Craig Beattie knows better than most just how much a winning goal against Celtic can define a Hearts player’s legacy.
The 34-year-old former Scotland internationalist scored three goals in nine matches during a two-and-a-half month stint at the end of the 2011/12 campaign and is remembered more fondly in Gorgie than many players who were at the club for ten times as long as he was. The reason is simple: a last-minute penalty winner against Celtic in a Scottish Cup semi-final, followed by a wild celebration in which he famously hurdled the Hampden advertising boards and ran behind the goal bare-chested, twirling his shirt gleefully above his head. Hearts have beaten Celtic only once since that dramatic 2-1 victory over Neil Lennon’s side in Glasgow in April 2012, and that was the 4-0 win in Gorgie last December when two-goal David Milinkovic earned himself the type of hero status among the Jambos support that Beattie has enjoyed for the past six years.
“I absolutely love going back to Hearts – I’m treated like royalty when I go back there,” he told the Evening News. “When I talk about my time at Hearts, some people are surprised that I only played nine games for them. It’s a big thing for me that I earned hero status in such a short time there because I really appreciated my time at Hearts. I was keen to make an impact after not doing as well as I’d have initially hoped down in England. Hearts gave me a platform and I’ll always be grateful for that. I’m reminded on a regular basis how grateful the Hearts supporters are to have had me there as well, and that means a lot. I keep in touch with some of the lads I played with at Hearts. It’s a club that I have a really good relationship with even though I only played nine times.”
Celtic and Hearts have a notoriously hostile rivalry but Beattie insists the fact he started his professional career there was never an issue when he rocked up at Tynecastle to help Paulo Sergio’s team through the closing months of a campaign marred by financial trouble and the late payment of players.
“The rivalry between Celtic and Hearts wasn’t an issue at all for me when I joined Hearts because I’d had five years down south after leaving Celtic, so it was a long spell in between the two clubs,” he said. “It wasn’t difficult at all. I was welcomed from the moment I walked into the club and I hit the ground running when we won at Ibrox on my debut and then I scored against St Mirren in the Scottish Cup quarter-final and Hibs in the derby. It was an easy transition.”
Beattie remains reluctant to discuss his iconic celebration, but is happy to recall a match in which he helped Sergio’s well-drilled side defy all logic to oust Celtic and set up an all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final. “There was big pressure on Hearts for that game against Celtic because Hibs had already reached the final by beating Aberdeen the previous day,” he said. “We didn’t want to get knocked out when our rivals had already booked their day in the sun at Hampden in May. In addition, it was no secret that the club had financial troubles at that time so it was just as important that the team got through to generate some revenue to help pay the lads who were getting messed around a bit at the time.
“Paulo was fantastic. He was a good man-manager and he was a man’s manager. He was old school, he was tough, he had a hard Mediterranean thing about him. He sent us out firstly to stop Celtic steamrollering us early and getting in front. We tried to snuff them out as long as possible and then we managed to take the lead early in the second half. Celtic got the equaliser but thankfully I scored the penalty and we managed to get through.”
After the euphoria of that semi-final triumph, Beattie’s short but sweet stint at Tynecastle came to an end in glorious fashion when he came off the bench in the 5-1 win over Hibs. With Hearts in disarray off the pitch and lurching towards administration, Beattie left the club at the end of that season with six wins, two draws, one defeat, a Scottish Cup winner’s medal and a bank of fond memories to his name.
“The club was a mess financially at that point so it was never really discussed that I’d be staying on longer,” he said. “It was basically a case of me going there to help Hearts and to help myself, and I think that was achieved. There are sometimes circumstances in football you just can’t effect and that was one because of the financial troubles at Hearts.
“It’s a shame the team wasn’t able to stay together and continue building under Paulo, but that’s football. You can say that about teams all over the world when good sides get broken up for whatever reason. The big thing to come out of Hearts’ troubles was that it allowed a new generation of young players to come through and play in the first team. I’m delighted to see Hearts back on an upward path now, as much as a football fan as a former Hearts player. I want to see the top clubs in Scotland doing well because it makes the league stronger and more competitive.”
Beattie’s two former clubs meet at Tynecastle at lunchtime on Saturday after opening their league campaigns with victories last weekend. Hearts are buoyed by a run in which they have scored 14 goals in three games and hope to follow up their triumph over Brendan Rodgers’ team eight months ago. “For any club, it’s always really hard to beat Celtic or Rangers,” said Beattie. “Look at Aberdeen last season - they finished second but still couldn’t beat them. It’s hard to get a result against the Glasgow teams, there’s no question about that. Hearts go into it on the back of a good win over Hamilton and they’ve got lots of good, experienced players. If they’re good enough to get by with a player of Kyle Lafferty’s quality on the bench, then it shows they’ve got a good squad. They’re definitely capable of beating Celtic again but, having said that, Celtic just churn out result after result and win everything they enter domestically. On the one hand, Hearts have got a squad that could go and get a result but on the other hand, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if Celtic turn up and win.”