Hearts star Craig Gordon on ten clean sheets in a row and 'special' feeling of 19th season
Civil Service Strollers v Hearts.
The goalkeeper wasn’t part of the squad, he was simply down to watch some of his team-mates get minutes in their legs as part of their pre-season. At one point, captured by photographer James Christie, he had turned into a ball boy.
It was a welcome sight for fans. Yet, every single one would have forgiven the 38-year-old some extra time off having been away from friends and family, including his son who is only a few months old, for so long over the summer.
At the same time, it says a lot about the club’s new permanent captain. After all, there are players up and down the country who wouldn't bother turning up to a competitive game they were not involved in.
For Gordon, he has just entered his 19th season of competitive football, dating back to a loan spell with Cowdenbeath in 2001 when he was described as “sensational” during his 13-game stint, and the excitement brought on by a new campaign is more evident than ever.
Even more special
He comes into it having become a dad again, appointed permanent Hearts captain, a Championship medal, part of the Scotland squad at the Euros and a new clean sheet record.
“Perhaps at the start of your career you can take season after season for granted,” he told the Evening News.
"I know there’s not that many seasons, I’m hopeful there will be a few more, but I know time will eventually get the better of me as it does everybody.
"I know there is limited life in the career yet so I think it’s even more special to be still playing, still feeling good and ready to go for another season.
"It’s been a good year. It’s been very positive. It’s about building on that now and keeping it going for as long as possible.
"Football can change around pretty quickly. I have to keep focused on that, keep preparing as well as I have been, training as much as possible to make sure I’m keeping my body in good shape, ready to play and we’ll see where next year takes us.”
The 2-0 win over Stirling Albion in the Premier Sports Cup on Tuesday took Gordon's clean sheet record for Hearts to ten in a row – a phrase he wasn’t mentioning.
It could be extended to 11 on Sunday against Inverness CT. Looking further ahead, it is a feat which won’t be bettered for a very long time.
After the match John Souttar spoke of how confident he feels playing in front of a goalkeeper who makes him feel safe.
Supporters don't need reminding that they have had the club have had their goalkeeping issues in recent seasons.
A return to the Premiership should see Gordon’s involvement in games increase after matches in the Championship where he barely touched the ball.
If he had it his own way he would not do anything during the 90 minutes.
“That’s what you strive for in every game,” he said.
“Any team can score a goal at any moment. There were a few little half chances against Stirling. Halks [Craig Halkett] got a great block in the start of the second half.
"There’s always going to be that moment in any game that anybody can score.
"It’s very pleasing for me to go ten games without losing a goal. It was good to get that record, we can go as long as we can but we have to keep respecting everybody that we play. And if we do that we give ourselves a chance to keep more.”
He added: “I hope they keep the ball up the other end. I don’t want to do it.
“If they are working well and keeping the other team under pressure and scoring goals then I’m quite happy to do as little as possible. If called upon I will try to help the team out as best I can."
Premiership rivals Aberdeen made the decision to give the captain’s armband to Scott Brown for the coming season despite goalkeeper Joe Lewis being in that role previously. It was viewed that Brown would be able to play a bigger role in the centre of the pitch and help out the youngsters.
There are no concerns about that at Tynecastle. Gordon is vocal throughout the game, ensuring the captain's voice is heard.
On Tuesday he didn't like what he was seeing and wanted the ball played vertically through the middle, something Robbie Neilson wants as part of the 3-4-3 system.
Influence from the back
"We’ve got good players in the central areas,” he said. We have good wingers when we go wide but we need to have the double threat of doing wide but also being able to play through the middle of teams. We don’t want to be one dimensional.
"Without giving too much away in exactly how we are trying to do that we want to have more threats going forward. It’s about working out how we get our better players on the ball.
“There’s a few tweaks within that which we can change up a little bit even with the personnel on the field, the manager has got options of moving guys around the place. That’s pleasing to see.
“We want to have more strings to our bow this season so we can try different formations and this is one we’ve been trying at the moment. It’s by no means set in stone that we will use that throughout the season, we have to be adaptable.”