Main stand memories as Hearts prepare bulldozers

Tynecastle will change beyond all recongition when the existing 103-year-old main stand is pulled down this month
Tynecastle will change beyond all recongition when the existing 103-year-old main stand is pulled down this month
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Archibald Leitch’s historic architecture will, sadly, soon be erased from Edinburgh’s landscape. The imminent demolition of Tynecastle’s main stand is merely the latest work by the renowned stadium designer consigned to the past.

This Sunday, the 103-year-old stand plays host to its final match when a sell-out crowd will watch Hearts tackle Aberdeen. Bulldozers will then move in to remove one of many Leitch-inspired projects no longer fit for purpose in modern football.

Reaching the Champions League qualifiers excited Vladimir Romanov

Reaching the Champions League qualifiers excited Vladimir Romanov

It cost £12,000 to build in 1914 at a time when having Leitch design your stadium was like watching Guccio Gucci personally tailor your suit. He was the master craftsman responsible for stands at Anfield, Goodison, Hampden, Twickenham, White Hart Lane, Ibrox, Highbury, Old Trafford and dozens of other sports venues across Britain. Many have since been replaced by modern structures.

Metal framework is already in place for a bespoke £12 million main stand at Tynecastle which will complete Hearts’ stadium rebuild 23 years after it began. Yet old habits die hard. For all the excitement over more capacity, corporate facilities and a return to the traditional name of Tynecastle Park, many will be sad to see the original red-brick building torn down. Memories are hard to shake when they stretch back decades.

Bill Smith, Hearts’ official statistician, has sat in the main stand for 40 years. “I used to stand in the enclosure and I decided to go into the main stand in the late 1970s,” he recalled. “Les Porteous, the club secretary at the time, gave me a seat beside the great Barney Battles. After a couple of seasons, Barney stopped coming to the games and Les gave me his seat. It was a great thought and a great thing for me to be sitting in Barney Battles’ seat.

“At that time, I was just getting involved with the club officially and finding out about what Barney had done. The sad thing is I don’t know what happened to that seat. Imagine what it would be worth now? It was situated behind the old directors’ box but there have been so many changes in the stand and old seats being replaced, it could be anywhere.

“When something is over 100 years old, the day is coming when it gets replaced. I’ve seen a lot of changes in this stand but I’ll be sad to see it go. I’m looking forward to sitting in the new one, though.”

Gary Mackay is Hearts’ record appearance holder and played in front of the existing main stand more than anyone else during a 17-year career in Gorgie. His recollections are vivid of days as a teenager on the groundstaff and the distractions of working inside a football stadium. “When I was an apprentice at Hearts they used to leave the old press box open. Newspapers were making fortunes at that time but they didn’t switch their landline phones off,” he said. “I didn’t have any family in Australia or America, but I know one or two colleagues who did. Either that or they were in there organising their social lives for that evening.

“Alfie Conn (junior) was a player at the time and I remember one of the directors had to come down from the stand to have a cigarette ready for him when he came off. These are the things which stick in your mind.

“I used to go to games with my nana and grandad a lot and we would sit in the old stand. I also watched a lot of games from the terracings, like the Lokomotiv Leipzig match in Europe.”

David Speed could sift through hundreds of games and memories of the old stand as Hearts’ official historian. His best one is relatively recent. “It’s the night we clinched the Champions League place by beating Aberdeen here in 2006,” he said.

“Paul Hartley scored a penalty as we won 1-0 and it was probably the loudest cheer I’ve ever heard at Tynecastle. So much so that my family in Murrayfield heard it and wondered what was going on. It was the Hearts claiming their Champions League spot. It’s historic. That night was so full of tension. We got the penalty, it went in and the place exploded. Can we recreate that again?”

That evening became equally famous for then-Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov climbing on a wall in front of the directors’ box to celebrate. The roar brought by Hartley’s penalty is also one of Mackay’s highlights. “I remember working for Hearts World when we reached the Champions League qualifiers against Aberdeen. The noise from the stand that night still sticks with me. That’s the game that sticks out in my mind.”

Tynecastle’s redevelopment is a much more elaborate project than Leitch’s grandstand design back in the day. Edinburgh architect Jim Clydesdale is behind the rebuild having drawn the plans for the Wheatfield, Roseburn and Gorgie Stands in the 1990s. He will ensure all four sides of the new-look Tynecastle are in sync.

Just as important as modern facilities and generating extra revenue is the fact Hearts have now made an unshakeable commitment to staying at their spiritual home. Years of dicing with thoughts of moving to various new locations are now over, much to supporters’ relief. Former chairmen Wallace Mercer and Chris Robinson both explored the contemptible idea of taking Hearts out of Gorgie. Even Romanov looked at a possible move at one point. Current owner Ann Budge has delivered on her promise to keep the club where they belong.

“Wallace was brilliant for Hearts and a great leader for the club. He was a developer and a forward-thinker,” said Pilmar Smith, Mercer’s vice-chairman. “Maybe I was a bit backward in my attitude but I just wanted to stay at Tynecastle. We tried to get planning permission for Straiton but it wasn’t the area for Hearts and luckily it got turned down.

“I kept my head down at the time but I was against moving. I never wanted Hearts to play anywhere else but Tynecastle so there’s nobody more delighted than me that this new stand is happening. It was the best news I’d heard.

“I’m over the moon to see this at my late age. I was born in 1931 and Gorgie and McLeod Street have always been special to me. I went to Tynecastle High School and I started going to see the Hearts during the War when I would get lifted over the gate as a boy. I’ve watched the team through the War, through the Conn, Bauld and Wardhaugh years and I never wanted to go anywhere else.

“I was never out of Tynecastle because I had a flat quite nearby. I probably didn’t do my own business any good but I wouldn’t change things. I practically lived at Tynecastle for years and I’m still there boring people and trying to tell Craig Levein [director of football] about tactics!

“It’s unbelievable to get this huge job done. Ann Budge has done a fantastic job. People don’t realise the work which has gone into it.”

Speed was one of those who harboured concern for years that Hearts fans may have Tynecastle taken away against their will. Building a new main stand means the inevitable old one must go, but it is a sacrifice worth making.

“I think it’s a fantastic commitment to staying in Gorgie, staying in this part of Edinburgh. You can physically see it happening outside now and most Hearts fans want to remain here,” said Speed.

“The club have talked about moving away from Tynecastle so many times over the years and they’ve scared us. The prospect of not having your Saturday routine, or meeting your pals from school, everything we do on a matchday, they scared us many times because we thought that was going to be taken away.

“Mrs Budge and her people have actually delivered. They’ve made a firm financial commitment to putting roots down in Gorgie and I think it’s brilliant.”

Ian Cathro, the current head coach, will take charge of Hearts for Sunday’s historic occasion as followers young and old bid farewell to the old main stand in the final home game of the 2016/17 campaign.

“It’s one of these fairly unique moments football clubs have,” said Cathro. “You can only play the last game in front of that stand once. It makes whatever happens on Sunday a little more memorable. There will be a lot going on around it as we move on over the coming weeks and months. It is a bit of a landmark moment – the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.

“I certainly want to illustrate that on the pitch. We look forward to all the improvements and we’ll remember all the good moments here previously. We’re looking forward to being able to bring some bigger moments in the future.”