Cup flashback: Donald Ford recalls a dark day for Hearts

Kevin Hegarty, who scored for Hearts, left, and Donald Ford home in on the Hibs goalkeeper in 1971
Kevin Hegarty, who scored for Hearts, left, and Donald Ford home in on the Hibs goalkeeper in 1971
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TYNECASTLE hosts a Scottish Cup Edinburgh derby this weekend for the first time in 45 years. February 13, 1971, was the last time Hearts and Hibs met in Gorgie in the national cup competition, with the Easter Road club winning 2-1. It remains a painful memory for Donald Ford.

The forward remembers the agony of a second-round exit at the hands of city rivals. It was a game refereed by the legendary Tom “Tiny” Wharton and played in front of a 30,450 crowd. Hearts’ home has changed much in the intervening four-and-a-half decades waiting for another Scottish Cup visit from Hibs.

Ford recalls the dejection in the home dressing-room at full-time all those years ago. He also cites Jock Wallace’s move to Rangers the year before as pivotal. Wallace had spent 16 months coaching in Gorgie under manager John Harvey and was being lined up to replace Harvey.

His exit for Ibrox in April 1970 prompted a compensation payment of £1250, but money couldn’t atone for Wallace’s loss to Hearts. Bobby Seith replaced Harvey as manager and the club endured a difficult time throughout the 1970s as they were relegated twice. Ford believes the malaise was already beginning to take hold that day against Hibs, with Wallace’s organisation badly missing.

“Defensively, we’d had a pretty good two or three years. Jock came up from Berwick to be our coach under John Harvey but he’d gone to Ibrox by the time that Hibs tie came round,” Ford said.

“Jock had created a really good defensive formation at Hearts. Once he’d put that in place, we weren’t losing many goals. The problem was we weren’t scoring many either. It was a solid back four and we tended to play 4-3-3. We just didn’t have enough up front. One season I finished top scorer with nine or ten goals, which was just a nonsense in those days.

“Jock was a serious loss to us because he was a fantastic man-manager and we missed him for a long time after he went to Rangers. Bobby Seith had just taken over from John Harvey so when we played Hibs in the cup it was really just the beginning of his time as a manager at Tynecastle.

“Jock was very consistent. He would be the first to say he had an awful lot to learn when he arrived from Berwick, but Johnny Harvey was a great teacher. He was great at teaching coaching and training and Jock learned a huge amount from John.

“Probably because he was a goalkeeper, Jock very quickly had the defensive things sorted out. That was the strength we needed. I remember we a had a great season when Drew Busby, Kenny Aird and Bobby Prentice arrived. We just knew we were going to score every time we went out but it didn’t last long enough.

“I’m sure if you asked any of the defenders at that time, they would tell you they went out certain that the opposition wouldn’t score. It’s the same psychological thing that happens at both ends of the field. We knew the defence was so good, the problem was just not scoring enough. We got one against the Hibs that day but it wasn’t enough. Their best team was just coming together then.”

Two years later, Hibs would return to Tynecastle to crush Hearts 7-0 in the league, but losing in the cup was just as hard to bear for those in maroon. “You tend not to remember the games you lost against Hibs,” laughed Ford. “The 7-0 game was a different story altogether. Cup games are always different. Because one team is going out at the end of 90 minutes, the whole psychological atmosphere is very different.

“That cup game was just before the great Hibs team came together, which eventually devoured us at Tynecastle. We were really up for that tie, being at home, and thought we could win it. It was utter disappointment at the end that the opportunity had gone. It was basically a disaster in the dressing-room afterwards. It was early in the tournament and to go out that early wasn’t good.”

Hearts are confident there will be no repeat 45 years down the line. Their opponents are a league below and the hosts are favourites to progress to the quarter-finals. Ford watched the gusto with which they eliminated Aberdeen and believes the same type of performance is vital on Sunday.

“It’s an absolutely intriguing game from whatever way you look at it. Hearts are capable of some outstanding performances, Hibs are up near the top of the Championship. I’m sure Hearts will start as favourites but a 90-minute cup tie involves different psychology to a league match.

“I think a lot will come down to whether Hearts play with the huge enthusiasm, energy and pace they showed against Aberdeen and Motherwell recently. If they do, I honestly can’t see Hibs winning. However, I think the Hibs management will have a pretty shrewd idea of how they can counter that.”