trio.
The goalkeeper has always been understated and nine years after that revolt at Hearts’ training ground which earned him, Pressley and Hartley the title of “The Riccarton Three”, Gordon is no different. Even if they were later branded “traitors” by Romanov. Gordon was undoubtedly a genuine Hearts fan and actually waived his cut of the £9 million transfer fee to Sunderland in 2007, asking for it to be used for the club’s youth academy. The collapse of Romanov’s empire, though, saw the cash disappear.
Yet, the Scotland goalkeeper has no doubts that his old club are now on a better footing, on and off the pitch, thanks to the work of another trio: manager Robbie Neilson, majority shareholder Ann Budge and director of football Craig Levein.
Levein was the manager who gave Gordon his Hearts debut, back in 2002, while Neilson was a team-mate and another product of the youth system.
Gordon, who will celebrate his 33rd birthday on Hogmanay, relishes the progress made at Hearts. “I think they’ve done an incredible job,” he said. “You look at the facilities being built there (Riccarton) as well. I know it’s not all theirs, but certainly the club coming back up and putting itself at the top end of the league within a few years.
“To win the Championship when Rangers were probably favourites, and to start this season really well, I don’t think you could ask for much more.
“If you had a crystal ball to say what they could have done, they are certainly up there at the very top end of what anybody thought.”
Asked about the true potential of Hearts, Gordon replied: “It looks like they have improved every season so far under the new regime and there is no reason to think that they cannot continue to do that.
“I don’t know too much about the finances and what is possible, but I think they are trying to build a new stand.
“If that raises the capacity and brings in more money and they can put that back into the team, they are going to have a better team as well. There are signs of things improving.”
Gordon has re-evaluated his opinion of Neilson, whom he once felt did not possess the vocal demeanour of a manager.
“Robbie was quiet but he was always very knowledgeable,” explained Gordon. “He probably wasn’t the most naturally gifted footballer, but had a great work ethic to learn the right-back position.
“He’s used that to go into coaching, as well. He’s used his brain, got his coaching badges and was always the guy willing to listen and be a bit more studious than some of the other players.
“I did think there was a chance he’d go into coaching. The only thing was that he was a little bit quiet in the dressing room.
“But with the experience he has had, coming through with coaching the youth team and the system at Hearts, he knows everybody there and it is comfortable for him to express himself there. He’s done an unbelievable job.”
Gordon has been back to Tynecastle twice with Celtic on cup duty, last season’s Scottish Cup and this term’s League Cup tie, but this is his first Premiership visit. “It is not that difficult,” he insisted. “I go back wanting to win the game and I enjoy going back. I get the same feelings running out on to the pitch as I did before.
“It feels very comfortable being there and in that atmosphere, although being ‘against’ it is slightly different. Most of my friends will be in the ‘home’ end, but that is just how it is. I will go out to play my best and show everyone that I am still at the top of my game.”
As a goalkeeper, Gordon is closer to Tynecastle’s hostile edge than any of his Celtic colleagues. He expects no favours on Sunday. “It has been mostly good at the other games,” said Gordon. “There are, obviously, going to be a few (comments) and that’s part and parcel of football. It is not something I am going to bother about.”