Remembering Slavia Prague's last visit to Scotland and the screamer that saw Hearts defeat them

Hearts 4, Slavia Prague 2 (4-3 on aggregate); Uefa Cup first round, second leg; Tynecastle Park, Edinburgh; Monday, September 30, 1992.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 3:28 pm
Glynn Snodin (not pictured) fires a ferocious free kick past the stranded Zdenek Janos to give Hearts a dramatic late win in 1992. Picture: SNS

Slavia Prague, having knocked out Premier League runners-up contenders Leicester City, travel to Ibrox tonight looking to make the quarter-finals of the Europa League after a 1-1 draw in the first leg. The match in Govan represents the first time the Czech side have played competitively in Scotland since the early-90s. For any Hearts supporters reading who were around at the time, that match needs no further introduction – but for those of you too young (or too not-yet-born) to remember…

Joe Jordan’s side faced off against their European opponents in the first round of the Uefa Cup having finished as runners-up to champions Rangers in the 1991/92 season. The 1-0 away defeat in the first leg was far from ideal, requiring Hearts to either shut out their visitors for 120 minutes (and then win on penalties) or win by a two-goal advantage to progress, but considering Slavia’s status as pre-tie favourites it was far from a disaster either.

Things started off promisingly enough with Gary Mackay opening the scoring after ten minutes with an excellently constructed team goal. The midfielder started the move which finished with him running onto a pass from John Robertson and firing the ball into the corner of the net. A packed Tynecastle was rocking but the air was almost immediately let out of the place when Jaroslav Šilhavý – now the Czech Republic national team boss due to square off against Scotland at this summer’s Euros – equalised for the visitors.

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Hearts would not be knocked off stride as they continued charging at the spooked away side. Despite having quality within their ranks which, in the words of Jordan, would have made them contenders to reach the semi-finals of the competition, they found themselves behind again on 21 minutes when Ian Baird headed home from an Eamonn Bannon cross. The veteran Bannon would be the creator once again as Jordan’s men took the lead in the tie just before the half. Craig Levein was the recipient this time as he found the corner with a well-placed header.

Everything seemed to be going their way when Martin Pěnička was given his marching orders and Slavia were reduced to ten men before the hour mark. However, the disadvantaged interlopers displayed their determination to push themselves back in front on away goals in the 65th minute. Pavel Kuka – the striker who would later go on to be one of the stars of Czech Republic’s Cinderella-story march to the Euro 1996 final – raced on to a through ball before calmly lifting it over the head of the advancing Henry Smith.

Now for the truly memorable part. Needing another goal to send them through, Hearts were awarded a free-kick over 25 yards from goal with ten minutes left to save their European campaign. Up stepped Glynn Snodin – an otherwise forgettable Tynecastle full-back who played just one season in an average team before returning south of the border.

In the words of the now-61-year-old Yorkshireman: “I had been hitting the bar with a few shots in games before that and I was starting to think 'I just wish one would go in'. When we got the free-kick, Eamonn Bannon joined the Prague defensive wall and I remember thinking 'just aim for Eamonn's shiny head'. I knew I only had one chance at it because time was running out and I was thinking to myself 'just make this count'. I hit it perfectly into the top corner, and I actually hit it so hard that it struck the stanchion just inside the post and bounced back out.”

The ground exploded with noise at what would ultimately prove to be a fitting end to a classic European tie. Such was the excitement on show in those 90 minutes that the club released a VHS copy of the full match for supporters to buy – which, in hindsight, should have been a warning to an impressionable, then-six-year-old writer that this sort of thing didn’t happen very often (but what a way to be introduced to European football!).

The adventure wouldn’t last much longer. The Jam Tarts were drawn against Standard Liege in the second round. Though the Belgians won just 2-0 over the two-legs, it was a professional and thoroughly assured victory as they completely took the crowd and chaos-factor out of the first leg at Tynecastle before legendary playmaker Marc Wilmots killed the tie in the return fixture.

Nevertheless, minor disappointments will always be washed away by the tides of time, while exhilarating highs in the manner of Snodin’s thunderous brilliance live on for decades. Even though the former Leeds United star’s career in Edinburgh would be brief, he still views this moment as one of the most cherished in his 20-year football career.

As he told the Evening News in 2011: "It was such a special night for me. I had been playing in England for all those years but even though I could have played in Europe with Sheffield Wednesday, English clubs were banned at the time because of the Heysel disaster so I didn't get the chance. It was always my ambition to play in Europe and thankfully I got that chance with Hearts. I've still got the video of it as it was one of the most special evenings in my career.”

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