FEW people can properly imagine what will go through Rudi Skacel’s head if he plays for Dundee United against Hearts on Sunday. Scott Crabbe is one who can.
The Edinburgh club sold him to United in 1992 and his first return to Tynecastle was, let’s say, not easily forgotten.
“My first appearance against Hearts was about three weeks after I’d signed for United,” recalled Crabbe. “I always remember Jim McLean asking me before the game if I wanted to start at Tynecastle.
“I was like, ‘of course I do, I’m buzzing, really looking forward to this’.
“I got hauled off early because I had an absolute howler. I really was shocking. After the game, I realised what Jim was meaning when he asked me if I wanted to start. He’s a wise old character and he knew exactly what I’d be like.
“I was just trying too hard. You’re playing against your old team after they sold you so you want to go out and prove that you shouldn’t have been sold. Sometimes you can do that against former teams.
“Jim got it bang on, he had to take me off. Everything I touched that day was bouncing off me. Maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind so close after leaving.
“Rudi is a shrewd character. I’m sure he’ll be able to handle the situation much better than I did. I was pretty young and naive at the time.
“It was a hard one to handle as a young boy going back to the club I’d supported, especially when I’d been there eight-and-a-half years. I think Rudi’s experience will get him through the occasion.”
But what if he actually does the unthinkable and scores? “Knowing him, I don’t think he’ll react,” said Crabbe. “The first time I scored against Hearts for United, we beat them 3-0 at Tannadice and I got the first. I remember Nicky Walker was in goal and I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t know whether to run or anything. I kind of just sauntered back to the centre circle even though my team-mates were all jumping round about me.
“I didn’t want to celebrate. Being a Hearts supporter, I’m hoping Rudi doesn’t score on Sunday. If he does, I’d imagine his celebration will be pretty low-key.”
With Skacel becoming a free agent at the end of January when his short-term United contract expires, Crabbe is not the only Hearts fan hoping the Czech will opt for a third spell in Gorgie.
“I’d definitely have Skacel back in a minute. He was a real legend here,” said the 44-year-old. “He’s a double Scottish Cup-winner and he scored in both those cup finals as well. That aside, his performances in general at Hearts were outstanding. He’s just got that bit of class and composure on the ball which Hearts miss slightly now in the middle of the park. The young boys have done fantastic but you need that bit of experience around them.
“Rudi would be a massive influence on these young kids. I’m sure John McGlynn would welcome a player like that with open arms. It would be brilliant if we could get him back.”