'Mascot' of 1956 Hearts triumph over Celtic recalls Scottish Cup victory
‘DUFF, Kirk, McKenzie, Mackay, Glidden, Cumming, Young, Conn, Bauld, Wardhaugh, Crawford,” John Halliday laughs.
It is not bad recall for a man who suffered a stroke less than two months ago and admits he still has “lapses” when trying to read back his phone number.
But then John’s memory of the 1956 Scottish Cup Final is probably clearer than most. Barring the 22 players from Hearts and Celtic who took the field that day - plus the referee and his assistants - the boyhood Jambo was the only other person on the pitch in front of 135,000 fans prior to kick off in Scottish Football’s showpiece occasion.
For years, the image of him as a smiling nine-year-old, cheekily grinning down the photographer’s lens as he shakes hands with hero Willie Bauld has been kept in a box at John’s home in Aberdeen.
The title of Hearts mascot is one John, now 72, is proud to carry - the boy who lead the Jambos on to the pitch in their last cup final win over Celtic - even though it was one he acquired unofficially.
Moments before that striking picture was captured, John was in the stands, perched up on a biscuit tin to peer over the wall at Hampden next to dad James.
As the teams emerged from the tunnel into that cauldron of noise, John was off, vaulting the barrier and sprinting beyond the line of police to reach the famous turf.
He joked: “I’m the son of a coal miner, it made me determined and that day, I was going on the pitch no matter what.”
“I used to have to take a biscuit tin when I went to Tynecastle so that I could stand on it and see the pitch over the crowd, but that day, I took it to Glasgow and packed my kit and my boots inside.”
John continued: “There was a policeman sitting on the wall, I think he must have known what I was about to do because he turned and looked the other way. I was too fast for the rest of them.”
“Willie Bauld was my hero, I was determined I was going to meet him, so as soon as I got on the pitch, that was where I went.”
Whatever John said to Bauld - he admits he can’t be sure if the Tynecastle legend heard him - it obviously worked. A double from Ian Crawford and a late third from Alfie Conn were enough to hand the Club their first Scottish Cup in 50 years.
However, despite his affection for the man who spearheaded the ‘Terrible Trio’ John had another star of that Hearts team to thank for being at the match to begin with.
Growing up in Loanhead, he became a childhood friend of Alex Young - still a teenager when he lined up alongside his teammates at Hampden - and recalled nervously “chapping the door” of the Hearts’ legend’s home to get a ticket for the final.
“I was only nine and my dad made go up to Alex’s door, speak to his mother and get a few tickets for the two of us,” he recalled.
“I used to play football with Alex, even when he was playing for Hearts, he would have time for a kickabout in the park.
“When I got on to the pitch, he was shaking, I had never seen anyone so nervous before. I remember tugging his jersey and he looked down and manage to mumble ‘John, what are you doing here?’”
He added: “It must have been the first words he’d managed all day.”
Programme notes from Hearts next league game - a home meeting with Raith Rovers a week after the final - noted police smiled “benevolently” as John charged onto the field, proclaiming he “certainly brought good luck”.
But while he was the Jambos’ lucky charm on cup final day 63 years earlier, John will be confined to watching from home this weekend after suffering a stroke during knee surgery following a ski accident in March.
“There are a few things I still struggle with, I’ve had to read the phone number back a few times to get it right,” John said.
“But the team from that match, I could recite that no matter what happened. After the stroke, that was what I wanted to remember. I’ll never lose the memory of that day.”
In later life, John has gone from escaping the confines of the stands to designing them. As chief executive of architecture firm Halliday Fraser Munro, he has been involved in projects to renovate and modernise the home of arch rivals Hibernian and more recently drew up plans for Aberdeen’s prospective new home in Kingsford.
“I know Stewart Milne - the Aberdeen owner - quite well,” John said.
“When I was watching the semi-final between Celtic and Aberdeen, I couldn’t tell anyone that I wanted Celtic to win, so we could have Celtic and Hearts in the final again.”
John got his wish and now he is backing Hearts to pick up their first Scottish Cup trophy in seven years, claiming Craig Levein’s charges can cause an upset at the national stadium.
He said: “I should really be in Glasgow, I wish I could have been there but I’m just not able.”
“I’ve got some money on 3-1 Hearts, it has got to happen, hasn’t it?”
“Celtic are a good team, but I’m optimistic that Hearts can beat them.”