Murrayfield hosted probably the biggest highlight of Juho Makela’s football career. As the only Hearts player ever to score against the mighty Barcelona, he remains a unique commodity to this day.
The Finnish striker still speaks with boundless pride about that sunny afternoon against the Spanish superstars ten years ago. Although Hearts suffered a 3-1 defeat in what was a pre-season friendly, his goal is etched in the memory because of the calibre of opponent.
Ronaldinho, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Thierry Henry, Lilian Thuram, Yaya Toure, Samuel Eto’o – the luminaries who featured in Barca’s 2007 Scottish tour is like a Ballon d’Or nomination list. For comparison, Hearts’ squad included Lithuanian forward Ricardas Beniusis, a young Calum Elliot and 35-year-old goalkeeper Steve Banks.
The club’s record attendance of 57,857 watched the match and, for 16 minutes, celebrated parity with one of the world’s greatest sides thanks to Makela’s first-half equaliser. That strike also ensured his previous highlight in maroon paled into insignificance. There is little to compare scoring against Barcelona with a League Cup hat-trick at Alloa’s Recreation Park, after all.
This Saturday, Hearts play their first fixture at Murrayfield since Frank Rijkaard and his band of multi-millionaires swaggered out of the away dressing room ten years ago. Aberdeen’s visit for the first ever domestic football match there comes as Tynecastle is being redeveloped. It is the first of three “home” games there for the Edinburgh club and brings memories flooding back.
“I posted a picture on social media in July, exactly ten years on from that day. It was a special day – a full stadium, pre-season, a big friendly when Barcelona came to Scotland. It was a very big occasion for me and it’s one of the best moments of my career when I scored at Murrayfield,” said Makela, now 34 and playing with the Helsinki-based Veikkausliiga club HIFK.
“I follow Hearts and the Scottish league so I know about the plans to rebuild the stand at Tynecastle. I enjoyed my time in Scotland. It has a special place in my heart and my wife’s heart because we lived there together for the first time. Murrayfield also has a special place in my heart.
“I’ve seen the clips many times and I’ve had messages from Hearts fans about that goal over the years. I remember when we were preparing for the game and we had a pre-match meeting. We were going through the Barcelona squad and the Hearts assistant coach, Shaggy [Stephen Frail], was explaining the team. He smiled: ‘This No.10, I don’t know very much about him. He has a decent touch and his left foot isn’t bad.’ It was Ronaldinho. That memory stands out.”
There are plenty more. Without prompting, Makela delivers a blow-by-blow report of the match which would do justice to any media outlet.
“When I was told I was starting, it was an overwhelming feeling. I sent messages home saying I would prepare like any other game and try to score. Then I remember the atmosphere when we walked out of the tunnel. It was unbelievable. There were fireworks and nearly 60,000 people.
“I played right-wing, which I have only played rarely in my career. My natural position is striker but I was playing as a winger that day and I remember Ronaldinho was up against me because he was on Barcelona’s left side.
“I remember when we lost the ball we had a lot of running to do to get it back because they were so good. There was Xavi, Iniesta and all the rest. They kept the ball so well. Maybe we were a little nervous in the beginning and they scored the first goal through Ronaldinho.
“Then we got the chance and I got the equaliser. I’ve seen that clip many times. Just before the goal, I remember a fan came on to the field and the game was stopped. Then we had a free-kick. Larry Kingston took it, Christophe Berra won the header, then I took my first touch and my second to score. It was 1-1, one of the best moments of my career and I remember very clearly how good it felt.
“Then Barcelona scored again, and again it was Ronaldinho. They scored another goal in the second half and the game finished 3-1.”
It later came to light that the then-Hearts owner, Vladimir Romanov, had put pressure on coach Anatoly Korobochka to let him make a celebrity appearance against Barca. In a media interview, Korobochka said he refused and was sacked for standing firm.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard about that. The players didn’t know about that,” said Makela.
“We knew it would be the biggest game that summer. It was more than a friendly because it had so much meaning for the club, and for Scottish football, to have Barcelona spending their pre-season in Scotland that year. It was just great to be involved.”
This time will be slightly different. There will no fireworks to greet Aberdeen and, although a large crowd is guaranteed, it won’t threaten that attendance record.
“The Tynecastle atmosphere is always electric. I only played that one time at Murrayfield and it’s a huge stadium,” said Makela. “When I played in the A League in Australia, some of the stadiums were similar size but the crowds were only around 15,000.
“When you have a big stadium with only 15,000 people, one stand is maybe great because all the hardcore fans are together. Apart from that it feels quite empty if there are 30,000 or 40,000 empty seats.
“The atmosphere at Murrayfield will be different to Tynecastle. That’s natural. It would be perfect if it was full, but I don’t know how many people will attend these league games.”
Makela was one of 11 Hearts signings in a breathtaking January transfer window in 2006. He cost a considerable £500,000 from HJK Helsinki but admits now he didn’t reach his full potential in Edinburgh. He was loaned out and left permanently in 2009 to rejoin HJK after just 20 competitive Hearts appearances.
“I think I could have achieved much more there,” he conceded. “I think very highly of Hearts because it was my first club outside Finland. Since then, I have had very good times in other countries – Germany, Switzerland and Australia.
“Scotland is special for many reasons. I liked the Scottish people because they have quite similar humour to Finnish people. I just think the time I was there wasn’t the best. If I had played for Hearts later in my career, I would have done better. I have improved and developed over the years.
“Many times during my career, I have thought: ‘At this point, Hearts would be a really good place to be and I could do better.’ When I was there, I scored goals when I got the chance but I think I could have achieved much more. I don’t regret coming to Scotland, though.
“It’s just a shame that the situation in the club was unstable at that time. We had some success but we also had turmoil. It wasn’t balanced at that time and that affected the team. I was much younger then, too. I was a young boy taking his first step abroad. Those things maybe affected me a bit more than they would now that I am a father to two children and a married man.”
He could have done better, but no other player in Hearts’ long history can claim the distinction of scoring against Barcelona.