JUST a couple of months ago, Hearts legend John Robertson wasn’t sure if he’d even have a team to follow come the turn of the year.
Robbo and the rest of the Tynecastle faithful were left stunned back in November when the club warned them that they faced going out of business because of a huge black hole in their finances.
Since then, of course, a huge fundraising effort, combined with a share issue, seems to have staved off any threat of closure for the time being, and Hearts are beginning to look to the future once again.
Former Jambos hitman Robertson is relieved that the crisis period seems to be coming to an end and is hoping that Hearts can hammer home the fact that they’re here for the long-term by putting one over on city rivals Hibs tomorrow.
The two sides will do battle for the third time this season – they have faced each other once in the league and once in the Scottish Cup so far – in front of a packed Tynecastle tomorrow night.
It is always an eagerly-anticipated match, but the stakes are even higher than normal, with Hearts having recently narrowly avoided financial meltdown and Hibs ready to roll out the celebrations for the 40th anniversary of their 7-0 win over the Jambos.
“Getting a victory tomorrow night would be a great way to start the New Year,” said Robertson. “There has obviously been a lot happening at both clubs, but particularly Hearts.
“We know that this year is the 40th anniversary of Hibs’ 7-0 win over Hearts, so it would also be a good way to turn the celebrations for that on their head a wee bit.
“I’m sure the Hibs fans will be out to celebrate that and obviously the Hearts fans will be hoping that they can put a bit of a damper on things for them.”
Hearts’ all-time leading goalscorer became the face of the club’s shares issue in November and was delighted to be asked to act as ambassador for the campaign to try to raise enough cash to save them from going bust.
He believes, however, that the supporters are the ones who should take all the credit for the way that Hearts have been able to turn the situation around.
He has been left in awe of the way that they have rallied round their club in their hour of need.
“Make no bones about it, when the club contacted me to be the shares ambassador things were at a very, very critical stage,” Robertson continued.
“They needed investment, they needed supporters to help out and it was great for me to be able to help them out.
“Don’t get me wrong, there is still a long way to go and a lot of hard work to be done before we can think about the club being safe.
“They are certainly going in the right direction again and I think that is down to a marvellous, marvellous effort from the Hearts fans.
“I don’t think that anyone should underestimate the role that they have played over the last couple of months to keep the club going.
“It was not a situation of their making, but it was a situation that they didn’t hesitate to help with and that shows just how much Hearts means to them.
“They’ve bought shares, put money in and, probably most importantly, bought tickets for the home games and hopefully that can continue.”
Robertson admits that he is just relieved that the supporters’ efforts mean that they can continue to enjoy derby matches against Hibs for many years still to come.
He continued: “Whether you’re a supporter of Hearts or Hibs, when you see the atmosphere, the rivalry and the passion, when you experience it for yourself, you realise that this is a match that we cannot afford to lose from the fixtures calendar.
“Tomorrow night there is yet another chapter to be written about this famous game – and there’s also a chance for a player to write their name into the history books.”
Robbo knows that the main danger for Hearts tomorrow night is likely to be posed by Hibs’ top-scorer Leigh Griffiths. The in-form striker has bagged 14 goals this season so far and will no doubt be keen to add to that tally on an occasion such as the derby.
Robertson is well aware of the quality that the on-loan Wolves frontman possesses, but believes that there are also a number of unsung players who could pop up as unexpected heroes tomorrow.
He added: “To be honest, the chance is there for anyone to grab. In the recent past Ryan McGowan, David Wotherspoon and even Darren Barr have all been on the scoresheet in these games.
“Obviously Leigh Griffiths has been in good form for Hibs lately and he’ll be looking to score again, but there will be a lot of players out there on that pitch with the same idea.
“These guys know that if they score the winner in these games then they will win a place in the Hearts of their supporters for eternity. Let’s just hope that this game is a cracker and that it gets 2013 off to a great start.”
Despite differing starts to their SPL campaigns in 2012, there is very little separating the two sides in the league table right now.
Hearts will be looking to shorten the gap to just three points with a victory tomorrow night and Robertson himself believes that it could be one of the closest-fought contests between the Edinburgh clubs for some time.
Robertson said: “There are only six points between the sides at the moment, so I think that there could have been even less if Hearts had just had that wee bit of good fortune that has been missing.
“That shows you how close the game itself will be on the day.
“The one thing that you can be sure of is that there will be another great atmosphere. Hibs have sold out their end and when Tynecastle is full it really is an unbelievable atmosphere.
“The two derbies that have already been played this season have been huge, the stadiums have been packed and they’ve been so noisy and passionate. I don’t see this one being any different.”