TWENTY-FIVE years ago, Hearts-daft teenager Hazel Irvine made history as the first female “ball boy” at Tynecastle.
Now a 40-year-old proud mum, delighted Hazel is set to watch son David, 13, follow in her footsteps when he steps out as a ball boy at her beloved club.
The name has changed – ball boys have been redesignated “trackside runners” – but she says if her experience is anything to go by, he’ll have a wonderful time.
Back in the 1980s, however, Hazel had to battle to get the job.
She said: “I used to go and hang about the ground and I got to meet all the players. I was at every training session during the holidays.
“In 1987, I started off as a ball girl doing reserve games. It was all boys and me.
“But for first-team games it was different – you had to apply. I wrote in, only to be told it was only boys.
“I kept applying, but it was always the same answer.”
Then she managed to be taken on for a first-team friendly when Hearts played Brazilian side Cruzeiro in August 1988, which Hearts won 2-1.
“It was just one game, but it was great,” she said.
“I was still desperate to get in, but I kept getting these knock-backs.”
Completely downhearted, she was bemoaning her lack of a spot as a regular “ball boy” to a group of players in earshot of then club vice-chairman Pilmar Smith. He intervened and secured her a permanent slot for the 1989-90 season.
“It was wonderful,” she said. “I got my picture in the programme and I was on TV with some of the players.”
But it wasn’t always a straightforward role. She recalls one New Year fixture which followed a particularly lively party. “I started dozing off, then I heard this voice shouting at me. I opened my eyes and it was Gary Mackay saying ‘Give me the ball’. I could hear the crowd going ballistic and here was the ball at my feet so I picked it up and gave it to him.
“Sometimes I had pies chucked at me by Rangers or Hibs fans who got into a strop because they were getting beaten. And I got coins chucked at me which I just put in my pocket.”
Hazel’s husband, Steve, 57, son David and daughter Jennifer, ten, are regulars at Tynecastle. When she spotted an advert for trackside runners on the club website, David, who goes to Drummond Community High School, was eager to apply.
Hazel said: “He doesn’t know when his first game will be. They said he’d get an e-mail a few days before to see if he’s free. Jennifer’s not happy – you have to be over 12 – but maybe she’ll get to do it too some day.”
David can’t wait for his first big game.
He said: “I’ve always seen other people doing it and I’ve been dying to do it myself.”
NOT FOR THE FAINT-HEARTED
THEY play a vital role in any professional football match, but the job of ball boys – and girls – isn’t all fun and games.
One nine-year-old Hibs fan narrowly avoided being struck by a burning flare during a heated Edinburgh derby in January last year.
Andrew Walker’s dad told the Evening News at the time: “If this thing had hit him in his face it could have disfigured or blinded him.”
Another ball boy at an English League Cup match between Swansea and Chelsea last season was left in agony after being kicked by Belgian player Eden Hazard as he tried to retrieve the ball from the teenager.
Charlie Morgan, the son of a Swansea club director, then reportedly attempted to sell the jacket he was wearing at the time on auction website eBay.