John Colquhoun is a beacon of pride as he reflects on his recent induction to Hearts’ hall of fame.
The 53-year-old was a fans’ favourite as he scored 82 goals in 424 competitive appearances during two spells at Tynecastle in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, with no notable honours to his credit, he didn’t anticipate entering a pantheon of some of the most decorated names in Hearts’ history, like Dave Mackay, Alex Young and Willie Bauld.
The diminutive winger’s unflinching tenacity and commitment to the cause down the Jambos’ right flank didn’t go unappreciated, however, and he was honoured to be among Hearts’ fourth batch of hall of fame inductees, confirmed at a dinner in the Gorgie Suite earlier this month. “It was a great moment to be invited into the hall of fame and the night itself was terrific and really well done by Hearts,” Colquhoun told the Evening News. “I got wind of it about three weeks before the event when Craig Levein phoned and told me. I was delighted and humbled that I was deemed worthy enough to join the great names who were already in it. It was predominantly the Hearts fans that drove me getting into the hall fame, so that makes me especially proud. The fact I was originally a Celtic man makes it all the more special that the Hearts fans me to their hearts.
“I wasn’t the best or most skilful player in the team at the time but I think they saw a little bit of themselves in the way I played because I always gave my absolute all in every single game, in the same way that they would have done if they had been lucky enough to wear the maroon jersey.
“I knew I had a good rapport with the supporters but I didn’t expect to end up in the hall of fame. I didn’t win anything with Hearts and there have been a lot of players who have won something at the club, even since I was there. You look at the great players who were already in it, and even other guys who were inducted on the night, like Barney Battles and Gordon Marshall, who had won several medals by the time he was 20 and was a real club legend. As a non-Hearts supporter when I went there, I hadn’t heard of some of these guys, but once you’re there and get involved in the history of the club, you get to know what they did and what they mean to the club. To be sitting alongside them truly is an amazing honour for me.”
Colquhoun arrived at Hearts from Celtic in 1985 and, after leaving for Millwall in a £400,000 transfer in 1991, he returned to Tynecastle two years later, and remained until 1997. He is remembered most notably as a member of the side that almost won the league under Alex MacDonald and Sandy Jardine in 1986. “Being at Hearts was a great period in my life,” he said. “There wasn’t a specific highlight for me at Hearts. The main thing for me was the actual feeling of the club, which I think is very difficult to recreate in the modern day because of the way society is set up now. At that time, there genuinely was a feeling that we were all in it together, right from Mary the tea lady to the supporters. We used to go out to all the supporters events, not because we were on a rota to do it but because we genuinely wanted to do it. There was a closeness between everybody that I don’t think is possible to generate now. I actually invited Pilmar Smith, who was the vice-chairman, along to the hall of fame dinner. I don’t think there will be many clubs where players are still friendly with the vice-chairman of a club 30 years down the line.
“We were quite a young group of players when I first went there. We had Kenny Black, Neil Berry, John Robertson, Gary Mackay, Brian Whittaker and Wayne Foster, who were all there in my first season. Alex was an amazing man-manager, who got us together as a group and made it a really special time. We were all in it together.
“It was great to see so many familiar faces at the hall of fame, like Wallace Mercer’s widow and son, and George McNeill, the speaker, who was the masseur and the sprint coach when I played.”
Colquhoun was thrilled to be joined in the hall of fame by MacDonald and Jardine, the men who led Hearts to the brink of league title glory 30 years ago. MacDonald, upon being inducted, was unable to contain his emotions as he spoke publicly for the first time about his great friend, who passed away two and a half years ago.
“It was a poignant moment when Alex broke down speaking about Sandy,” said Colquhoun. “I knew he was very close to Sandy. They were a bacon and eggs combination. Sandy was good at the things Alex wasn’t so good at, and vice-versa. They were a perfect partnership. They were always together but they weren’t two peas in a pod because they had differences, and that’s what made them so strong. It was obvious even back then that they had a special bond. Seeing Alex break down was the most emotional part of the hall of fame evening – it got me thinking about both Sandy and Brian Whittaker, who is also no longer with us.
“It was great to see Alex on the night because I hadn’t seen him for a while. I didn’t get a chance to thank him for what he did for me because there is no question that I wouldn’t have been inducted to the hall of fame if it wasn’t for Alex. He allowed me the platform to go and perform as I did for the Hearts supporters.
“He only ever asked us to do things we could do – he knew our limitations. Basically my job was to get the ball, find some space and cross it in for Sandy Clark who would nod it down for Robbo to take all the glory. That was the reality of my life at Hearts. Alex would never ask Neil Berry to go and beat five men – his job was to win the ball back and move it on. He would never ask Gary Mackay to pick up a 6ft 4ins defender at a corner. Alex just knew what we were all good at and got us to do those things. That might sound simple, but so many football managers don’t do it.”
As someone who maintains close links with Hearts, Colquhoun was delighted by the news last week that the club have been given the green light to build a new main stand and remain at Tynecastle long term. Despite this, he will be sad to see one of most iconic old main stands in Scottish football consigned to history.
“Like everyone that loves Hearts, there’s a little bit of sadness tinged with real excitement,” he said. “There’s sadness because the old Archibald Leitch stand was such a big part of my every-day existence and my memories at Hearts. I hope the smell of the brewery isn’t lost because that’s synonymous with Tynecastle. Whenever I smell it, it reminds me of my days as a Hearts player. For the future progress of the club, the new stand will be amazing though. I’m really excited about it. The club is in such safe hands at the moment. I took a friend along the memorial garden the other day because he wanted to put a plaque up for his father. It really is classy and well done, and that seems to be a measure of everything that’s being done at Hearts at the moment. Everything they do is done properly, and it’s not done ten years in the future, it’s getting done now and it’s getting done well. It’s an amazing time to be a Hearts supporter.”