People covered in urine, crying in the street and talking to clock towers. Something out of the ordinary occurred 20 years ago. Hearts won the Scottish Cup after a 42-year wait, prompting an outpouring of celebration from generations of fans. Not all of it was conventional but it made for indelible memories.
Beating Rangers in Glasgow against all the odds left thousands upon thousands of supporters dumbstruck at witnessing such a seismic event. Hearts hadn’t lifted any major trophy for 36 years and many fans felt they were destined to remain the bridesmaids for evermore.
When referee Willie Young finally blew his whistle to signal the end of the 1998 final at Celtic Park, years of depression lifted amid unbridled euphoria. Colin Cameron’s early penalty and Stephane Adam’s goal saw off Rangers despite a late Ally McCoist strike. Those who were there recall some of the best times of their lives.
“I was at the game with my son, Chris, my brother, Tom, his son, Craig, his daughter, Stephanie, my best pal, John and his son,” says Scott Wilson, the stadium announcer at Tynecastle Park. “They were the crowd I used to go to matches with, apart from my kids, obviously, before I became stadium announcer. We went to Parkhead more in hope than expectation. We had been done so badly by Rangers previously and it was an awesome Rangers side.
“Myself and my brother were interviewed by a TV crew on the way to the ground and asked what we thought the score would be. I said 2-1 Hearts. Don’t know where it came from and, sadly, I didn’t put any money on it. It was a day in the sunshine and we wanted to enjoy it for what it was.
“We scored inside two minutes and you start pinching yourself. Hearts have scored a penalty, in Glasgow, against a Glasgow team with a Glasgow referee. This can’t be happening. It’s Rangers, they’ve got Laudrup, McCoist, so they’re going to score.
“I went to the toilet just after half-time. I’m standing there and next thing this guy jumps on me and I land in the trough of the urinal. My first instinct is to get up and banjo him – then I realise it’s because we’ve scored again. So we’re dancing around in the toilets like a couple of diddies with me covered in wee. I got back out into the stand and everybody was going tonto.
“Towards the end of the game, you kind of know what’s coming because we’ve all been through the movie before. McCoist scores, of course McCoist scores. You’re looking at your watch thinking: ‘How long before Rangers get a penalty?’ Then the whistle goes and Willie Young points, but he’s pointing for a free-kick and not a penalty.
“Laudrup takes the free-kick and it’s deflected wide. You’re then thinking: ‘Maybe this is our day.’ Willie Young added on about 47 minutes stoppage time but Rangers didn’t equalise. I cried like a baby hearing that final whistle. I was hugging my kids, everyone and anyone around me.
“We got home and my wife drove me into Gorgie for the party. What a night it was. I remember Gilles Rousset being slumped at the end of the bar in the Gorgie Suite at the end of the night. He was bare-footed, no top on, and sat in an L-shape like a proper drunk. He looked like the happiest man alive.
“I was chuffed for everybody, but especially Gilles. I saw him after the 5-1 Scottish Cup final loss to Rangers in 1996 and he was just broken. I was also chuffed for Robbo because it was his last game.”
A wall of noise blasted out from the towering North Stand at Celtic Park just after 3pm that day – Saturday, May 16, 1998. It was the sheer delirium of 25,000 Hearts fans greeting Cameron’s opening goal. Their decibel level barely dropped for the rest of the weekend.
“I was right in line with the 18-yard line,” recalls Allan Preston, the former Hearts winger and lifelong fan. “It was unbelievable scenes when the penalty went in early in the game, and likewise when the second one went in. There are certain things you remember about the day.
“It was a lovely day. I was speaking to Robbo in the build-up and he didn’t think he would play, which obviously he didn’t. He had still done his bit. Gary Locke had done his bit, too, but he was injured.
“I always remember at the end seeing a Hearts fan I know from Leith called Michael Keegan. I saw him sitting outside Celtic Park on the pavement. He was almost in tears, shaking his head in total and utter disbelief. He couldn’t believe we had won. That image of him sitting there will stay with me for the rest of my life.
“The scenes around Parkhead at the end that day were incredible. You’re seeing grown men crying. That’s what a day like that does. Hearts aren’t Celtic or Rangers who get to cup finals every season. But they don’t get the bus parades through the centre of Glasgow, whereas Hearts and Hibs can do that in Edinburgh. There seemed to be fans everywhere on the Sunday.
“Hearts have won another two Scottish Cups since then. They don’t happen a lot so you need to savour them when you can.”
There’s savouring them, and then there’s savouring them. Calum Robertson, until recently chairman of the now-defunct Hearts Youth Development Committee, is the first to admit to high levels of alcohol intake that weekend. His memory of a conversation with a well-known Capital clock survived the blur.
“We got back to Edinburgh after the final and I remember going to Haymarket and talking to the Haymarket clock. That is a tribute to the people who died, although it’s fair to say my actions were drink-induced,” he laughs.
“My son, who is 30 years younger than me, has seen Hearts lift the Scottish Cup the same number of times as me. Younger Hearts fans don’t understand what we went through. Go back to 1986 – we lost the league and the Scottish Cup final. St Mirren put us out of the cup, Airdrie put us out, so were we destined not to win it ..
“A lot of the emotion stemmed from that, although there was a lot of drink involved.
“The Sunday parade was even more emotional. I stood at the west end seeing people on bus shelters and hanging out of windows as the streets were crammed. I was just thinking: ‘Is this what it’s like when you win the cup?’
Robertson, like Wilson, also missed one of the Hearts goals at Parkhead due to one of nature’s calls.
“I missed the first one because I was still in the toilet with my Jose Quitongo wig on. I didn’t even hear the roar and it wasn’t till I got to my seat that I realised Hearts were 1-0 up because people were talking about it.
“I remember the second goal, Rangers got one back, then seeing Willie Young pointing to what I thought was the penalty spot near the end. I realised it was a free-kick and I remember thinking he was the best ref I’d ever seen.
“There were tears among older Hearts fans who thought they would never see a day like that. The 90 minutes were the longest of my life, but after 5pm the rest of it flew by. I spent the last few minutes thinking of my dad, who was with us then but wasn’t well. My family lived down in England. He’d never seen Hearts win the cup.
“One of the first people I bumped into leaving Celtic Park was Gary Mackay. I saw how emotional he was. I think I said something stupid to him like: ‘That’s for people like you who gave everything to the club.’
“The whole day just had that feeling about it.”
READERS SHARE THEIR MEMORIES OF HEARTS’ CUP WIN
Ronnie Moyes: “I was a nervous wreck in the closing minutes as Rangers finished the stronger team, attack after attack. When the final whistle went, I hugged my wife Shona and the lady next to me who was a complete stranger. I just could not believe we had beaten what was then the Rangers team of superstars.”
Nikki Wood: “I remember thinking the ref had pointed to the spot when McCoist got fouled on the edge of the box, getting up and heading for the toilet and only realising it was a free-kick when I got to the bottom of the stairs. I spent the next ten minutes there with about thirty other Hearts supporters until the final whistle. Really quite hard to describe what that day meant, and still does, to people.”
Keith Carlyon: Still remember every second of the game like it was yesterday. The last five minutes of injury time were absolute torture and I cried like a baby at full-time. The demons of Dens Park were finally gone At last, Heart Of Midlothian were no more the bridesmaids.”
Eric Williamson: “The worst ten minutes of my life ... waiting for the final whistle.”