Hearts’ youngsters will be hoping history repeats itself when they face Rangers in next month’s SFA Youth Cup final.
The Gorgie club have won the 31-year-old tournament three times in their history, with two of those triumphs coming courtesy of victories over the Ibrox kids in the final.
After crushing Kilmarnock 3-0 in Saturday’s semi-final, Robbie Neilson’s side will bid to emulate Sandy Clark’s Class of ’93, who humbled Rangers 3-1 on their own patch, and John McGlynn’s 2000 vintage, who beat the Govan boys 5-3 at Hampden in what remains the Jambos’ last success in the prestigious competition.
Those two triumphs over Rangers bookended Hearts’ only other Youth Cup victory, when a side containing Neilson, Hearts’ current Under-20 coach, and Scott Severin beat Dundee United 2-0 in the 1998 final at Tynecastle. The club’s only other appearance in the youth showpiece match, incidentally, brought a 3-1 defeat from Celtic for the likes of Eggert Jonsson, Jason Thomson and Calum Elliot in 2006.
Neil Janczyk, now 31 and playing with Clyde, scored twice on that glory night 14 years ago, when a Hearts side containing Craig Gordon, the goalkeeper who would later play for Scotland and fetch the club £9 million, fired five past a Rangers side featuring the likes of Allan McGregor, Stephen Hughes, Stephen Dobbie and Maurice Ross.
“It was a long time ago now but I’ve still got really good memories of it,” said Janczyk. “We had a really good side under John McGlynn. For a young boy to play a final against Rangers at Hampden was a really big thing. There was a real buzz about the game. I remember the first-team boys wishing us good luck and we took a big crowd through. There were only a few thousand people there but that was massive when you’re only 17 or 18 years old.
“Apart from Craig, nobody from that team really did that much in the game. Myself, Stephen Simmons and Robert Sloan ended up in the lower leagues. It shows how big an achievement it was for us that, 14 years on, Hearts still haven’t won it again. It’s surprising because they’ve always had a good youth set-up.”
While the situation is different now compared to 2000 given that many of Hearts’ Under-20s have also been cast as established first-team players, Janczyk is sure the likes of Sam Nicholson, Dale Carrick, Callum Paterson and Billy King will still savour their upcoming clash with Rangers as much as he did.
“It’ll give the current team an advantage the fact that half of them are already first-team regulars,” he said. “Back in my day, I think only Stephen Simmons had maybe been around the first-team squad a few times but none of us had really had a sniff. Even though many of them have played in the first team, it’ll still be a big occasion for the current Hearts boys. For the youth boys, it’s a massive deal to get to the final of the Scottish Cup.”
Any of the Hearts youngsters in any doubt about how big their match with Rangers will be should have a word with David Murie. The 37-year-old scored Hearts’ third in the club’s maiden Youth Cup final success 21 years ago as a side containing Paul Ritchie, Allan McManus, Kevin Thomas and current first-team manager Gary Locke put a highly-regarded Rangers side to the sword on a heady night in Govan. “Looking back now, that was probably the best moment of my career,” said Murie, who enjoyed a brief run in Hearts’ first team but recently retired following a career spent predominantly in Scotland’s lower leagues.
“Even for guys like Craig Gordon and Paul Ritchie who went on to have good careers in football, I’m sure they’ll still look back on winning the Youth Cup as a highlight. You never forget it. I would say to any of these Hearts players to make sure they enjoy and savour it. I won it when I was 17, just out of school, and I thought that would be me winning trophies all the time, but, apart from reserve leagues, I don’t think I won another medal in my career. You’ve got to really appreciate these moments when they come along.
“It’s huge for the young boys, they’ll really look forward to it. There’ll be some of them who have already played in Edinburgh derbies so their experience will help the boys who haven’t played in the first team. I don’t think nerves will be an issue for those boys who have played in big games for the first team.”
While Hearts’ extra first-team experience ensures they will probably start as favourites next month – the date and venue have still to be confirmed – Murie’s side had to overcome the odds to claim their moment of glory. “We were playing a really strong Rangers team at Ibrox, so we were down as underdogs,” he said. “We took a huge Hearts support through with us and gave Rangers a bit of a doing. I scored a deflected goal from the edge of the box and we won convincingly.
“We had a really good team but it was a great achievement for us because Hearts had never won it before.”