Cup triumph that ended 50 years of waiting for Hearts

Captains Bobby Evans and Freddie Glidden skake hands before kick-off.
Captains Bobby Evans and Freddie Glidden skake hands before kick-off.
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Following their team’s dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Dundee United at the weekend, the Hibs nation is once again daring to dream – that their heroes can go to Hampden next month and finally end the club’s century and more wait to again win the Scottish Cup.

But, 60-years ago, just as the Hibs of Smith, Reilly, Turnbull and Ormond were changing the face of Scottish football by blazing a trail into European competition, the longing to end a miserable Scottish Cup run was being suffered more on the other side of Edinburgh.

As the Hearts team bus left Tynecastle for Hampden, on the morning of Saturday, 21 April, 1956, 60 years ago today, everyone on board knew the club had not won the trophy for exactly 50-years. Indeed it had been 49 years since they had been in the final.

Hearts first won the trophy in 1871, beating Dumbarton 1-0. In 1896 they had won the first all-Edinburgh affair, beating Hibs 3-1; then, in 1901 they had edged-out Celtic 4-3 in a seven-goal thriller. Two years later they were back in the final, losing 2-0 to Rangers, following 1-1 and 0-0 draws, before, in 1906 they beat Third Lanark 1-0 at Ibrox.

In 1907 they took their defence of the trophy all the way to the final, where they lost 3-0 to a Celtic team adding the Scottish Cup to the third of their six straight League Championships. Since then, Hearts had been in seven semi-finals, and lost them all. Now, back in their first final since 1907, and facing the same opponents, Celtic, might it be time for a change?

Hearts’ hopes were high, however. Their route to the final – a 3-0 home win over Forfar Athletic, another Tynecastle canter, putting five past Stirling Albion without reply, a 4-0 hammering of league champions-elect Rangers in the quarter-final, again at Tynecastle, and, after a 0-0 draw, a 3-0 semi-final replay win over Raith Rovers. The Gorgie men had reached the final without conceding a goal.

Celtic, in their third successive final, and having overturned the 1955 final result by beating Clyde 2-1 in their semi-final, had got to Hampden via a 2-0 win at Morton, a 3-0 win at Ayr United, a 2-1 Parkhead win over Airdrie, before that semi-final triumph.

But, Celtic had injury problems for the final, and even the Glasgow-published newspapers made Hearts the favourites. Celtic would be without centre-half and captain Jock Stein and outside-right Bobby Collins, and, as more than one newspaper pointed out, they lacked the reserve strength to accommodate the loss of these two important players.

The Celtic board, or more precisely chairman Robert Kelly, picked the team then, and when they named their team – Dick Beattie; Frank Meechan and stand-in captain Sean Fallon, youngster Eric Smith, Bobby Evans and Bertie Peacock; youngster Billy Craig – making his solitary Scottish Cup appearance for the club, Mike Haughney (usually at right-back), Neil Mochan, Willie Fernie and Charlie Tully, even the most-committed Celtic fans were shocked by the lack of experience down the right.

Heartsmissing regular captain bobby Parker through injury lined-up: Willie Duff in goal, Bobby Kirk and Tam Mackenzie at full-back, the half-back line of Dave Mackay, skipper Freddie Glidden and John Cumming, with teenager Alex Young and Under-23 cap Ian Crawford on the wings, outside the immortal “Terrible Trio” of inside forwards Alfie Conn, “King” Willie Bauld and Jimmy Wardhaugh.

Crawford, after Bauld had done the spadework, shot Hearts in front after 20 minutes, with some reports crediting the then notorious “Hampden Swirl” as playing a part in Celtic goalkeeper Dick Beattie’s failure to deal with the shot.

The same player, from a Bauld cross, made it 2-0 three minutes after half-time, but a mistake by Duff, with that “Swirl” again being blamed, was punished by stand-in inside forward Haughney to reduce the leeway.

Hearts suffered something of a crisis of confidence at this point, but, driven-on by man of the match Mackay, and by Cumming, who made light of a cut head, they regained the initiative and, with ten minutes left, Alfie Conn ensured the cup would be going to Edinburgh by scoring Hearts’ third goal.

There was no way back for Celtic, with referee Bobby Davidson, shortly afterwards blowing his whistle to signal the end of Hearts’ half century of Scottish Cup heartache.

Hearts had won the League Cup the previous season; the club’s Golden Era was now under way. League titles would follow in 1958 and 1960 – but, incredibly, they would have to wait another 42 years, after final heartache in 1965, 1976, 1986 and again in 1996, until defeating Rangers 2-1 at Parkhead in 1998, before world football’s oldest trophy would return to Tynecastle.

Only skipper Glidden, now 87, and Alex Young, the baby of the cup-winning side, are still alive. Sadly, neither is in the best of health, but, surely today, they will recall their part in ending their club’s lengthy wait for cup glory.