Fifteen years ago this evening, Hearts pulled off one of the finest European results in their history.
On 6 November 2003, the same night that the A-Listers of the music world descended on Edinburgh for the prestigious MTV awards, the Tynecastle side were busy making a big noise in Bordeaux.
Backed by more than 3000 supporters who had travelled to the French city for the first leg of the UEFA Cup second-round tie, a Hearts side managed - as it is just now - by Craig Levein dug deep in the Stade Chaban-Delmas to repel a side who had finished fourth in Ligue 1 the previous season and celebrate an unlikely 1-0 victory through a 78th minute goal from Mark de Vries.
“It’s not until you look back that you realise just how brilliant a result it was,” said midfielder Paul Hartley, who came off the bench to set up the winner. “Bordeaux were a really good team. To get an away result is always difficult for a Scottish team but certainly nobody expected it that night. It was one of the outstanding results in Europe for a Scottish team over the last few years. I can’t believe it’s 15 years, it’s gone by so quickly.”
The victory was built on organisation and resilience. Levein deployed his team in a 3-6-1 formation, with centre-backs Kevin McKenna, Steven Pressley and Andy Webster protecting 20-year-old goalkeeper Craig Gordon. De Vries was alone in attack, and eventually got his reward when he forced the ball over the line after McKenna had headed Hartley’s free-kick against a post.
“We played well but we had to hang in there at times,” said Hartley. “We had a lot of defending to do and Craig Gordon, who was just a young man at that time, had an outstanding game. Craig Levein’s tactics were always spot on. He knew how to set us up, especially defensively. We knew we weren’t going to have a lot of the ball so we had to be really solid and compact. We worked hard on our shape with and without the ball and we always knew that night that our set-pieces would be vital for us.
“By hook or by crook, we managed to win. It was a free-kick from myself to big McKenna at the far post and then big Mark put it in. He also scored a couple in Braga the following year. He liked the big stage in terms of European games.”
Hartley recalls being struck by the size and noise of the travelling support within a crowd of 15,536. “The atmosphere that night was unbelievable,” he said. “There were over 3000 Hearts fans there and for them to go way from home in Europe and see their team win against a team like that was brilliant. It was a wonderful night.”
Webster was a busy man that evening, playing his part in trying to stem the French flow towards Gordon’s goal. “You know on a night like that, when you’re up against quality like that, you need every player, from your goalie to your striker, to stand up and be counted, and that’s what happened,” said the defender, who was only 21 at the time. “Everyone played their part. It was a monumental effort and we got our rewards for it.”
Despite giving themselves a lead to protect at Tynecastle, Hearts were unable to see the tie out as a Bordeaux side containing players like Marouane Chamakh, Jean Claude Darcheville, Mauricio Pochettino and Albert Riera, who would go on to play or manage in Britain, won 2-0 in Edinburgh. “We thought we could have got the job done but they were a good outfit,” said Hartley. “Sometimes at home you’ve got to open up a bit more and that probably didn’t suit us as much as the away tie. There was a great atmosphere at Tynecastle but they took the sting out of it with the goal they scored.”
Bordeaux: Rame, Alicarte, Basto, Jemmali, Jurietti (Deivid 80), Pochettino, Costa, Da Costa (Riera 66), Feindouno, Chamakh, Darcheville.
Hearts: Gordon, McKenna, Pressley, Webster, Neilson (A McCann 72), Maybury, Stamp (Severin 79), Wyness, Valois (Hartley 68), Kisnorbo, De Vries.