EUROPEAN ties have provided generations of Hearts fans with priceless memories through the years. From bullet holes in Bosnia to mayhem in Munich, there are fables to keep grandchildren amused for decades.
Many of them are contained in From Athens to Zagreb, the new book by Mike Buckle which details Hearts’ European history.
Contributions by Tynecastle icons like Craig Levein, Donald Ford, Alex Young and Gary Locke offer first-hand accounts through players’ eyes. Furthermore, the book also has recollections from fans who have followed Hearts all across the continent.
There are stories of eating wienerschnitzel in Stuttgart, bridies in Paris and even a commendation from a London police officer about supporters’ impeccable behaviour in the UK Capital. Buckle captures some extraordinary tales in a book guaranteed to stir the sepia-tinted memory banks of anyone who has ever travelled with Hearts.
The author revealed to the Evening News that his inspiration for the book was an old friend, a Hearts fan who simply lived for European nights at home and abroad. “It’s dedicated to Tom Heaney, who was a good Hearts fan,” explained Buckle.
“He worked in America for a few years and was unemployed when he came back to Scotland, so we both spent many an hour in the Staggs pub in Musselburgh. We would talk about the old days following Hearts and the European games were the ones we always remember. Particularly how daft we were going off to places like Germany with just a carrier bag and no change of clothes – the daft things you do.
“People have always said to me they remember European nights with Hearts, and remember we went through a long period where we won nothing and qualifying for Europe was like winning a Scottish Cup. The idea for this book spun up from that.
“We went to the Willie Bauld dinner a couple of years ago and Tom got a medal from Jim Jefferies. Then he just disappeared. I phoned his house the next day and he’d collapsed, gone into a coma, and basically he never recovered from it. He had only turned 50 a couple of weeks earlier and he left behind two twin boys who were only six years old. We decided to write the book in his memory.”
The key for Buckle was giving a detailed account of Hearts’ travels across Europe but with a unique edge, one which fans could relate to and would want to read for themselves.
“Hearts haven’t been great in Europe down the years, other than that time they nearly reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup but lost out to Bayern Munich in 1989,” continued Buckle. “So I tried to make it a wee bit more interesting, make it more connected to the games. That’s why I got these inside stories to make it a bit different. For Hearts supporters, the trips to Europe are great. It’s a break from the humdrum SPL matches.”
Buckle has worked hard to create the right impression of serious European football mixed with endless fans’ camaraderie. He took a fair amount of enjoyment himself simply collating all the stories.
“The most bizarre one is the one in chapter 15 of the book. It was a pal of a pal who went on a supporters’ bus to Prague in 1986 when we were playing Dukla Prague. The bus got to Checkpoint Charlie crossing from ‘free’ Europe to the east and controls were tight back then.”
• From Athens to Zagreb is published by Luath Press and is available in all good bookstores priced £14.99.