Pasquale Bruno exclusive: I wish I had joined Hearts sooner
Italian to be guest of honour at Big Hearts Gala dinner
Even in a brief telephone conversation with Pasquale Bruno, the ongoing affection he feels for Hearts, some 22 years after he left Tynecastle, is inescapable.
The charismatic 57-year-old is speaking from his hometown of Lecce and is thrilled to report that a warm autumnal sunshine is beating down on his part of the world as he enquires about the weather in Edinburgh, where he will arrive a week on Thursday to spend a long weekend reminiscing about a relatively short but special period in his life.
Bruno may be preparing to swap the pleasant 20 degree heat in southern Italy for a chilly blast of Scotland in early November, but warm memories of the near two years he spent aiding a Hearts revival under Jim Jefferies and Billy Brown ensure Bruno is wholly enthused about his upcoming trip to Edinburgh.
The former centre-back will visit old haunts in the Capital (sadly Bar Roma, which he frequented, is no longer in existence) and attend the home game against St Mirren on Saturday week before being guest of honour at Big Hearts’ Gala dinner at Tynecastle later that evening.
“It’s been a few years since I was last in Edinburgh so I’m looking forward to being back in my old town to see old friends and remind me of some great memories,” Bruno told the Evening News. “I was last in Edinburgh four or five years ago, but it is hard to get there from where I live. When Gary Locke called me to ask if I would attend the event, straight away I told him ‘yes, I will be over.’ It is important first and foremost because it is a charity night to raise money for people who are suffering. I’m sure it will be a great night. I will be at the Hearts game during the day and it will be nice to put my feet on the pitch again.”
Bruno wishes he could have spent more of his peak years with Hearts. “The only regret for me is that I came to Scotland when I was 33,” he explained. “I wasn’t too old for it but I think my mind was probably preparing to leave football because I was near the end of my career. If I could roll back time, I would like to have come to Scotland when I was younger, perhaps 29 or 30, because I would have liked to have spent more years in Scottish football and enjoyed more of the lifestyle over there.”
Bruno arrived at Hearts aged 33 following a career in Italy in which he had represented Lecce, Como, Juventus, Torino and Fiorentina. He became notorious in his homeland for being something of an on-field hatchet-man and earned the nickname “The Animal”, something he has since expressed regret about as he has mellowed over the years.
Although there were a few naughty moments and a couple of red cards - against Aberdeen and Rangers (in the infamous match where Hearts finished with seven men) - Bruno’s time at Tynecastle was generally defined by his quality, composure and leadership in central defence, and occasionally in midfield, where he played in the memorable 3-0 victory at Ibrox in January 1996 when Allan Johnston scored his hat-trick. Despite the passing of more than two decades, Bruno recalls every little detail of his time in Gorgie, which kicked off 24 years ago this weekend with a 3-0 home win over Partick Thistle.
“It was a great time for me at Hearts,” he said. “I had some classic moments with some great people like Jim Jefferies and Billy Brown. The best moments were the first months when I came to Edinburgh. We were at the bottom of the league but then myself, Gilles Rousset and Hans Eskilsson came in and within a few months we were in the top half of the league. We won the first game against Partick Thistle, we drew away to Motherwell and we also beat Hibs at Tynecastle so the first months were great.
“We ended that season getting to the Scottish Cup final. Even though we got beat (5-1) by Glasgow Rangers, it was a great achievement to get there considering where we had come from at the start of the season.”
Bruno played regularly in the 1995/96 campaign and then continued to feature prominently until half-way through the following season which included the 4-3 Coca-Cola Cup Final defeat by Rangers and the arrival of his fellow Italian, Stefano Salvatori, who sadly succumbed to cancer two years ago.
After becoming a marginal figure in 1997 as his mid-30s body started to slow down, Bruno eventually left to return to Italy early in the 1997/98 season, meaning he missed out on the Scottish Cup triumph at the end of that campaign. “There was a possibility to stay at Hearts but my daughter had just started school and we wanted to go back to Italy to get her in a school,” he said. “I could have kept playing but I was 35 and I chose to put the family over football.”
Bruno’s last appearance for Hearts, incidentally, came in October 1997 in a testimonial match against Hibs for current manager Craig Levein. Bruno and Levein didn’t get to play alongside each other as the Italian arrived just weeks after the Fifer’s career-ending injury. He would later, bizarrely, play one game under Levein at Cowdenbeath, against Ross County in 1999, after he had already retired from the professional game following a brief stint at Wigan Athletic.
“I was back in Edinburgh for the weekend and I was in the Caledonian Hotel one Friday when I got a call asking if I wanted to play a match on the Saturday,” he laughs. “I asked if it was an amateur game but was told ‘no, it’s Cowdenbeath’. I said where is that? ‘Not far from here’. The game was against Ross County who were at the top of the league. I didn’t even have football boots - somebody loaned me a pair. I enjoyed it and they asked me to stay but I couldn’t because my family were back in Italy.”
The Italian remains involved in football by virtue of running his football school and also his own football agency. This brought him into contact with a former Tynecastle colleague earlier this month. “I met John Colquhoun, who is an agent like me, in London last week because my agency is starting a collaboration with his,” he said.Bruno then goes off on a tangent to enquire about another attacker from his time at Hearts. “I would like to see Wee Robbo again because he was a nice boy, a good man,” said Bruno, asking about the club’s record goal-scorer John Robertson, who is currently thriving as Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s manager. “What does he do now? Do you have the number for Robbo? Please send me it.”
Bruno has continued to pay close attention to Hearts’ fortunes over the past 22 years and is disappointed by their current struggles. “I’ve followed Hearts for a long time,” he said. “It was a big part of my life, like all my other clubs, Como, Juventus, Torino, Lecce, Fiorentina. The supporters were great with me - I’ll never forget them. I remember them singing ‘Bruno, Bruno, Bruno....’” he laughs.
There will no doubt be plenty more of that from those present in Tynecastle’s Gorgie Suite next Saturday night.
The Big Hearts Gala takes place from 7.30pm in Tynecastle’s Gorgie Suite on Saturday, November 9, and is aimed at raising funds towards the delivery of Big Hearts’ family programmes in 2020, and aiding the club’s efforts to support the most vulnerable in Edinburgh. Tickets and table packages are available from £60pp and can be booked by emailing
[email protected], visiting www.bighearts.org.uk or by calling 0131 603 4816.