The Hearts shirt collector - Ricardo Fuller, raising money for Tiny Changes, dodgy deals, the Holy Grail and 260 match-worn shirts
Ricardo Fuller’s time at Hearts was short but sweet. The Jamaican forward left an indelible mark of pace, power, wonderful technique and ability to light up a game.
Supporters of that generation will remember his solo goal against Motherwell fondly. Picking up the ball in his own half he sped past opponents, round the goalkeeper and fired into the net in a 3-1 win.
For one fan, however, Fuller’s presence at Tynecastle has led to something long-lasting, tangible and special.
The striker was indirectly responsible for a collection which should be the envy of all Hearts supporters.
Grant Young has, since 2002, amassed around 260 match-worn Hearts shirts with another 40-plus international tops of players to have pulled on the maroon and white or European kits worn against the Gorgie side.
And it all started with Ricardo Fuller and a gift from wife Carolyn.
Fuller and the spiral
"I’ve always liked collecting things, even since I was wee I collected cards from Weetabix packets,” Young told the Evening News. “I always got a programme when I was at the game so collected programmes and bits and pieces.
"But the first match shirt, Carolyn got me a birthday present, sponsoring Ricardo Fuller for the 2001/02 season. I got the shirt at the end of the season and that was me hooked, I thought ‘this is great’.
"From then on I picked up some bits from eBay, back when it was much easier. It spiralled from there.
"I’ve always sponsored a player every season after that. I worked away a bit in Jersey so had a bit of extra cash and would always time it if a player hadn’t been sponsored and Hearts would always do a deal. I got quite a few shirts that way.
"Replica kits are good but if a player has actually worn it there is something quite exciting about it.”
Querying how much the collection is worth led to some mental arithmetic. But the answer was clear when flicking through the rails of shirts in Young’s Edinburgh home. This collection is priceless.
It was as if all Hearts football kit memories, whether it was the first shirts ever bought, the tops you saw when collecting stickers and your all-time favourites had been collated and distributed in an explosion of maroon and white with smatterings of black and blue, yellow and the kaleidoscope goalkeeper kit of the 1990s, complete with those iconic sponsors, from Strongbow to Ukio Bankas.
The amassing of such a collection has been the work of nearly 20 years. It has taken everything from sponsoring players to a savvy awareness of eBay and Gumtree, building contacts to arranging deals which has taken him to a car park of a Fife Burger King.
"It just grew and grew,” Young, who admits he doesn't tend to wear football tops, said. “At the beginning you were picking up quite a lot but it has got more sparse. As you are doing that you are realising other people are doing it but you just build up contacts, it’s been amazing. Really good community.
“It gets harder. I see a lot of the guys now on social media collecting loads of different club shirts. For me it’s tunnel vision. It’s either Hearts or international shirts if they played for Hearts at the time. It’s more difficult to wheel and deal. You get traders' remorse but if it’s something really good then absolutely.
"I’ve done so many dodgy deals in the back of car parks, back of houses. A guy will be handing you over a carrier bag, you are handing over 50 quid.”
Days before meeting Young, the 53-year-old had finally secured the custard kit worn by the club in the 90s against Dundee after two and a half years of persistence. Yet, there are a number which remain on the wishlist.
“A 1956 Scottish Cup final shirt would be amazing," he said. “Anything pre-1950 would be incredible. A massive gap I’ve got is 60s to late 70s. I think people just wore them as training kits and chucked them in the bin.
“The Holy Grail? Robbo’s shirt from the 98 Scottish Cup final. The 1986 Scottish Cup final one, terrible memories, still scarred but would love one.”
Having been sitting on plenty of replica tops gathering dust, Young used the explosion of interest in retro kits in lockdown to raise more than £4,000 for charity Tiny Changes.
“I think everyone is affected by mental health,” he said. “One of my family members on my dad’s side had mental health problems. I knew through bands what Tiny Changes were doing. I did a bit of digging about and thought I’ve got loads of stuff lying upstairs which is literally going to lie in a crate and never going to go anywhere.
"I realised during lockdown there was a real appetite for Hearts shirts. I knew I could do a bit of good here. It worked out really well.
"It did brilliantly and on the whole people paid up for stuff and I think because they knew it was going to a really good charity, especially during lockdown, people were great.
"I’m not sure what my neighbours thought with people coming to my door every day with money and I’m handing over a bag!”
Young's focus is now on publishing a book on Hearts kits, a project which began in lockdown and will hopefully come to fruition for a release on a special anniversary.
"It's called Heart of Midlothian – 51 shirts. It will be 51 stories based on 51 shirts. For me, it’s a coffee table book where the pictures are more important than the stories.
"Hopefully it comes out 19th May, 2022.”