JUST like in his playing days, Drew Busby doesn’t shirk a tackle. The pain of being relegated twice with Hearts will never properly leave him but he discusses the issue openly.
“It’s one of the things I regret most. I played in the first Hearts team to get relegated and it’s not a good feeling,” he says.
Busby believes the mere thought of dropping out of Scotland’s top flight will drive Hearts’ young players on to overcome the most daunting of tasks this season. The Edinburgh club begin the new Scottish Premiership campaign at St Johnstone on Sunday minus 15 points and, consequently, are clear favourites for relegation.
Busby endured that experience three times in his career, once with Airdrieonians and twice at Tynecastle. They are horror memories which stay vivid in his memory to this day. “The Buzzbomb” is now 65 but enjoys cult hero status amongst the Hearts support and was a popular figure in the team of the late 1970s, which was relegated in both 1977 and 1979.
The onset of administration leaves the current Hearts manager Gary Locke battling to avoid the same fate this season with a vastly inexperienced team. Busby is backing them to succeed and overhaul the 15-point deficit. Should motivation be required, they need only read his own recollections.
“I’d been relegated before with Airdrie and it’s a terrible feeling. No matter what team you’re playing for it’s the same feeling,” he explains. “Getting relegated is a horrible experience. I’ve been down three times. I wasn’t very lucky in that sense. Your head is down for a long time, a good couple of months after the season ends. Even the start of the next season is hard.
“I was part-time with Airdrie when we went down and right away your wages get halved. I think we were on £20 a week and it dropped to a tenner. That wasn’t the case at Hearts. I’m sure we were on £35 a week and it stayed the same, if I remember right.
“I’ve seen Hearts a few times and there are a lot of talented boys there. It’s just getting the right blend. They have it in them to get through this and stay up. When you’ve got players like Ryan Stevenson in your team, he can drive others on. If they are solid at the back, they can score a few goals up front. The players being so young might be a good thing because they can grow up together.
“I don’t know Gary Locke too well but he’s always seemed a really cheery boy whenever I’ve spoken to him. Obviously he’s Hearts through and through. His heart is right in it and I hope he does really well.”
Prioritising certain matches would appear to be key for Locke. Results against other clubs beside in the league will ultimately ordain whether they catch up. “They need to get off to a good start, that’s obvious,” continues Busby. “When we found ourselves down near the bottom of the league, there used to be certain games I’d look at and think, ‘that’s a must-win.’ The teams down beside you are the ones you really need to take points from. You want to win every game but there are some you just have to win. The more experienced players in the team will certainly think like that.
“When we were relegated the first time with Hearts, there was a game against Ayr United which, if we’d won, would have kept us up by one point. I got myself all psyched up for that game. I’d been thinking about it all week and I remember it was a Wednesday night. I went through to Edinburgh during the day to see a guy called Archie Campbell, who used to give us a massage out in Danderhall. I turned up for the game to be told I was dropped.”
In a theme which resonates with Hearts’ present financial state, Busby believes that first relegation in 1977 was down to cost-cutting and the necessary loss of key players. “When John Hagart took over, he had been in charge of the reserve team so he brought a lot of younger boys in. He got rid of big Alan Anderson, Donald Ford, Ian Sneddon, Kenny Aird, John Stevenson and Davie Clunie to name but a few. I think they were trying to cut costs then as well.”
Eventually, the forward found himself a victim of the money-saving process. “Once we were relegated I don’t think I was played much. John Hagart got the sack and Bert Paton took over. He just didn’t like me, let’s put it that way. When Willie Ormond came in, he signed a goalkeeper called Raymond Dunlop.
“Raymond said to Ormond that he’d travel through each day with me because he lived near me. Apparently the reply was: ‘I don’t think you will. I’m getting rid of him’.
“I ended up staying on but, after the second relegation, I was told I was leaving. I said I was going nowhere. I think Hearts were wanting £15,000 for me. I spoke to the chairman, Bobby Parker, and he said they needed the money so I had to go. I joined Toronto Blizzard.
“Things actually went full circle because after we were relegated the second time, youngsters like Gary Mackay, John Robertson and Dave Bowman came through. A few years later Hearts nearly won the league. ”
n Drew Busby will attend the Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle on Sunday, August 11, to promote a new book “The Drew Busby Story” by Andrew Hoggan. All profits from the publication will be donated to the senior clubs Busby represented. Anyone wishing to obtain a copy can email