The third and final day of Dynamo Birkerod´s trip of Scottish football grounds is, arguably, the big one. It will probably be the title-decider. And it will be our last chance ever to get a look at Archibald Leitch’s main stand – in a month from now, bulldozers will move in and tear it down. And – it is a category A match.
To prevent trouble, the police restrict ticket sales for category A matches. Only fans with a documented buying history as fans of the club are allowed to buy tickets – and only one ticket each. I had established a buying history a month previously – but that was not enough for me to apply for a ticket.
In fact, I had given up on getting 11 tickets, and instead made plans for seeing the build-up to the game, watching the match in a pub, and then paying a visit to rivals Hibernian’s ground Easter Road. But just a few days before the match, I contacted my old conference acquaintance Siobhan to ask her for some advice – and her husband, Chris, managed to pull some strings.
Not only that. He has also arranged that Hearts marketing officer Dylan will show us around the new memorial garden and museum at Tynecastle, which is otherwise closed on matchdays. I am particularly delighted with that, as I am working on an article about football memorial gardens. Depending on where you draw the line between a memorial garden and memorial monument, there are somewhere between 20 and 30 at British football grounds now.
I have told our party about the special story about Hearts and WW1 – and the Archibald Leitch stand. Hearts were building a really good team, and in 1913 asked Archie to build them a new grand stand to match – for £6000. That was the maximum limit for the club – and it meant that they could not afford to have one of Archie’s signature gables put on the top. But by New Year 1914, the cost had risen to £8000 and Hearts had to sell top striker Percy Dawson to Blackburn Rovers for a record fee of £2500.
Still, Hearts got off to a flying start to the new league season in 1914 – beating Celtic 2-0 in the opening fixture and winning the first eight matches, 19 out of the opening 21. But as rugby and cricket players (amateurs) suspended their leagues to join the army, criticism of the professional footballers carrying on with their trade increased. And at the end of November 1914, almost the entire Hearts team signed up for the army. They were joined by a number of players from Hibernian, Raith Rovers and Dunfermeline.
Hearts suffered their first two defeats of the season, when the team had been out all night for military training and had to get straight on the train for matches the next morning without sleeping. Hearts won only 8 out of the last 17 matches after signing up, with Celtic overtaking them for the title at the end of the season – with none of the prolific Glasgow players having signed up.
Seven of the Hearts players lost their lives in the war. Several supporters – who signed up with the players for McRae’s battalion – also lost their lives. Attendances dropped – and so the club revenue. A new entertainment tax to finance the war effort added to Hearts’ financial woes.The cost of the new stand, however, went the other way. Completed in October 1915, the total cost was double the original estimate, £12.178. Along the way, the relations between the club and Archie had soured, and on the plaque mounted on the stand to commemorate the erection, all board members were named, but not the architect – Archie – as was customary.
So in the light of history, today’s match could tie up a few loose ends. As well as bidding Archie’s stand goodbye at a time, when Hearts have just been saved from deep financial troubles, Hearts have the chance to dent Celtic’s unbeaten march towards the title. Celtic, who without contributing to the war effort a hundred years ago, benefited from Hearts’ sacrifice and took the title out of Hearts’ grasp.
We call three cabs to take us to the ground. Originally, I had planned for us to walk there, so we could stop by the memorial for the fallen Hearts players along the way, but the walk through Glasgow yesterday had taken its toll on some of the Dynamos who crave a cab for the 4 mile distance. I point out the memorial for the guys in my cab. It is very noticeable with the many wreaths of red poppies around it. In fact, next morning I take a walk past it, and notice that among the wreaths from many Hearts supporters branches, there is also one from Hibernian.
We are dropped by the Tynecastle Arms pub – it is glorious sunshine. We have a first quick look of Archie’s stand, which already forms part of a building site preparing the new stand. I point out the characteristic angling of the stand – another trace of the time, when football stadiums were designed to fit into the space available, rather than just buying up adjacent land.
We make our way around the Gorgie Road end to the Wheatfield Street entrance, and meet Dylan in the club shop. He shows us a playing kit designed two years ago to thank the 8000 supporters who gave more than £120 to save the club. So far, the foundation has contributed five million pounds! Amazing. Obviously, it is a shirt, I have to buy.
From the shop, we walk around to the Memorial Garden – “Forever in our Hearts”, opened in 2015. It is very different to most of the memorial gardens, I have visited so far. It is not intended to be a place, where you can scatter the ashes or bury the urn of your relatives, although Dylan guess that there are fans who sneak in to scatter the ashes of relatives among the plants.
That is one major difference. Another major difference is that it is strictly designed. Other gardens are a jumble of individual expressions of identity and grief – but here, the only way of expression is to put a text within a metal Heart plaque. There is space for 8000 Hearts – the same number as the number of names on the shirt. At the price of £215.
It is not only supporters featured here, though. There are also deceased former players, mixed among the fans in no particular order. They are important, but not more important than the fans. As a sign puts it: “The fans – the one true constant. Thank you”. It is no coincidence that the statue erected by the garden is an anonymous representative of McCrae’s battalion which had players as well as supporters signing up.
Although all individual statements have to be expressed within the same narrow frame of the steel heart, there is still room for individuals to stand out. Dylan points out his favourite plaque: “In memory of Dave. He loved the pub. He loved Heart of Midlothian. He tolerated his family”.
Jes asks Kelly about the values of Hearts – compared to what we saw at Rangers the other day. He doesn’t want to be drawn into discussing Rangers, but focuses on the community work and sponsorship policy of Hearts – they have “Save the children” as shirt sponsors. Of course, you could argue that Hearts are the protestant club of Edinburgh, just as Rangers are in Glasgow, both of them with catholic rivals. And at least some years ago, the “Billy Boys” song could be heard from sections of the Hearts crowd. But the religious element seems to have disappeared from the Edinburgh rivalry, and Hearts have worked deliberately on stamping out that element of the crowd.
I purchase a Hearts WW1 scarf to supplement the Rangers scarf I bought the other day. Whereas Glasgow Rangers did not contribute in any particular way to the war, still they sell “Battle of the Somme” scarves dedicated to the Ulster Division, stressing militant protestancy. Hearts sell McCrae Battalion scarves with the names of the Hearts players who fought. This seems to commemorate historic roots, rather than signalling sectarian partisanship. I wear my new Hearts scarf for the rest of the day.
You could argue that it is strange that the memorial garden of a club, emphazising the importance of the fans so much, should be so strictly regulated. All messages put on the standardized plaques. The space is carefully designed around a bronze and steel sculpture of the club crest wit a football in the centre – that brings you could luck, if you touch it. It is surrounded by three steel benches.
One of the benches is dedicated to Hearts greatest player, Dave McKay. Curiously, it is adorned by a George Best quotation “The hardest man I have ever played against and certainly the bravest”. Curiously, because “bravery” is not usually the main virtue ascribed a footballer in a memorial, and also because George Best had a spell with Hearts rivals Hibernian. To balance the bench dedicated a player, the second bench is dedicated to “The Hearts Family … the Hearts supporters all over the world who helped save their club in it’s hour of need”. And the third and final bench link players and supporters through the 1914-story:
“Do not ask where Hearts are playing and then look at me askance. If it’s football that you are wanting, you must come with us to France”.
Over the past few years the WW1 commemorations seem to have sparked a new wave of football memorials and memorial gardens. The story of Hearts and the Sporting Battalion – and the timing with the commemorations – are probably the main reasons, why this garden have more resemblance with an official war memorial than a private garden, where ashes are scattered among personalized objects.
The garden also has a small room, where you can have a quiet service. It contains an impressive artwork, based on a map of the Somme region.
From the garden, we walk to the other end of the ground to the Gorgie Stand to have a look around the museum. David, the assistant curator, is in to greet us. It is a really nice little museum, set up last year in a room originally build as club shop on the initiative of Ann Budge.
Ann Budge formed a consortium to buy the shareholding majority of the club during the 2014 turmoil, to allow the fans’ Foundation of Hearts time to raise the money to take over the ownership officially. When she one day saw the club archive and the objects gathered there, she wanted a museum established to show it to the fans. And it is really made for the fans. For one thing, entrance is free of charge, whereas you have to pay around £ 10 in other club museums, as they mainly target footballing tourists who are prepared to spend to get the entire package.
The Hearts museum is – just like the memorial garden – atypical as a football club museum. They often tend to be designed as branding platforms, reflecting just how much success the club has had, often as part of an argument for being the best, the greatest, the most popular or the first to achieve something. And this argument is accompanied with a hall of fame element. They seem to be designed primarily to win over neutral visitors to become supporters through their claim to greatness.
The Hearts museum seem to be more a room for reflection on the club’s history for its fans. Objects – and relics – tell about the McCrae Battalion, and about Hearts travels to other countries. A map tells about every ground in Edinburgh where Hearts have played. The historical timetable element contain lows as well as the highs as part of the club identity. Visitors be warned! Becoming a Hearts supporter may cause you considerable grief and despair along the way!
But, of course, there is also a special place for Hearts’ greatest team that won the title in 1958 with a record number of points, goals scored and goal difference. 132 goals in 34 matches! Impressive. But what intrigues me most in the museum are the souvenirs taken back from Denmark, when Hearts visited Copenhagen in 1912 and 1914. A china polar bear, and a swastika needle from the Carlsberg breweries.
As a bonus, Dylan wants to show us the pitch. We enter the ground in the Gorgie Stand, as security staff are walking in lines around the ground, flipping all the seats. Jens asks me, what they are doing it for. “Checking for bombs” I say. He doesn’t really believe me, so he asks Dylan – who confirms.
I am so absorbed with looking at Archie’s condemned stand, that I hardly appreciate the fact that we are allowed to walk pitch side all the way to the players’ tunnel in the middle of the stand.
I have a last look at the pillars and elaborate ceiling. Dylan, though, doesn’t seem to be sentimental about. “As you can see, it needs replacing”. I cannot see it.
We are allowed into the players tunnel. It is really narrow, a far cry from modern tunnels that are made to accommodate television crews and have areas for post-match interviews with players. There is hardly room for two rows of players lined up here before entering the ground.
Over the entrance to the field, there is first a customary “This is Tynecastle” – and then a quatation from Heart legend John Cumming: “Blood doesn’t show on a maroon jersey”.
It is fairly crowded in the tiny tunnel – and noisy. Electronic music is blasting out from somewhere. A camera man from Sky Sports block the tunnel – he is waiting for the Celtic players to arrive – and we have to stand behind him and wait for them to pass. I can see on Dylan that he didn’t plan this – and wants us to get out of there as quickly as possible. When apparently all the Celtic players have passed, he tells us to follow him as quickly as we can out of there.
As we enter entrance hall, another couple of Celtic players appear – and I make the ultimate sacrifice to avoid causing Dylan too much trouble for taking us through. I don’t stop to take photos of Archie’s Hearts mosaic crest. A sacrifice that keeps me awake late that night. It was the last chance to see it … although Dylan claims that that is the only thing that will be preserved.
As we gather outside the main stand, everybody seems a bit starstruck and realize that this was a bit extraordinary. Jonas, one of Ib’s son, is excited that he shook the hand of Kolo Toure, as he arrived as one of the last Celtic players.
Dylan points out where the new stand will be. They will build it in stages, so it will be ready for matches already by September. And then the rest with offices etc. will be completed afterwards. I have a long last look at Archie’s stand …
We thank for an amazing tour, and take the short walk to the pub “The Athletic Arms”, called “the Diggers” as it is situated between to cemeteries. Most of us have a pint and a pie – and they are really good. It is a really great place. The atmosphere is good, there are plenty of old football photos on the wall – and the television show the Sky Sports build-up to the match, so we get a deja-vu of the Celtic players arriving in the tunnel.
Back to the ground. It is an early 12.30 kick-off. Our seats are in the Roseburn stand, above the Memorial Garden. Half the stand is allocated the Celtic fans – who enter from McLeod Street, the other half home fans, who have to enter through the Wheatfield stand. As much as I love old Archie’s stand, I have to admit that the concourse on the new stands at Tynecastle are nice and spacey. Fans can meet here, no matter where they are seated, and the facilities are ok. In fact, there is even a curry shed – but having just had a pie at the pub, I have room for no more at the moment.
Again, you glimpse the fans commitment of the club with a listing of 500 financial contributors.
Inside the ground, I send long looks to Archie’s stand. It may look a bit dated between the two larger cantilevered stands, and it is somehow dwarfed by the big white steel gantry in place for its successor.
The crowd is – in terms of gender and etnicity – almost identical to the ones at Dundee and Glasgow, and, in fact, most English grounds. 100% white and 85% male. Unusually, there are a few suits around, but there are also, despite the attractiveness of the fixture, a few empty seats around us.
The players enter the field to the tune of the 1950’s “Glorious Hearts” recording. It goes well with Archie’s stand. I wonder if they will – like Glasgow Rangers – persevere with it, when the new stand takes over, or they will go all ‘modern’ like Glasgow Rangers and play “Simply the best”.
Of course, Celtic have a massive turnout for the match – and they are in pretty good voice, although, I must admit, I had expected a bit more from them. They are not as vocal as many other travelling supports, even though they are on the verge of winning the title.
The Hearts crowd, though, are in good voice, as Hearts make a good, highpressing start to the game, unsettling Celtic. Ooohhhs and ahhrsss accompany tackles and passes – and you really get the match under your skin. A stark contrast to the ultra-element at Ibrox the previous day. This is what British football is about. I love every second of it.
Hearts have a few half chances. Niels next to me suggests that the pressure of possibly winning the title today is too much for Celtic, but I reply that they are just waiting to counter and will probably nick a couple of goals – because they do look sharp upfront once they get the ball to Scott Sinclair.
Whereas I was way off the mark with my 4-0 prediction for Rangers the previous day, I am proved right. Just after the halfway point of the first half, two Sinclair goals within the space of 4 minutes, put Celtic firmly in the driving seat.
Just before the second goal, Celtic’s Swedish full back Mikael Lustig had gone down injured, calling for a foul and probably a card to a Hearts player. But as Sinclair races through to score, he jumps up and runs over to celebrate. The Hearts fans are angered by this miraculous resurrection. When Lustig goes to the touchline for to retrive the ball from the crowd for a throw-in – he gets it full force in the groin. As he turns and squares up towards the fans, they hurl abuse at him. On of them seems to spit at him, as he shouts him right in the face. But he just manages to keep his cool.
A little reminder that despite Fans Foundation, Memorial Gardens etc. not all Hearts fans are charity angles – for instance, the boy at the corner of the Main Stand, waving a Union Jack towards the Celtic supporters seems to have been inspired by Rangers. There are, of course, also quite a few vocal supporters around us, swearing and cursing. A guy in front of me can’t decide whether to call on “f..ing hell” or “Jesus” – maybe his appeals to two competing spheres make things go from bad to worse.
At half time, Niels and I go down to the concourse for a stadium pie. I have completely forgotten about the curry shed. There is hardly any queue, which either illustrates that the stadium have got plenty of catering facilities or that fans are not really up for early kick-offs.
The atmosphere has lost the incredible edge of the opening 23 minutes. Nobody really believes that there is way back into this for Hearts. But still, the crowd tries to get behind the team at the start of the second half. But after 10 minutes, Celtic add a third goal. And that is it. Just like at Dundee on the Friday, the third goal sparks an exodus.
The Celtic supporters, of course, are celebrating – but whereas some of my fellow travellers are impressed by them, I had expected a bit more. Perhaps they have just been too superior this season to really be up for it.
For the past 20 minutes, it is an almost surreal atmosphere. Half the Hearts supporters have left, as they can’t bear to see their rivals celebrating a title at their ground. And the Hearts players have lost all belief. Celtic players go through the motions and win 5-0 – but in the end, it could have been more. I can’t help thinking what would have happened, if Hearts had managed to take an early lead, when they took the game to Celtic.
At the end of the match, the Celtic players run over to celebrate with their supporters. The players also seem a bit subdued in their celebrations. All the Hearts supporters have left – we are almost all alone with the Celtic supporters, players – and the security.
By the time we leave the ground, there is no crowd outside. We head for the Royal Ettrick Hotel’s Beer garden to meet up with Siobhan and Chris, and their daughter Daisy. The sun is shining, the beer is good, just like the company. After a pretty tight schedule for three days with a lot of tense build-up, it is almost meditative to sit here and talk in the sun.
Back to the city centre, where we have dinner at The Devil’s Advocate, next to the filming for the Avengers: Infinity War. Afterwards, we head to the 500 year old White Hart pub. I ask each of my fellow travellers if they have taken one particular Scottish team to Heart after seeing four of the top six clubs in action over three matches.
The two young ones go for Celtic. A 5-0 win, a title, and celebrating supporters. One goes for Motherwell for their spirited performance at Ibrox. But the rest all go for Hearts. A few of them add “because of the history and values”. I feel exactly the same, and I am delighted that the tour around the ground, the memorial garden and museum has made such an impact.
Football, after all, comes from the heart. It is about identity and values. Of course, winning is nice, and loosing is painful. But despite the ever growing media focus on success, and television fans switching their loyalties as quickly as switching channels, there is something beautiful about the material culture of a club seducing a group of grown-up men actually being there and sensing it – despite the club loosing 5-0 at home.
The only slight grudge I hold against Hearts is that they are bulldozing Archie’s stand. Maybe that is why, there is also room for some sympathy for Dundee F.C. in my heart.