Saturday 20th January 1996, Allan Johnston scores a hat-trick at Ibrox as Hearts run out 3-0 winners, and my love affair with Heart of Midlothian Football Club began.
I was 10-years-old and other than a fleeting awareness that my Dad loved Hearts and so we, as a family, wanted them to win, I had very little interest in football. In 1996 it was very much something boys did, that boys were interested in and aside from that I was growing up in a small village in the West Highlands of Scotland where schoolmates were more likely to discuss the latest shinty scores on the playground than football results. But I was a daddy’s girl and seeing my dad celebrate, what even I knew was a momentous result for the club, with my older brother, made me want to be involved too. I asked if I could stay up to watch the highlights on Sportscene.
My dad is an integral part of this story most notably because things could have turned out very differently. Born in Maryhill, Glasgow to a Catholic family most people surrounding him were Celtic fans but he wasn’t that interested. He enjoyed football but chose not to align himself with a particular team. Then, on moving to Edinburgh for work, aged 16, he discovered Hearts. He describes entering Tynecastle for the first time and “just knowing” that this was the team for him. One of the most appealing things to him was the lack of sectarianism which he had witnessed so much of at home in Glasgow and so it is a shame that there are still a small minority of fans at Tynecastle these days who insist on singing ‘anti-Catholic’ songs. There is no place for that at Hearts.
I learnt other early lessons from my dad about being a football fan too. I had quickly become completely hooked and would spend Saturday afternoons listening to the games on the radio, learning song lyrics and reading about the team at every given opportunity. I was completely emotionally invested but this emotional investment came at a price. Hearts lost – a lot – and every time they did my dad would find me in a crying heap on my bed refusing to come downstairs for dinner. Eventually, he gave me a choice. If you want to support a team that wins all the time go for it but if you want to be a Hearts fan you’re going to have to get used to the ups and downs. And from that moment on I never cried again. The men in maroon were the team for me and I would just have to take the rough with the smooth.
Saturday 16th May 1998, two years after a heart-breaking defeat to Rangers in the Scottish Cup Final demons were avenged when goals from Colin Cameron and Stephane Adam led Hearts to their first trophy for 36 years and I knew I had to get to Tynecastle. My dad hadn’t been to Tynecastle for a number of years, my older brother not really that interested and living so far away preventing ready visits. However, he promised that the following season we would go to a match and I couldn’t wait…
Saturday 4th October 1998 – my first game. By all accounts it was a pretty dull 1-1 draw against St Johnstone, Lee Makel equalising for Hearts after the visitors had taken the lead, but for me the day was anything but dull. After a trip to the club shop and clutching a programme, I could wait no longer. “Please, can we go into the ground now, Dad?” It was only 1.30pm. “Okay, I guess we can go in now.” We were the first ones there but I couldn’t have cared less. We sat in the old Main Stand and as we walked up the stairs and I got my first look at the pitch I knew, in the same way my dad had “just known” all those years before, that this would be my team for life.
Fast forward a number of years and I found myself moving to Edinburgh. I went along to a few games, including that famous cup run in 2012. But I didn’t really know anybody and football is more fun shared. Then, through a chance conversation with an old friend from my University days I ended up on a ‘party bus’ back from the League Cup Final in 2013. We had lost but I had ended up with a group of friends who have become my ‘Hearts family’. Cities can be incredibly lonely places but knowing that every Saturday you can turn up to the same place and see the same faces changed my life in Edinburgh. This instant family became even more important to me when my mental health took a turn for the worse a few years ago. Even leaving the house had become problematic but knowing that I could turn up, no questions asked, no judgements made and for 90 minutes at least forget my woes made what was a very painful time much less so. The ‘team for me’ is not just about the eleven men on the pitch every week but also the friends who have supported me at a time when I felt I had little else.
Hearts for me is about laughs with your mates, away trips on the train, that incredible season in the Championship, bragging rights, derby parties, new places, new faces, that Tynecastle roar, pre-match chatter, post-match analysis, family time, goals you’ll never forget, players becoming legends and hospitality days.
1st September 2018 Hearts v St Mirren. The season is off to a great start and so I am hopeful for today. Whatever the result though, Heart of Midlothian will always be the team for me.
*Published in Hearts Match Programme 01/09/2018