ONLY 11 players in history hold both League Cup and Scottish Cup winners’ medals from their time at Hearts. The next few weeks offers many of the current Tynecastle squad a rare opportunity to emulate them.
By reaching the Scottish Communities League Cup final today, those who tasted Scottish Cup success last year will edge closer to a feat only true legends like Dave Mackay, John Cumming and Willie Bauld have managed.
A cluster of men won both cups with Hearts in the late 1950s, when the club’s greatest ever team collected three League Cups and a Scottish Cup in a five-year period. Not forgetting Scottish League title wins in 1958 and 1960. Mackay, Cumming, Bauld, Freddie Glidden, Alex Young, Alfie Conn, Jimmy Wardhaugh, Ian Crawford, Bobby Kirk, Willie Duff and Tam McKenzie are the players in question.
Nine of the squad who trounced Hibs 5-1 last May are still on Hearts’ books. If they beat Inverness Caledonian Thistle this afternoon, they will have a chance to re-enact what their illustrious predecessors achieved. Jamie MacDonald, Darren Barr, Andy Webster, Marius Zaliukas, Andy Driver, Mark Ridgers, Mehdi Taouil and Scott Robinson all have their Scottish Cup winners’ medals safely tucked away. Ending their club’s 50-year wait for the League Cup would elevate them alongside names from the most memorable era in Hearts’ history.
“I think history does mean something,” said Webster. “You walk through the club and see the John Robertson lounge and the Willie Bauld suite and memorabilia on the walls. There have been a lot of legends played at this club in the past. Fifty years is a long time but circumstances dictate this is a massive opportunity to get to a final and it would be a great occasion to get back to Hampden.
“That’s important. It doesn’t matter if you are 18 or 35, if you don’t realise the significance of going there, you are in the wrong job. Everyone wants to play at the highest level, to test themselves against the best and play on these big occasions.
“That’s what you want to taste. The opportunity to win silverware – generally, in the past, you are looking at cups rather than leagues. It’s not that often we’ve won the Scottish Cup and 50 years since we’ve won the League Cup so it’s a great opportunity to get to a final, though a massive task.”
Perhaps mindful of the rarity of holding both League Cup and Scottish Cup medals, Webster is in no mood to dismiss a competition many regard as less important than the SPL or Scottish Cup. “You don’t go into any cup competition thinking ‘I don’t really want to win this’. So, from every team’s point of view, it’s an opportunity to win silverware and it will be the best possible chance for us this season so it is a massive opportunity.”
Inverness are a substantial obstacle for Hearts in their current form, however. The Highlanders have suffered just one defeat in their last 21 matches in all competitions – a run which includes wins over both Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow without even conceding a goal. They put three goals past Aberdeen and Hibs and four past Dundee United, all without reply. Webster is hoping Hearts’ greater experience of the latter stages of cup competitions can count today.
“Does experience count? Probably a bit,” he continued. “It probably helps but their results show they are in great form so you can look at it whatever way you want. Hopefully a bit of experience and know-how of having been there before will stand us in good stead. Andrew Shinnie (a former team-mate of Webster’s at Rangers) is a very talented footballer and definitely showed it this season, highlighted by the fact he has played for Scotland. He is in great form and doing exceptionally well, along with the rest of the Inverness players.”
The loan signings of Danny Wilson and Michael Ngoo from Liverpool provide Hearts with a fillip of their own, and as a defender Webster is impressed by Wilson’s capture. “It’s a great signing for the club and the team that Danny has been able to come in. He’s a very good footballer, a good defender and obviously looking for an opportunity to play football, which he is going to get here. It works for both sides, with Hearts being able to bring in someone of that calibre and Danny being given the opportunity to play first team football.
“Even to be able to bring in someone of Danny’s quality is a great position for the football club and it will be mutually beneficial.”
John McGlynn, the Hearts manager, will again reply on several younger players for this afternoon’s tie. Jason Holt, Dylan McGowan and Jamie Walker are all likely to be involved at some stage and McGlynn is hoping they can learn from last week’s 4-1 defeat by Celtic. “It’s not the nicest way to learn,” he conceded, “but most players who play outwith Celtic or Rangers go to Celtic at some point in their career and lose by a similar scoreline as we did on Saturday. It can be character-building to experience it and learn from it. However, it’s certainly not what we were looking for. In many ways it’s the wrong way to learn.
“Maybe in some sadistic way it could possibly help these players build their character.” Walker enjoyed a solid second-half performance after replacing Callum Paterson, who is now injured and out of the semi-final. “Jamie’s been doing well in training and that’s why, when we had to make a change, he was the one we put on.
“I thought he made a good impact early in the second half and did well down the right hand side. In an attacking sense I thought he did very well. He’s been working hard in training and showing a better attitude and that’s how it’s got to remain.”