Paul Ritchie expects Hearts and Aberdeen to provide Scottish football with another live television blockbuster on Saturday.
The inter-city double-header of Hearts against Celtic at Tynecastle and Rangers against Hibs at Ibrox at the end of last month was widely hailed for providing high entertainment for both armchair fans and those who packed out both stadiums.
And Ritchie believes Hearts and Aberdeen, who are third and second in the Premiership, are set to produce more fireworks in front of a bumper crowd at Tynecastle at teatime on Saturday.
“It’ll be a great cup tie,” said Ritchie, who won the Scottish Cup with Hearts in 1998. “Tynecastle’s got a fantastic atmosphere for games like this and both home and visiting players enjoying playing there. It can sometimes be intimidating for away players, but I think Aberdeen’s players will get a real lift when they come out and see the Roseburn Stand full of their supporters.
“It’s been a while since an away team’s been given the opportunity to fill that stand, so it should be a fantastic atmosphere and another great spectacle for Scottish football after the recent Hearts-Celtic and Rangers-Hibs games.
“I was at Tynecastle for the Celtic game and I watched the Rangers game on television and they were two quality games with some quality players. It’s great to see Scottish football get a bit of recognition because it’s been through the mire a bit.”
Ritchie, now 40 and retired, helped Hearts defeat Aberdeen in the semi-final 20 years ago in his first season as a first-team player. They would go on to lose 5-1 to Rangers in the final before exacting revenge with a 2-1 victory two years later.
“We had a fantastic team in 1996,” he recalls of a side that contained fellow youngsters Gary Locke, Allan Johnston and Allan McManus. “We were young and adventurous and it was great for us at that age to experience a Scottish Cup semi-final against a big club like Aberdeen. It was my first time playing at Hampden and we were fortunate to win the game because Duncan Shearer equalised late on, but it was a fantastic day. To do that at such a young age, it was one of the highlights of my career. The final that year will live with me forever because it was difficult to deal with at the time, but we grew from that and got our rewards two years later.”