Never underestimate the value of nostalgia. When someone is willing to pay £4,100 for a plastic owl barely high enough to reach John Robertson’s kneecap, something special has occurred.
The old main stand at Tynecastle continues to be of service to Hearts despite now being almost completely dismantled.
As of yesterday just three pillars remain, supporting the middle section shell of the Archibald Leitch-designed structure. Almost everything else, it seemed, was included among 147 auction items in the Gorgie suite yesterday, with unique items such as a medicine ball dating back to the 1950s stirring most interest.
Then there were the two cast iron baths from the home dressing room in which the aforementioned Robertson once loosened his hamstrings before games. Former defender and manager Gary Locke, a star guest at the auction, remarked that back when he was a cheeky apprentice he was nearly drowned in one of them at the hands of Alan McLaren.
Bricks, seats and even signs for the “Ladies Toilets” and “Gents Toilets” were all included in the Main Stand collection, helping raise over £65,000 towards the club’s stadium redevelopment fund.
But creating most frisson was the penultimate lot – a model owl, once employed to ward off pests from the main stand. This sparked a remarkable bidding war that finally stalled at just over £4,000.
Gary Lough, an accountant of all things, beamed proudly as he prepared to transport one startled looking owl to its new perch –in his living room. “As well as a Hearts fan I’m also a Sheffield Wednesday supporter,” he said, with reference to an English club also known as the Owls. “So there is some logic behind it.”
Everything, it seemed, was going, going, gone in Gorgie yesterday. It was fascinating to watch as a room of people became lighter by such a large sum in the matter of a few hours. Drink wasn’t even a factor, not initially at least.
“So what do you want? A bath or a turnstile?” It’s not the normal kind of greeting heard at Tynecastle. Some 400 supporters and committed hoarders began gathering around an hour before the 11 am start, casting covetous looks over a variety of Hearts ephemera arranged on tables around the room.
This was an approved form of looting, far more to the Jambos’ liking than Rangers’ continued pursuit of Jamie Walker, one of their star players. Of course this scenario provided auctioneer Scott Wilson, the tireless Hearts Tannoy announcer, with an opportunity he wasn’t going to let pass.
When one of Walker’s shirts came up for auction, he quipped: “Rangers have come in under the reserve price – no surprise there.” But most weren’t here to bid for sportswear liable to unstitch before too long.
They had gathered for the maroon equivalent of religious relics. A personal favourite was the Terrible Trio light box – “a large, silver framed, backlit photo board (with plug)” featuring Alfie Conn, Willie Bauld & Jimmy Wardhaugh. Bulbs, though, were not included. It still went for £525.
A “Home Team” sign kicked-off proceedings and within moments the stadium redevelopment fund was £300 better off.
It was relentless for the next five hours, with Wilson proving a trouper for the Hearts cause yet again. He’s arguably among the club’s most valuable assets. A hand-painted sign warning that any “person committing a nuisance in the grounds will be prosecuted” was snapped up for £2,450.
This was too rich even for the celebrity in the room. Actor Ken Stott revealed later he’d had his eye on this sign for his man cave in a holiday home he has in Italy. Stott, “proving Rebus is a Jambo” according to Wilson, wasn’t to be deterred. But he hadn’t thought too deeply about how to transport a large canvas portrait of Gary Mackay, secured for £250, on the train home to London today.
“Gary’s a pal,” he said. “And I am very proud of him. He stands for the best things about Heart of Midlothian Football club. His attitude towards the game and towards the club is exemplary.
“I will carry it on my back!” he added.
Stott was outbid for the Tommy Walker canvas, likewise rescued from the old players’ lounge. “They stand out in that sense,” said Stott. “Tommy Walker was a character who embodied the Heart of Midlothian spirit, as does Gary. To me they have a lot in common.”
Stott had taken the opportunity to observe what remained of the old main stand. The new stand is now taking shape and is already providing Tynecastle with a very different aspect. Stott fought back tears, unsuccessfully.
“I just went out just now this moment,” he said. “I saw the stand, it’s virtually gone. It really was very emotional. It made my cry…it really did.
“But it’s marvellous we are moving on into a new era, which should be more profitable in every way.”
Ann Budge certainly hopes so. The club owner was a very conspicuous presence, her astonishment growing along with everyone else’s as bidding wars developed over items some clubs might simply have thrown in a skip.
“We thought it could be a damp squib or else it could go like a fair, which is what has happened,” she said.
“My grandchildren were saying: ‘can you not buy a cow?’ Could you have not told me that before I put them in the auction?! It is about supporters having their chance. If I start bidding it’s unfair.”
The life-sized cows - created for the Edinburgh cow parade art event in 2006, and bought by former Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov - raised a more than decent sum in any event, as did the turnstiles, dating back to 1914, which went for £1,000 each. Warning to Hibs fans: don’t be surprised to have to pay to get in your Hearts-supporting friend’s garden.