Exclusive: Craig Gordon reveals his long-term Hearts and Scotland plan after surpassing Tynecastle royalty
Names on the list conjure memories of Hampden Park roaring under the floodlights; a collection of men assimilated by true Scottish spirit and a touch of gallus swagger.
Dave Mackay, Willie Bauld, Alex Young, John Cumming, John Robertson and Bobby Walker are just a few standouts on the inventory of Hearts players capped by Scotland. Top of the pile is now the club’s current captain, Craig Gordon.
With Hampden roaring under the lights last Monday, a vintage combination of that Scottish spirit and gallus swagger overwhelmed Denmark whilst Gordon set a new record. It was his 33rd cap as a Hearts employee – 64th overall – surpassing Steven Pressley’s tally of 32.
The goalkeeper’s stars may well be aligning as his 39th birthday approaches. He rejoined his formative club from Celtic 18 months ago and instantly became first-choice goalkeeper again. He quickly earned a Scotland recall and helped Hearts back into the Premiership.
Then he was appointed captain at Tynecastle this summer and achieved a place in the international squad for the European Championship. After watching from the substitutes’ bench throughout Scotland’s three group games, Gordon regained the No.1 position from David Marshall in September.
He now stands just two play-off games away from the pinnacle of a World Cup appearance. All of the above were long-standing targets in his mind. Gordon has been a man with a plan for the last year and a half – a dark blueprint, if you will. Playing at Qatar 2022 featured prominently on it and he feels no urge to pinch himself at the possibility.
“Not really because that was everything I set out to do,” he told the Evening News. “You have to set your goal high and that’s what mine was. You work to achieve it. That was the best-case scenario for me and I was going to work as hard as I could to try and reach that target.
“So far, it’s gone very well. There is still a good bit to go but I tried to aim for the very top and then see where it gets me.
“It was definitely a goal when I came back to Hearts, to get myself back into the international team. That cap record was something I had an eye on. If I could possibly get back into the side, that was something I could try and get.
“I’m immensely proud to be the most-capped Hearts player in 147 years of history. It’s really humbling and a massive achievement for me. My family are super-proud of that and hopefully I can add a few more caps as well.”
The accomplishment is merely underlined by the Tynecastle royalty Gordon has surpassed. Seeing some of the names below his own hammers it home. “It does. The list is fantastic – so many players who have done so well for this club in the past. To finally be at the top of that list is fantastic,” he said.
“There have been a few trials along the way, injuries and such like, but to get to the top of that pile is something I really treasure. Hopefully I’ll set a good record for somebody else to try and beat.”
It may be some time before anyone else gets a look-in, actually. Marshall, Jon McLaughlin, Zander Clark, Liam Kelly or other contenders can harbour designs on the Scotland goalkeeping slot, but Gordon has no intention of relinquishing his role after working fiercely to reclaim it.
His gloves are hot at both club and international level just now and anyone supposing he is winding down in his late 30s would be wise to think again. Fitness permitting, he may well prolong his career into his 40s.
Hearts supporters will understand the argument that their keeper may actually be improving with age given his displays this season and last. If he is motivated to make up for losing almost three years of his career to injury by extending his playing days, only the cruellest rivals would begrudge him doing so.
“I want to keep going as long as I can,” he explained. “If I can keep playing well here at Hearts then I can give myself that opportunity to play as long as I can. I will try to set the bar as high as I can and we will see where that is at the end of my career.”
The World Cup will be underway in Qatar 12 months from now. It is the final part of the plan Gordon is executing. He experienced thrilling Champions League nights and treble-trophy hauls at Celtic, plus the glitz of England’s Premier League with Sunderland, not forgetting Scottish Cup success during his first spell at Hearts.
World Cup participation would be an enormous bonus at any stage of any footballer’s career. For most it would be regarded as the ultimate highlight. At Gordon’s age, the chance to play for Scotland at a major tournament represents something of a holy grail.
“It’s going to be another huge ask to win another two games in a row against two top-quality teams in the play-offs,” he admitted. “The first one is at home so we will give that one our best shot. If we can get through, we have a one-off game against anybody.
“We will try our very best to get to the World Cup. These opportunities don’t come around that often so we will give it everything we have to try and make it happen.”