As a starry-eyed schoolboy growing up in Midlothian and beginning a love affair with Hearts, Gary Locke idolised Sandy Jardine.
The current Hearts manager, who was only seven when Jardine moved to Tynecastle in 1982, still recalls vividly watching from the terracing as the veteran defender helped take the Jambos to the brink of a league and cup double in 1986.
Locke, therefore, was devastated to hear of the passing of one of his boyhood heroes as news emerged on Thursday night that Jardine, one of the most respected personalities in Scottish football, had lost his 18-month battle against cancer aged 65.
“It’s terrible news,” said the manager. “We were absolutely devastated when we heard. I grew up watching Sandy Jardine play for Hearts all the time so it was horrible news and, certainly, our condolences go to Sandy’s family. We wish them well at a difficult time.”
Jardine, pictured right, an Edinburgh boy, was 33 by the time he arrived at Tynecastle on a free transfer from Rangers, but he was certainly in no mood for winding down.
With over 450 games under his belt in a glittering career with Rangers, as well as 38 Scotland caps, Alex MacDonald, the Hearts manager, saw Jardine as the perfect man to come in and help nurture through young talent like Craig Levein, Gary Mackay, Dave Bowman and John Robertson.
Jardine had such a big impact in his early years at Hearts that he was eventually invited to become player/co-manager. It was a set-up that worked well as Jardine, by now playing centre-half after making his name at Rangers as a full-back, was a prominent member of the side that lost the 1985-86 league championship to Celtic on goal difference before losing the Scottish Cup final to Aberdeen just a week later.
Jardine’s influence on that title-chasing Hearts team was so important that, even though he was 38 years old – the same age as Locke is now – he ended up being named the Scottish Football Writers’ Player of the Year.
He eventually left Hearts in 1988, but, despite being best remembered by most for his stellar Rangers career, he had certainly ingrained himself in the fabric of the Tynecastle club as well.
“Sandy was a fantastic Rangers man but he was a big Hearts man as well,” said Locke.
“I grew up watching him play in the ’86 side and he was a fantastic player. The term legend gets used too much but he was a Hearts and Rangers legend – and he’ll be a loss to everyone.
“He was 37 when he won the Player of the Year award, which is unbelievable. He was such a great player. I watched him all the time and he was so composed, always in control. He played a huge part in bringing through the guys like Craig Levein, John Robertson, Gary Mackay – he was an integral part of that. He was part of the management team, as well. He was a massive hero to everyone at Hearts. We will all miss him terribly.”
As an aspiring young Hearts player, Locke arrived on the scene a few years too late to get to work alongside or under Jardine, but he still took inspiration from the mere sight of such an illustrious player whenever he came in to train with the club prior to signing in the early 1990s.
“I wasn’t on the staff when Sandy was co-manager, but I used to come in here and train as a kid and sometimes I would see him and Alex MacDonald,” recalled Locke. “I was a bit starstruck when I first met him. I looked up to these guys unbelievably, because they were the management of the team I followed everywhere. The season we had in ’86, we were so close to pulling off an incredible double – and they played a huge part in that. I got to know Sandy later on. We used to see him a lot when we went through to Ibrox.
“And it’s important to say that he was a fantastic person, as well as a fantastic footballer.
“He was a very humble man and I always loved talking to him. It was brilliant just to listen to him. He could talk about everything, to be fair, and on football he was just brilliant to speak to.
“He had a huge part to play at Hearts. Everyone at Heart of Midlothian, especially the supporters, will be sad to see him leaving us. We’re all so sad to see him go and our thoughts are with his family.”