We often see people debating their all-time Hearts XIs, with the same successful Hearts squads often heavily represented. 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.
In the latest instalment, Scott McIntosh – the man behind extensive Hearts video archive Amoruso Lets It Run – shares his selections.
Goalkeeper: Gilles Rousset (1995/96)
In terms of the best goalkeepers I have seen at the club, I would place Antti Niemi and Craig Gordon at the top, but when you think about the overall impact on a squad or the club in general, I think Gilles Rousset’s debut 1995/96 season tops anything the aforementioned Niemi and Gordon achieved. When the Frenchman arrived at the club as a trialist in a 2-0 defeat at Brockville, we were left bottom of the league with JJ at the time admitting that wholesale changes needed to be made.
His presence, rapport with the support (listen to his name being sung at end of the ‘96 final), along with some exceptional performances (TV match at Fir Park) were evidence of his contribution to what became a cup-winning team only a couple of years later.
Centre Back: Alan Mclaren (1991/92)
For a mix of reasons, I have plumped for a 3-4-3 formation. Although Steve Frail (94/95) could have been included, I have always gravitated to centre backs due to my preference for that position when playing boys’ club football myself. It is vital when picking this formation to make sure that your right and left-sided centre backs are comfortable being pulled out wide so, with that logic in mind, I have picked Alan Mclaren who could fill in at right back, especially as Zico’s career started to wind down.
He was a very consistent performer for many seasons but playing under Joe Jordan, who brought his experience of Italian football with him, seemed to see Mclaren step up a level and the 91/92 season would see him break into the national squad shortly after when he famously man-marked Baggio during a Scotland Italy match at Ibrox. Did not always get the recognition he deserved, I felt, which in later years seemed to be the case at the club as well when I found out Gary Williams was earning more than Alan at the time.
Centre Back : David Weir (1996/97)
Crazy to think that we managed to offload the likes of Brian Hamilton and Neil Berry to capture the highly-rated Weir that summer in a triple coup with Neil McCann and Jeremy Goss. Although he played mainly at right back during the selected season, many of the qualities he displayed in the following two years – including a deceptive turn of pace, positioning and great ability on the ball – were on display during his debut season with us. This season also saw Weir show a keen eye for goal.
Centre Back: Takis Fyssas (2005/06)
European Championships winner, Scottish Cup winner and involved in one of the most emotional standing ovations I have been involved in at the end of a memorable two years with the club.
It’s fair to say that the constant tinkering by the manager/owner (delete as applicable) during the 06/07 season had an impact on Fyssas’ effectiveness, but his partnership with Skacel in that first year will most likely never be bettered (I write this with Frear & Roberts as our main left sided wide men). There was an almost effortless side to his game, and you got the impression he maybe had one or two gears to use when needed. Would be great left sided centre back in my back three.
Right Midfield: Thomas Flogel (1997/98)
This was one of my hardest picks when mulling over my selection. I never got to see JC in his vintage years, in my opinion, and he would be the first one to tell you this formation would not suit him. It has been argued by some that Thomas Flogel is an overrated member of the cup-winning squad and I understand that point in terms of his overall contribution over his five-year stay (but this was mostly down to him being depended upon to cover many areas of the squad in my opinion). In terms of ability and professionalism, he deserves a place in this team and in a position he excelled in back on that sunny day in May 1998 at Parkhead.
Centre Midfield: Colin Cameron (1999/00)
Skacel apart, arguably the most influential player to don a Hearts jersey in the past 20 years. His absence for 80% of the previous season nearly saw the club relegated just 12 months after their famous cup win and, during this chosen season, his influence would continue to drive the team onto a decent third-place finish. Amongst his most memorable performances that season was a two-goal contribution to a 3-2 comeback victory at Parkhead.
Of the 1998 Cup winning side, it could be argued that only Gary Naysmith and Colin Cameron improved during their time at Tynecastle and this consistent run of form would eventually attract suitors down south along with international recognition.
Centre Midfield: Arnaud Djoum (2015/16)
Would have loved to have involved Steve Fulton or Paul Hartley in this team but unfortunately that their vintage years had already been used for other selections. Arnaud Djoum was a player brought in without much fanfare outside of the summer transfer window but, during his first season, would rise above other centre mid options such as Gomis and Buaben and contribute a number of goals to a well-oiled (if not pretty to watch) machine.
His form never really dipped during his four-year stay at the club but the quality and continuity around him certainly did, which seemed to shine a spotlight on his impact in the team when many other players should have been at the front of the queue for scrutiny.
Left Midfield: Rudi Skacel (2011/12)
It wasn’t so much the question of would I pick Rudi Skacel but more what year would I select as his vintage. Could easily be argued that the 05/06 version of Rudi would fit into this formation better but his overall impact on the 11/12 team cannot be underestimated. The only player that season to grab double figures and also chipped in with five goals in the last four Scottish cup ties of that memorable run.
Forward: Roman Bednar (2006/07)
I was torn between Bednar and Adam for this position but due to having 97/98 already selected felt I had to go with Bednar. Very similar players attribute-wise (behaviour-wise a different story). Bednar had two mixed seasons at the club due to injury and indifferent form but his goalscoring streak at the beginning of the 06/07 season served as a reminder of just how influential a player he could be when he felt wanted and had his head on straight.
Although he would go on to play down south, I never got the feeling that he ever reached his full potential. I still think back to that pre-season friendly against Boro in 2005 and coming out of the stands thinking that Bednar was the pick of the new players we had signed that summer.
Forward: Kevin Kyle (2010/11)
Any decent Hearts side of the past 35 years tends to have a focal point up front who can bring out the best out of the players around him and it’s fair to say Kevin Kyle did this in spades during an all too brief six-month spell in the side.
His inclusion in the team coincided with the likes of Templeton, Elliott and Skacel hitting a rich vein of form, which saw us briefly challenge at the top of the league (the last time we have managed to do so in the top league). Bullied and tormented the likes of Zander Diamond and Sol Bamba and has been on record as wishing he had signed for the club earlier in his career. You and me both, Kevin.
Forward: John Robertson (1990/91)
Like Skacel this was a no-brainer, but I have to admit to not being old enough to appreciate Robbo during his vintage spell with the club. I have picked the 90/91 season as it represents Robbo’s breakthrough into the Scotland squad, scoring in his first two internationals against Switzerland and Romania. This season also saw him continue his one-man campaign of terror against Hibernian, netting three goals that season against them.
If you’re looking for a nostalgia trip, visit Scott’s website and YouTube channel, where you’ll find plenty of Hearts-related footage going back through the years.