No Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones in 1977. No Hearts either. And then derby with Hibs blasted back ...

It was all of 43 late summers ago. Hearts, having had their backsides smacked, sent to bed with no supper and relegated for the first time in their history, were returning to the unloving arms of their nearest and direst for the resumption of the Edinburgh derby. Hibernian didn’t know what to expect so they sent on the big guns – Rikki Fleming, Rab Kilgour and Gerry O’Brien.
Referee Ian Foote struggles to restore order as Hearts and Hibs get over-excited about the return of the Edinburgh derby in 1978Referee Ian Foote struggles to restore order as Hearts and Hibs get over-excited about the return of the Edinburgh derby in 1978
Referee Ian Foote struggles to restore order as Hearts and Hibs get over-excited about the return of the Edinburgh derby in 1978

We understood the Hibee dilemma. The Jam Tarts – still not Jambos – would be desperate in that Tynecastle encounter to put on a show and remind everyone who they were: the big team, the Edinburgh team. They would have been simmering like a suet pudding on an electric hob in a Shandon kitchenette. They would have been bristling like a Slateford matron who’d just persuaded the door-to-door salesman to part with all of his brushes for a knockdown price.

But, honestly, what was Eddie Turnbull thinking on 26 August, 1978?

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Fleming had come from an Ayr United team notable for having participated in the failed Easter Road experiment of football on Christmas Eve night. Two years before, just 3,875 misbegotten souls including me and my father risked jinxing a visit from Santa to witness an apology of a game won by a Joe Fillippi own goal. And four Christmases before that Fleming’s Ayr had been the stooges for Turnbull’s Tornadoes at their most rampant with the last of the eight goals making it 100 for the season in record time.

Eddie Turnbull pictured during the 1978/79 seasonEddie Turnbull pictured during the 1978/79 season
Eddie Turnbull pictured during the 1978/79 season

Kilgour was ex-Whitehill Welfare – Ned really was spoiling us – while O’Brien arrived hotfoot from his second spell at Clydebank. Well, perhaps not hotfoot. By the conclusion of that season arthritis would end his career. Only Fleming scraped into double figures for appearances.

This was a sticky spell in Turnbull’s reign – stickier still was just around the corner – and the mood in the directors’ box could be tense. In his autobiography, Having a Ball, Turnbull relayed one exchange with an intermediary leaning across to ask on Tom Hart’s behalf: “The chairman would like to know when you’re getting that ****** off.” The manager sighed: “Ask him, ‘Which of our ******s would that be?’”

Turnbull admits in the book: “I made mistakes in signing players over the years – all managers do.” Fleming, Kilgour and O’Brien, bless them, weren’t Alan Gordon, Alex Edwards and Ally MacLeod – his best signings – and thankfully for him in ’78 Turnbull still had the languorous talents of MacLeod because that day they were needed.

What will this Hearts team be like at Tynie today? What will be their mood, their intent, their desire? I hope you’re not seriously asking that question. You should know the answer.

The original demotion almost demanded an addendum to a punk anthem: “No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones in 1977 … or Hearts in the top division.” Really, it was that shocking. There were further relegations for Hearts and inevitably they shocked less but then came Covid and the cancellation of the league. That pan was no longer simmering; it was boiling with grievance and grudge and about to explode. Hearts were rattling down the road to Ayr and Dumfries; meanwhile up above them Hibs were strolling to third place. Oh yes, the boys in maroon will be ready for this one, anxious to be the talk o’ the toon again and to restore the “natural order”, a phrase coined not by the Clash’s Joe Strummer but that other punk rocker, Craig Levein.

In case you’ve forgotten during the hiatus what Edinburgh derbies are like, don’t expect a football fiesta. All that matters is winning. This is true for the fans but also, possibly even more so, for the two managers at this particular juncture of their careers in Gorgie and Leith.

Robbie Neilson has not yet won over all Jambos, nor Jack Ross all Hibbies. For the former there have been grumbles about a lack of style; for the latter doubts concerning big-game mentality. Yes, both teams have made a good start to this campaign but Brora Rangers and those three bad days at Hampden last season are not easily forgotten. On the touchline Neilson and Ross will be dapper of clobber but anxious of mind, each hoping the other, required to mourn a comprehensive defeat for TV, will appear awkwardly overdressed in sleek Italian cloths.

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Two friends – and serious Edinburgh golden-age football royalty – presided over the returning derby in ’78: Turnbull and Willie Ormond. Wee Willie was a man of few words in the dressing-room and it’s not recorded that Hearts pulled that nowadays-overplayed stunt of pinning some wounding words to the wall. No matter, a team featuring Bobby Prentice, Willie Gibson, Jim Jefferies, Graham Shaw, Cammy Fraser and young Eamonn Bannon raced into the lead, Donald Park scoring in the eighth minute. Tenaciously, they held onto their advantage beyond Park’s sending off early in the second half. Beyond Jefferies’ red card, a punch-up involving several players, terracing aggro and referee Ian Foote being attacked by a nutter from the crowd. But in the second minute of added-on time the nonchalantly brilliant MacLeod roused himself and Messrs Fleming, Kilgour and O’Brien were able to escape with a draw, which might be the best the current Hibs side can hope for today.

Hearts would have more luck the next time they returned to the derby fray following relegation and in September, 1983 won a five-goal thriller at Tynecastle. The name next to two of their strikes is J. Robertson but for the life of me I cannot remember this guy …

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