Result: Heart of Midlothian 1-0 St. Johnstone (Scottish Premiership)
Venue: Murrayfield (Saturday 21st October 2017, 3pm)
Having only fairly recently delved into the delights of the Scottish leagues, it’s all still a bit new to me in terms of grounds and games I’ve seen North of the border. One ground I hadn’t considered being a “tick” any time soon was Murrayfield, known for being the home of the egg-shaped ball game in Scotland. But, when it became apparent that the new main stand at Tynecastle wasn’t going to meet its scheduled opening date, the announcement of a few Hearts fixtures being played across the way certainly peaked my interest. Indeed, it was an opportunity not to miss and so I was off to the Caledonian capital for the second time this year, though Tynecastle still evades me, following the diversion to Edinburgh City’s Meadowbank in April and now this change of venue. Will it ever happen?!
Onto the day at hand and an early-ish start was undertaken, with me catching the quarter-to-nine train from Manchester through to Edinburgh’s Waverley station. Once here, I would be meeting up with Sheridan (of Stadium Trotter fame), his mate “Skinner” (perhaps of some fame I’m ignorant to) and Rob (of Warrington Town fame). Having changed through Lancaster and onto the Virgin Train carriage that would take me up to Edinburgh, the final two-and-a-quarter hour trip was undertaken without much issue, bar a slight delay outside Haymarket whilst in the shadow of Tynecastle Park’s shiny new construction and the towering stands of Murrayfield. Tease.
Eventually, we were on the move and I headed out onto the streets to find the group of lads who gave me the standard meeting point of a ‘Spoons. Despite having been given point-to-point directions by Sheridan on how to find them, I still managed to turn the wrong way and get lost, though this mishap did at least allow me to experience the famed Scotsman’s Steps. This may seem a fabricated case of getting lost, but I can definitely confirm it wasn’t! Eventually, I found my way to the ‘Spoons, spotted the lads and joined them as they headed off on a sight-seeing tour of the city’s attractions.
After a spot of this at the combined Nelson’s Monument & National Monument site with the fine views out over the Firth of Forth (which prompted some artsy photo opportunities, especially in Skinner’s case) and the City, which Rob likened to both Colne and Runcorn, I had to leave the guys to their devices and head back down into the city where I would be meeting Dan off the train. Of course, I couldn’t just wait around in the station and I was feeling a little dry in the throat, so a few visits to the local watering holes were in order too. First up was the Inn on the Mile which proved a costly stop-off with the pint of Hop House in here setting me back the princely sum of £4.95. I guess that’s somewhat fitting, considering it is on the Royal Mile after all!
After polishing off the pint in there, it was time to brave the drizzle and head up towards the castle which was still bringing me closer to the ground. After another case of trying to avoid all the strange sights and sounds around the area (today included a guy cosplaying as the mythical half-man, half-horse creature I can’t remember the name of, a person “floating” while holding only a stick and a “Braveheart”-inspired warrior), I eventually found my way down a level and to the Last Drop pub, notable for being the apparent site where the condemned would stay prior to their hanging. However, today’s welcome was far more warm and I came away with a Tennent’s (£4.50), whilst waiting for Dan to arrive (though I’d later learn he’d taken a page out of my book and taken a wrong turn, requiring a taxi to save him).
Eventually, Dan did come into view and we decided to have our one and only pint in the “Smallest bar in Scotland”, Biddy Mulligan’s. Though this may have been true and some stage in the hostelry’s history, it certainly isn’t the case now, the small doorways hiding a large, sprawling interior. Unless I’ve gone wrong and ended up in the wrong pub, which is a distinct possibility with me, of course! It was, however, a very popular drinking spot on this day and so another pint of Tennent’s was had before the trip over to the ground was upon us. An aborted walk and a short cab ride later, we arrived at the turnstiles of Murrayfield. Tickets scanned and programme bought (£3.50), we headed through the outdoor concourse and past the clock tower, before climbing the stairs up to stadium level. Here, the ground opened up in front of us and it was quite the sight.
Murrayfield dates from 1925 (1995 in current form) and is two-tiered all the way around, though only one stand was in full use today (the East Stand we were in, with the opposite West and South side hosting the remainder of the home support. Indeed, the latter’s upper tier also played host to a large flag, declaring in a foreboding manner “Blood doesn’t show on a Maroon jersey”. The travelling St. Johnstone fans were located opposite, behind the right-hand goal.
As well as Hearts, Murrayfield was played host to both Hibernian and Celtic with both Edinburgh clubs having welcomed Barcelona to the ground in pre-season games. Celtic, meanwhile, played at Murrayfield whilst their Celtic Park home was busy hosting events in the Commonwealth Games of 2014. So before we get into the second of the planned trio of Hearts matches at the venue this season, here’s a brief history of the Jam Tarts, the full one will be saved for the (hopefully eventual) trip to Tynecastle Park. Sorry to disappoint…
Heart of Midlothian F.C. was formed in 1874 by a group of friends from the Heart of Midlothian Quadrille Assembly Club. In short, a dancing club. After brief stints at the Meadows, Powburn and Powderhall, the club has played at Tynecastle (the name deriving from the Tynecastle Tollhouse at the entrance to the grounds of Merchiston) in the Gorgie area of Edinburgh since 1886 and have won the Scottish Championship on four occasions (1895, 1897, 1958 & 1960). Hearts have also finished as league runners-up on a further fourteen occasions and lifted eight Scottish Cups (1891, ’96, 1901, ’06, ’56, ’98, 2006 & 2012) along with four Scottish League Cups (1954, ’58, ’59 & ’62).
The period between the 50’s and ’60’s was the most successful in the club’s history, with the Jambos lifting seven trophies during this period. 1958 also saw Hearts become the third Scottish (and fifth British) side to compete in European competition. The highest point of their Euro campaigns came in 1989, when they lost out in the UEFA Cup’s quarter-finals to German giants Bayern Munich by 2-1 on aggregate.
Alongside the above “major” honours, Hearts have also won numerous other competitions throughout their history, including two second-tier league titles in 1980 & 2015. They have also won, in the past, two Edinburgh Football League titles in 1895 & ’96, seven East of Scotland League titles (1897, ’98, ’99, 1900, ’04, ’05 & 1906), the Inter City Football League in 1902 & 1903 and a couple of further cup honours in the form of two Festival Cup triumphs in 2003 & 2004. Last season saw Hearts finish up in 5th place in the Scottish Premiership.
The game got underway and, if I’m honest, this will be a short “match report” due to the fact that VERY little happened during this contest, despite a bright opening to the game from both sides. Despite this, St. Johnstone soon appeared to be content to settle in for a draw and Hearts began to seize what initiative there was, with Kyle Lafferty & Christophe Berra both going close with headed efforts.
However that really was where the action ended during the first half, with both sides seemingly unable to find their targets with the more expansive pass attempts and, on occasion, the more simple of tasks. Dan and I both began to resign ourselves to a goalless game, with one looking highly unlikely between two evenly matched sides. One interesting sidenote, though, was Prince Buaben – an ex-Trafford FC Reserves player who was (apparently) scouted by Dundee United. Dan remembered seeing him play at the Manchester club, though I missed his initial time South of the border.
Tangent over and onto the second half which didn’t have much to do to improve on the first. Be that as it may, it only just managed it. Jamie Walker was instrumental in what chances were created by the Jambos, though that cutting edge seemed to still be lacking. The contest continued on towards its final fifteen minutes, with little to get the excitement going. Until Lafferty popped up.
The experienced frontman picked up a weak, wayward shot from distance, controlled and turned before firing in a low effort that was deflected beyond the rooted Alan Mannus and into the bottom corner. Nil-nil averted (though only for a further three days as it turned out) and we celebrated just as much as those around us who had a far more partisan viewpoint!
The next action came with the last kick of the game and it was the home side who had the chance to add gloss to the scoreline, that would have definitely made the game seem far better than it was. Walker again was the creator, triggering a counter attack against the outnumbered St. Johnstone attack and sub Harry Cochrane ran onto it, advanced into the area and hit a rasping drive that beat Mannus, but crashed against the upright and clear. This was the signal for the ref to end the game and give Hearts the points they deserved over the ninety, as I hardly remember a chance the visitors mustered.
Heading back out the ground, we met back up with the group, which now included the late addition, Gibbo, and we were headed for the Tynecastle Arms for a final pre-train pint (for Dan and myself, anyway). Dan was entrusted with getting us there, having lived in this area of Edinburgh briefly a number of years ago, but it soon became apparent we were not on the right track and we eventually ended up in the interestingly name Foxy Fiddler, just around the corner from Haymarket station. A big bonus was the fine Blue Moon being available on draught, and a drink costing less than £4 was highly welcomed.
Soon enough, it was time for us to depart and having bid goodbye to the entourage who were mostly staying on for the Hampden semi-final the next day, Dan and I headed for Haymarket where we’d board our train through to Manchester, just the three hours away….
Eventually arriving at just before half-nine, it was a short wait for my connection before getting home nicely in time for the F1 quali in Austin. On that note, how to sum up the day. Well, it was good to spend it with a group this time and to meet the Southern contingent! The game was, sadly, very poor and I’d have probably been more disappointed had it been played at the Jambos’ regular home. The fact it was at Murrayfield, though, did lessen this feeling of angst. So that’s Scottish ground #4 done (though one was Berwick, does it count Scots?) and having done Edinburgh twice now, I feel like I’ve neglected another stronghold. Glasgow next, anyone?
Food: N/A (all outsourced food trailers)
Value For Money: 5