We often see people debating their all-time Hearts XIs, with the same successful Hearts squads often heavily represented in most. However, what if you were allowed just one player from any given season?
The likes of Rudi and Robbo are always popular picks, but which version of those players – their vintage, if you will – would you choose? With 17 separate seasons on the shelf, which John Robertson stands out? If offered a choice between the 2005/06 and 2011/12 Skacels, which appeals more to your palate?
In this series, I’m asking Hearts fans to pick their “Vintage Hearts XI”. The only caveat: a limit of one player from any given season. Beyond that, the selection criteria is entirely down to personal preference and not necessarily centred on “the best” team.
What I hope that inspires is a variety of teams made up of club legends, cult heroes, colourful characters, one-season wonders, childhood favourites, players from different eras who would have complemented each other in the same side, players associated with fond personal memories and any other reasons that spring to mind.
This is as much about the stories behind the selections than the selections themselves. I hope you enjoy them.
Kicking us off is Andrew-Henry Bowie, author of the brilliant Heart of Midlothian memoir Two Miles to Tynecastle.
Goalkeeper: Antti Niemi (2000/01)
In terms of ‘best season’, I think Craig Gordon’s 2005/06 tops the lot, but I’m bagging that season for another player. I am, however, more than happy to opt for peak Niemi here. There is in fact very little between the two keepers: both absolutely brilliant at their best and indeed the title of who was (or still is in Gordon’s case) the best is often argued. For me, it’s a win-win debate as they are both great ‘keepers.
Yet, 2000/01 wasn’t a particularly good season. Hearts were in financial turmoil and there was a certain defeat at Easter Road on Halloween that, twenty years on, still gives me the goolies, goblins and heebie-jeebies. But one bright spot over that time was the brilliance of our Finnish goalie who was capable of making the most outstanding saves. He was one of those rare players that just made you think ‘How the hell did we manage to land this guy?’ Please note I avoided that awful pun which I’m definitely not going to mention here.
Right Back: Callum Paterson (2014/15)
For the previous 20 years, Steve Frail’s ill-fated 1994/95 season was my ’best season’ right back choice, but there is no denying Paterson’s quality and power. “Dr Funk” was (and remains) a maverick player; a guy at ease with his own quirks and eccentricities; a young laddie from Livi built like an American footballer; a sort-of defender and sort-of attacker.
I liked him at right back, but I liked him more as a player and a personality and although I put him in at right back here, I reserve the right to throw him forward if we’re chasing a late goal. Yet Paterson’s inclusion is admittedly as much a nod to a season I enjoyed way more than I ought to as it is testament to his own performances which, while very good, are a broader representation of his contribution spanning five years whilst particularly enjoying that ‘Championship’-winning team.
Left Back: Lee Wallace (2008/09)
I had and still have a soft spot for Lee Wallace. In the mid-2000s, I used to live near Lee and despite him being a regular in the Hearts team by then, I would still see him standing outside the Carrick Knowe shops with his mates, wearing the sort of trackie bottoms normally reserved for guys buying high-caffeine energy drinks from Asda at The Jewell.
Wallace was one of many good performers in the ‘Csaba’ season of 2008/09, along with the likes of Driver, Karipidis, Zal, Aguiar and Stewart. I loved Wallace’s style on the pitch, if not off it. There was no better sight than his big long legs galloping forward into the opposition half, effortlessly beating players on the way. Hearts could’ve been title challengers that year if only we had a striker who scored goals. Christian Nade often led the line in that XI, but he doesn’t make this one. 2008/09 ended up one of those pleasing, third-place-finish seasons and – for the next couple of years – I thought Wallace was outstanding.
Centre Half: Craig Levein (1985/86) – Captain
For us Gen X-ers, there was no greater watershed season than 1985/86. In fact, it was perhaps the most famous, infamous, exhilarating and ultimately tragic season in the club’s history, with the probable exception of 1914/15. I turned 12-years old in August 1985 and was absolutely gripped with excitement as Hearts were seemingly going to do the unthinkable by winning the league. I remember around April 1986 being unable to concentrate as a first year at Tynecastle High School, like some lovelorn teenager; I simply couldn’t stop thinking about Hearts becoming champions.
Twenty-two-year old Craig Levein was a huge part of that side and for those of us old enough to remember him in his early, pre-injury prime, it was surely only a matter of time before a move to Liverpool, Spurs or Man Utd was on the cards. But inevitably, the injury came, and more cruelly, the league was lost in the most painful way imaginable. It still hurts to re-visit that pain. But I also think the roller-coaster ride was worth it. Levein, for all his recent faults, remains a shining light in that team. He represented not only youth, but class and style. Generation X Hearts fans like me still say he’s the greatest Hearts defender of our time.
Centre Half: David Weir (1997/98)
There was competition to partner Levein in defence. Sandy Jardine was an obvious and perhaps the most natural choice. Steven Pressley, despite later misdemeanours was a captain and warrior. Andy Webster, probably under-rated, was a magnificent player and a real favourite of mine, and big Dave McPherson, if only for those mazy runs forward, my favourite being late into the game in a 4-2 win over Rangers in the Scottish Cup.
But alas, the classy David Weir gets the place in this all-time XI. And not only does Weir play in this team, but he also played in THAT team, the side that finally delivered silverware to two starving generations of Hearts supporters on that glorious day in May 1998. Yes, ‘5-1’ v Hibs was incredible, but 1998 is still the greatest ever.
David Weir was brilliant for Hearts from the day we signed him in the summer of 1996. He was a key component in a team patiently crafted by Jim Jefferies. Tough, uncompromising in defence, but elegant moving forward and comfortable on the ball, he still played at the top into his 40s. But he’s best remembered by us as a giant in that 1998 side.
Wide Right: John Colquhoun (1987/88)
JC was a fans’ favourite for many years and, as we’ve seen on Twitter recently, is an all-round good guy who, despite his Celtic roots, became a Hearts man through and through. He was a brilliant player in the tumultuous 1985/86 side but his form continued in the following seasons and, by 1987/88, he was playing more as a striker in a front three of Robertson, Foster and Colquhoun, which soon became Robertson, Crabbe and Colquhoun by season 1989/90.
Colquhoun was a winger both by stealth and simplicity. His touch and movement, though subtle, were based on an ability to beat the opponent rather than bamboozle them. And he was all-heart. Brutalised, but rarely injured, Colquhoun ran at opponents at speed between 1985 and 1990 and then again, though slightly tempered, from 1993 to 1997. But that first spell at the club was legendary.
Centre Midfield: Paul Hartley (2004/05)
A slight bending of the rules perhaps, because 2004/05 was no 2005/06, but that didn’t matter to Paul Hartley as he became that main man in 2004/05. In fact, if we rewind further back to January of 2004, we began to see the rise of Hartley, now playing in central midfield, in an era where he was arguably the best midfielder in Scotland and, perhaps for a time, one of the most on-form players in Europe.
Yes, he was that good and a key player for both club and country. Hartley had a guile and an arrogance about him, streetwise and cocky, but with the game to back it up. By the spring of 2006, he was untouchable and utterly influential, demanding possession and dictating play while scoring a number of great, iconic goals. A stick-on for this team.
Centre Midfield: Colin Cameron (1996/97)
1996/97? Shouldn’t I mean 1997/98? Well no, actually. Colin Cameron was fantastic in the seminal season of 1997/98, but he actually wasn’t Hearts’ best midfielder in 1997/98 – Stevie Fulton was. In fact, Fulton was Hearts’ best player in 1997/98, period. But “Mickey” Cameron was a better performer for Hearts over a five-year spell between 1996 and 2001, and I’ve chosen his form in 1996/97 especially, as he was illustrative of the steady building of a Hearts side that would eventually lead to the mother of all parties.
But for me, Cameron was more than just a good player. I felt like he was ‘my’ guy out on the pitch. I absolutely loved him as a player. He was moody and animated, but that smile when he scored a goal… He was all-action, getting stuck into midfield duties one minute, arriving late into the box to score the next. And he was a very, very good player. I was so sad to see him eventually leave to go down south.
As I mentioned both Stevie Fulton and season 1996/97, I should also now declare the ‘honourable mentions’ of those other players who didn’t quite make my all-time XI. Perhaps most unlucky of all is another great player from that time, Neil McCann. McCann would be the first sub and I’d happily bring him on for the last half-hour if he promised to deliver his Coca Cola Cup final form. Fellow cup legends Thomas Flogel and Stephane Adam also just miss out. Sandy Jardine, Sandy Clark, Dave McPherson, Scott Crabbe, Alan McLaren, Steve Frail, Jim Bett, Gary Naysmith, Stefano Salvatori, Gary Mackay, Craig Gordon, Steven Pressley, Andy Webster, Takis Fyssas, Bruno Aguiar, Andy Driver, Steven Naismith and the late Marius Zaliukas were also in my thoughts for this team.
Free Role/Left Midfield: Rudi Skacel (2011/12)
I’ve supported Hearts for 38 years. Rudi Skacel is the best player I’ve ever seen play for the club. He is a God. The shape of this team means I really ought to have picked Neil McCann to give balance on the left, but although Skacel might occasionally wander over that way (should he feel like it) I would rather he spent his time relaxing about 30 to 40 yards from goal more centrally. Besides, peak Wallace, Hartley and Cameron can pick up the slack.
All this team wants is for Rudi to get shots away from that magnificent left foot of his. Many superlatives have been written about Skacel by Hearts supporters over the last fifteen years. This is just another one. He was magnificent in every way. In case you didn’t know it, I love you, Rudi.
Centre Forward: John Robertson (1989/90)
Of course, John Robertson is the all-time modern-day legend of Hearts and the wee man was always going to be in this and everyone else’s Hearts XI. He was the classic penalty box striker: small, stocky and rarely injured. Robbo had longevity and bagged his 271 goals consistently over a long, seventeen year period with only a brief, ironically injury-hit spell at Newcastle.
I was tempted to pick the streaked-hair wedge Robbo of 1983 – my introductory years as a young Hearts fan – but instead I’ll go with 1989/90, where not only did Robbo score 22 goals, but he led a forward line of Robertson, Crabbe and Colquhoun who got 48 goals between them in a powerful Hearts team. If Rudi is a god, then so is Robbo.
Centre Forward: Edgaras Jankauskas (2005/06)
Rounding off my all-time Hearts XI, and perhaps a surprise inclusion for some, but for the discerning Hearts supporter, there is no doubting the big man’s class and quality in the first of his two seasons at Hearts, a season that will live long in the mind for many reasons; some good, some bad. It was a great time to be alive though and I have a lot of fond memories from that year and a recollection of many a hangover.
Champions League-winner Jankauskas was a superb player, and would’ve no doubt complemented John Robertson had their time lines crossed. Tall, powerful but with a fantastic touch and control, he didn’t score a great number of goals but most of his goals were great and he provided many more for others to score too.
So that’s my all-time Hearts XI with just one player allowed per season. I’ll go with a sort of 4-4-2 formation that can flip to an all-out attacking 4-2-4. The rules were harsh on Takis, and I’m still feeling guilty about Neil McCann. And a 2005/06 Craig Gordon could’ve and maybe should’ve been in there. But there’s no doubt that is still a very powerful, attacking team build on a solid defence. Imagine that lot playing together as one team? We’d have smashed the league.
If you haven’t read it already, Two Miles to Tynecastle is available to purchase in hardcover, paperback and e-book formats here.