Drew Busby is relaxing at home in West Dunbartonshire considering whether to make his way east this weekend.
The Edinburgh derby between Hearts and Hibs at Tynecastle could be as pivotal as any in living memory, given the Easter Road club may relegate their rivals with a result. Busby can’t bear the thought, but something is drawing him to the Capital nonetheless.
The former Hearts forward is now in his mid-60s and has mellowed considerably since his playing days ended in the 1980s. He was relegated twice whilst at Tynecastle and once with Airdrie – experiences he can’t forget. Being sent down by Hibs, though, would be the ultimate humiliation for anyone in maroon.
Results involving St Mirren, Ross County and Partick Thistle between now and Sunday may conspire to relegate Hearts before the derby even kicks off. However, for the moment there remains the very real prospect of Hibs finalising the descent of their biggest rivals in their own backyard on Sunday.
“It would be the ultimate kick in the teeth for Hibs to put them down,” said Busby, right, momentarily disturbed from his pondering by a phonecall from the Evening News. “I’m thinking about going to the game. I don’t go through that often because I live so far away. I was actually lying thinking before you phoned that I might go along.
“I don’t really get too fired up now, I just watch the game and take it as it comes. If it happens that Hearts get relegated on Sunday, then so be it. That’s how it goes. Obviously it’s something we don’t want to happen. We don’t want it to happen this Sunday. Even me, who is distanced from the team a fair bit, I don’t want it to happen.
“With the 5-1 win in the cup final a couple of years ago, Hearts got the bragging rights. This would make it eachy-peachy. That will be Hibs’ motivation and that’s why we don’t want it to happen. Most Hearts supporters have known they’re going to go down but they just don’t want it to happen this weekend.
“Even if it’s the following week, we’d rather have that than Hibs putting us down. There are a couple of Hearts supporters through where I stay and I can imagine them getting dogs’ abuse on Sunday if they go down.”
Busby, below, makes no apology for using the term ‘we’ in reference to Hearts. Nor should he. Although hardly a Tynecastle regular by his own admission, he still keeps a close eye on the club where he became a cult hero in an unspectacular team between 1973 and 1979. Occasionally, he gets carried away watching them.
“The Dundee United game on Friday night there had to be a draw at least. I’m not really a gambler, but I was sitting there and I let my heart rule my head and put a tenner on Hearts to win.”
The bravery which characterised his playing days obviously still exists. Busby was a forward who took no prisoners; the kind of guy who would run through a brick wall – or a back four – for his team. His memories remain vivid and he recalls the defiance he tried to install within the Hearts dressing-room as they slithered towards relegation in 1977.
“I was in the first Hearts team ever to get relegated and it wasn’t nice. Our approach at that stage of the season was: ‘We’ve started with a point, let’s finish with a point’. I’d been relegated with Airdrie so I’d been through it before. We always used to say that we’d make sure we didn’t lose the game by getting everybody behind the ball.
“You start to get a couple of draws, then you maybe steal a game and win 1-0 and the confidence comes back. Then you can start attacking again. It was a lot closer then because obviously we didn’t have any points deduction. Ayr United were the team closest to us so if we won and they lost then it was two points more for us and two less for them.”
The difference between then and now is that the current team is cut adrift at the foot of the Scottish Premiership. A penalty of 15 points for entering administration last summer left all odds stacked against them before a ball was kicked. Whether it is confirmed by Hibs or another opponent, Hearts’ relegation is inevitable.
The negatives to such a scenario are obvious to all connected with the club. The loss of the Edinburgh derby will also have an impact across the city at Easter Road. However, Busby identifies a few positives which could come from playing in the Championship next season.
“There’s no question they’re going to go down because the point deduction was just too much for them,” he continued. “When Hearts went down before, they were up and down a couple of times but they ended up with a right good team. Players like John Robertson, Gary Mackay and Dave Bowman came through, so when they came back up they added a bit of experience and by 1986 they were challenging for the league.
“I was at Easter Road for the League Cup semi-final and I was really impressed by the new look of the ground and the level pitch. It’s definitely one of the best stadiums in Scotland now. That day, I went away thinking the Hearts team had improved a lot. They really looked like a team of boys who were all fighting for each other. That made me more optimistic for the future.
“I had thought that they could struggle in the Championship next year but I think they’ll do okay if they can keep this team together. Everybody thinks Rangers are going to walk that league next year, but I’m not so sure they will. I’ve watched a few Rangers games recently and I think Hearts look more of a team than Rangers do, to be perfectly honest.”