Hearts in 50 objects: No.17 – Levein keeps world champs at bay

Craig Levein made his Scotland debut against Argentina in 1990
Craig Levein made his Scotland debut against Argentina in 1990
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The Tynecastle hoi polloi may be on his back from time to time, but there’s no getting away from the fact Hearts’ director of football will go down in history as one of the club’s all-time-greats both on and off the park.

Craig Levein was one of a string of players who emerged at Hearts during the eighties and nineties who would stay loyal to the club for the vast majority of their playing career and beyond. Levein’s association with the boys in maroon began in 1983 when the Dunfermline-born defender was snapped up from Cowdenbeath for £40,000.

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The gifted youngster more than justified his transfer fee with the kind of performances which would result in two SPFA Young Player of the Year awards in his first four seasons.

Not surprisingly, it wouldn’t be long before he helped in producing the auld Hampden roar.

A classic case of ‘he should’ve had more’, the defender earned 16 caps for Scotland, including a call-up to Andy Roxburgh’s squad for the 1990 World Cup.

Levein secured his ticket to Italy that summer thanks in part to a rock-solid display during his international debut a few months earlier.

Injury restricted Levein to 16 Scotland caps

Injury restricted Levein to 16 Scotland caps

On March 28, 1990, Scotland hosted the reigning world champions Argentina. For Levein, it would be a baptism of fire.

While the South Americans were short of a certain Diego Maradona due to commercial commitments, 25-year-old Levein still had his work cut out keeping the likes of Jorge Burruchaga, Jorge Valdano and Claudio Caniggia at bay.

On the half-hour mark, fellow full-back Stewart McKimmie sent the 51,000 souls at Hampden into delirium with a ripsnorter into the top corner. With most of the game still to play, Levein and his team-mates battled brave and hard to ensure Scotland held on to record a famous victory.

It’s little wonder he held on to that dark blue jersey.

Sadly, Levein’s playing career was cut agonisingly short just seven seasons later by a niggling knee injury which had plagued him since a reserve match at Easter Road years earlier.

But, despite that fatal blow to his playing career, Levein refused to step away from football.

He would go on to reinvent himself as one of Scotland’s top managers. Beginning with a return to his first love Cowdenbeath, Levein enjoyed four memorable seasons in charge of Hearts in the early 2000s before going on to manage Leicester, Raith Rovers, Dundee United, and finally, the national team.

After escaping the threat of liquidation in the wake of the ultimately catastrophic Romanov era, it was only natural that owner Ann Budge turned to someone whose loyalty to Heart of Midlothian can never be called into question.

Whether at the heart of the defence, the dugout, or the boardroom, Craig Levein’s ardent passion for the club and desire to succeed has forever been plain for all to see.

• See more great items from Hearts’ history at the club’s museum. For opening times, go to www.heartsfc.co.uk/pages/museum