Obituary: Ernie Winchester, Ex-Hearts player, 68

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TRIBUTES have been paid to one of Hearts’ cult heroes who lit up Tynecastle during the late 1960s and early 70s.

Ernie Winchester, who played 75 times for Hearts, scoring 14 goals, has passed away at the age of 68 after a long illness.

Born in Aberdeen on May 18, 1944, he became a Scottish schoolboy international in his teens, playing at centre-half. He signed for Aberdeen in June 1959 and then made his senior debut in April 1962, when the Dons beat Rangers 1-0.

By then operating as a bustling centre-forward, Ernie became extremely popular with the fans after netting 91 goals in 169 competitive appearances.

The 5ft 11in striker joined the North American Soccer League side Chicago Spurs in 1967 and remained a prolific marksman with the club until 1968, when the franchise moved to become Kansas City Spurs.

Hearts believed that he might make an ideal attacking partner for Donald Ford, and manager John Harvey splashed out £10,000 to sign him in April 1969.

Ernie made his debut for the Tynecastle club on April 14, 1969, and scored in a 1-1 draw against Eintracht Frankfurt.

His first competitive game came five days later, when Hearts beat St Mirren 2-1 at Tynecastle.

Ford once said of him: “He had a long list of injuries which were mostly the result of his 100 per cent commitment.

“But just as he was rumbustious on the pitch, he was a very nice man off it.”

Unfortunately, over the next three seasons, Ernie was hit by spells of illness and injury, and scored only 11 goals in 61 competitive games for Hearts.

This was also as a result of him being asked to regularly operate in an attacking midfield role.

He eventually left the club in July 1972, when he was signed by Arbroath.

Ernie played only one season at Gayfield but importantly he helped his new club to remain in the old First Division.

It is understood that after leaving the game he ran a health food shop and worked in insurance, before moving to the United States.

He returned from the US in 1995 having suffered a serious heart attack and moved to England to be near his family.

Ernie suffered a long illness before succumbing to a bout of pneumonia earlier this month.

Married twice, he is survived by his six children.

A message on the Hearts website read: “It is with great regret that the club has to record the death of a former Hearts man, the strong and industrious attacker, Ernie Winchester. Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.”

Club bosses have confirmed that there will be a minute’s applause in tribute to Ernie before the Aberdeen v Hearts match on Saturday, which would have been his 69th birthday.