LITTLE over six years ago, Hearts’ official team coach approached Hampden Park ahead of a monumental Scottish Cup tie with Hibs. It turned left off Carmunnock Road into Letherby Drive and headed for the underground roadway beneath the stadium’s main stand.
A mass of maroon and white lined the tarmac and the overhead concourse as the bus sped into the underground coach park. It was then that the importance of beating Hibs was reinforced to the Hearts players, as if they needed reminding.
The squad was preparing to disembark when captain Steven Pressley stood up to address the entire bus. “Now you know how much this means,” he growled. Paul Hartley, Rudi Skacel and everyone else took heed. And Hearts romped to a 4-0 victory.
“There was a quiet air of confidence about the team that day, right from the moment we got to Glasgow,” recalled goalkeeper Craig Gordon.
“I remember pulling into Hampden and all we could see was a sea of maroon and white scarves everywhere, wishing us all the best for the game.
“The Hearts fans got through there so early and gave us such a support, even just arriving at the ground.
“That really brought it home to the players that we couldn’t lose this match.
“We saw the size of the Hearts support that was there and how ecstatic they were at the prospect of this game. They were almost demanding that we win. Before we got off the bus Elvis stood up and just said to everybody: ‘Now you know how much this means. We have to go and do this.’
“Between getting off the bus and starting the game there wasn’t an awful lot said.
“Everybody knew what they had to do. We’d done all our preparation. It was just a case of going out and doing it.
“We had made up our minds that there was only going to be one winner that day, and that would be us. We had a lot of experience in the squad and we knew we had to win that one. We went out and performed as if it mattered that much.”
Gordon heads to Hampden again this afternoon hoping the current Hearts squad can repeat the feat he and others enjoyed so much in the 2006 semi-final, when Hartley’s hat-trick and an Edgaras Jankauskas strike destroyed Hibs.
“I’ve managed to get myself a ticket but it wasn’t easy because demand is so great,” continued the Scotland goalkeeper.
“I think Hampden could be sold out three or four times over because this hasn’t happened for over 100 years.
“It’s really captured the imagination of the city. Everybody is desperate to get their hands on a ticket.
“I’d love to get my opportunity at this game because these chances don’t come along often. Players on both sides have a real chance to become legends at their club. This has never happened before in modern times. To be able to say you won the Scottish Cup against your arch rivals is not something many players, outwith the Old Firm, get the chance to say. It’s an occasion I’d love to be involved in.
“This is bigger than the semi in 2006 because it’s the final. The only similarity is it’s a derby. It’s an opportunity for any player to make a hero of himself and go down in history.
“It’s the biggest derby there’s every been. In my lifetime, I’m not going to see a more important one than this. It’s the biggest Edinburgh derby of all time.”
The hype surrounding the first Hearts-Hibs final for 116 years has even seen English football supporters take note. Gordon is free to find a new club after leaving Sunderland, where many fans are captivated by the intrigue surrounding this year’s Scottish Cup final.
“People started to ask me what an Edinburgh derby is like,” said Gordon, who left Hearts for Sunderland in a record-breaking £9million transfer in 2007. “Not many people down there have witnessed an Edinburgh derby and the atmosphere it can create.
“It has stirred up a bit of interest and it’s got people talking. But it will be in Edinburgh that it’s all going on and I’m excited to be up here witnessing it all.
“To be honest, I think it’s better that the Hearts players will be inside a bubble and won’t really know what’s going on around them in Edinburgh.
“They’ll be amongst each other without knowing what’s going on outside. That can only help them.”
Gordon knows from experience that a quiet word at the right moment from an experienced figurehead can do no harm either.