JOSE QUITONGO is regularly paraded as a half-time guest at Tynecastle. Probably best he isn’t in line to appear there tomorrow, though. The diminutive Angolan may be a cult hero to Hearts fans, but he remains a figure of hate for supporters of Auchinleck Talbot.
Quitongo’s goals for Glenafton against Auchinleck earned him notoriety within Ayrshire Junior football.
He made his competitive Glenafton debut against Auchinleck in July 2009, winning a penalty to draw the teams level before scoring a wondrous solo goal. Jose quickly became Glenafton’s own “Special One” and the Talbot support loathed him for it.
He recalls the fury which greeted his appearance at Auchinleck’s Beechwood Park and admits taking genuine pleasure from upsetting the regulars there.
Like most things in Quitongo’s life, it was all just a bit of fun. He cackles periodically when talking about the memories. Were he to saunter out at Tynecastle during tomorrow’s Scottish Cup fourth round tie, it might just be a bit much for the anticipated 2500 travelling fans.
“Auchinleck have a big support, but they don’t like me,” he laughs. “They had lots of fans when we played there. I scored two goals in derbies against them and they were screaming like mad. They hate me.
“I got loads of abuse when I played against Auchinleck, especially away, but I loved it. It’s part of the game, it makes the games more exciting. I loved it when people were screaming and shouting at me. It made me play even better.”
During two-and-a-half years with Hearts from October 1997 to January 2000, fans were usually yelling in delight at Quitongo’s wizardry. He dropped down to Junior level during the twilight of his career in an effort to continue playing after brief spells at a host of senior lower division clubs. For a player who counted Rui Costa and Nuno Gomes as team-mates during his formative years at Benfica, the Ayrshire Juniors was the proverbial eye-opener. But it’s more than just a kick-and-rush battle at that level, he says, adding that Hearts should expect a decent football encounter tomorrow.
“When I played with Glenafton the team was very good. Derek Ferguson, the former Hearts midfielder, was the manager. We had good young players and we tried to play good football. Auchinleck is the same: they always want to play football properly.
“I decided to play Junior because I just love playing football. Sometimes I wasn’t playing at Glenafton because we were away from home and the pitch was crazy or the team we were against just put the ball long, forward and back. So I would be sitting on the bench just listening and watching the fans. It was great entertainment.
“Sometimes we played on nice parks and we could play football. Auchinleck have a good pitch so they can play good football. They are a good team and I remember playing against them in the derby games. They pass the ball very well, they have strong runners and good young players.
“In the Scottish Cup, all the small teams want a tie like this. Auchinleck are going to Tynecastle looking forward to the occasion. Hearts is a big team, just the same as Celtic and Rangers. They are a top club in Scotland, and for that reason Auchinleck will want to play at Tynecastle.
“A lot of guys will never have had the chance to play at a big stadium like that.
“They will be looking forward to getting out there and playing because it’s a beautiful place for football.”
Auchinleck Talbot won the Scottish Junior Cup last year by defeating Musselburgh Windsor 2-1 in the final at Rugby Park. Now they embark upon a campaign in the senior equivalent, taking take their place as arguably the smallest of minnows in the giant river that is the Scottish Cup fourth round.
The window of opportunity is open for their players, for Hearts are expected to rest some of the experienced regulars who helped beat Hibs on Monday in the New Year Edinburgh derby.
“There are a lot of young boys, real good players, playing junior these days,” declares Quitongo. “Tomorrow is a big shop window for the Auchinleck players because a lot of people will be watching. The highlights will be on TV and there will be big reports of the game in all the papers. A lot of guys want to show what they can do in a situation like that.
“Auchinleck are the underdogs so they have nothing to lose. They are just going into the game with that feeling. The manager will tell them to go and play without any pressure on them. If they lose, everybody expects them to lose.”
Unfortunately for Quitongo, now 37, his playing days are behind him. “I don’t play any more, man, because the kids play football now,” he says, referring to his two sons.
“They both play for Hamilton Accies and they have training and games all the time. One is in the under-15s and one is in the under-13s. I have to ferry them about all over the place. It’s crazy.”
Not quite as crazy as the thought of Auchinleck causing an upset this weekend. “Hearts need to be careful because I remember playing against the small teams in the Scottish Cup and they can trick you.
“They play on the break and if they score a goal the supporters can turn and start shouting and screaming. But I think Hearts can win comfortably.
“If Hearts play the way they did on Monday against Hibs, I think they will win the game easily.”