Few players in Hearts’ history have enjoyed as much Edinburgh derby success as Ian Black.
In his three years with the club he supported as a boy, the midfielder played against Hibs 11 times – ten as a starter – and didn’t lose once. This remarkable run between 2009 and 2012 brought eight victories – including the famous 5-1 win in the Scottish Cup final when Black marked his final appearance in maroon with a man-of-the-match performance.
The 32-year-old has been disappointed by the sight of his old team going seven games without victory against Hibs over the past three years, and believes a change in mindset, whereby the derby is viewed within the dressing-room as the most important game of Hearts’ season, is key to breaking this wretched run at Easter Road on Tuesday.
“As soon as the fixtures come out, the derby is the one that all the fans look for, and certainly from my perspective as a Hearts player, it was the one I looked for,” Black told the Evening News. “For me, the derby is the biggest game of the season, because it’s all about the bragging rights. I’ve noticed recently that some Hearts players look like they’re just treating the derby as another game, and they get found out. You can’t do that in an Edinburgh derby. The players need to understand what it means to the supporters.”
Black is hopeful that the presence of boyhood supporters Ross Callachan and Jamie Walker, as well as returning captain Christophe Berra and manager Craig Levein will ensure Hearts approach Tuesday’s match with the required desire.
“Hearts have to start picking up in the derby,” said Black, who will be at Tynecastle for the club’s Gorgie Live beamback event on Tuesday. “I think a lack of belief has possibly been an issue for Hearts in the last few years. But you can see since Craig Levein has come in as manager, the team look a lot stronger and are playing with more hunger and desire. His experience of derbies should help Hearts.
“A guy like Ross Callachan can also make a difference but ultimately you need the whole team to be together in a derby. You can’t just rely on Ross or Jamie Walker, for instance, to do it all on their own. But it will help Hearts that they have guys like Ross, Jamie and Christophe, as well as Craig, who know the club and know exactly what this game means to the fans. They’ll hopefully get the message across to the rest of the team about how big a game it is.
“When I played, as well as having guys like Jim Jefferies and Gary Locke in the dugout, we had a good core of guys, like Rudi Skacel, big Marius Zaliukas, Andy Webster, Andy Driver and Ryan McGowan, who were there for a while and knew what the derby meant to the club. We also had guys like Danny Grainger who came in and grasped it. That was down to the experienced ones and the guys who knew what the fixture meant to the club feeding it through to the others, and it showed in the fact we went three years unbeaten in derbies.” Black’s finest moment of his career came on the May 19, 2012 when he pulled the strings to his heart’s content in that 5-1 win over Hibs at Hampden. “In the cup final, I felt we wanted it more,” he continued. “It was one of those opportunities that come round once in a lifetime, and it was something I wasn’t going to let pass me by easily. I had an unbeaten record in the derby, and in my mind, probably along with the majority of that squad, I knew that was going to be my last game, so I wanted to finish on a high.
“It’d be every Hearts fan’s dream to play for the club for three years, be unbeaten against Hibs and then finish it by getting man of the match in a 5-1 win over Hibs in a cup final. That was the highlight of my career – I was just lucky I got the opportunity to play in a game like that. I’d love to turn back the clock and do it all again.
“A lot of people thought I went into derby games with the mentality of a supporter playing for Hearts, but as a professional, you need to keep the ‘supporter of the club’ aspect out of it until the final whistle. I just approached it, like I did every game, wanting to win, but there was that wee bit extra because it was a derby and I knew what was at stake.”
One of Black’s most iconic derby moments came when he unveiled a t-shirt proclaiming “I’ll paint this place maroon” at the end of another dominant midfield display in a 3-1 win at Easter Road in January 2012. This was in response to the news – met mockingly by rival supporters – that Black had been doing some extra work as a painter to earn himself some money at a time when Hearts’ players weren’t being paid on time. “That was just a bit of banter,” said Black, who is currently without a club after leaving Blackpool in the summer. “I’d taken a bit of stick in the press and from Hibs fans because of the circumstances surrounding the club at the time. But it shows the spirit in that team that we were able to consistently win derbies and be competitive in the league, even with all the off-field stuff. We just had to be professional and focus on what was going on on the park.”