STANDING on the Tannadice touchline around 4.40pm on Saturday, Dylan McGowan wouldn’t have been aware that he was about to bridge more than 30 years of history. Not since Chris and John Robertson graced the same pitch for 17 minutes against Queen of the South in February 1982 had two brothers played together competitively for Hearts.
McGowan was preparing for a senior debut which would carry double significance.
The young Australian trotted on to the field to replace Mehdi Taouil and play beside his elder sibling, Ryan, six minutes from the end of the match. It was a landmark moment. Brothers featuring in the same team in competitive games was once common in football – at Tynecastle as much as anywhere else – but expansive scouting systems and today’s sophisticated youth academies make it a much rarer occurrence in modern times.
The McGowans have the potential to become cornerstones of Hearts’ future, with Ryan in the latter stages of negotiations over a new contract, having rejected Rangers’ advances only last month. Dylan, who at 21 is two years younger, is gradually edging his way into the plans of manager John McGlynn. Both are products of the Riccarton youth academy having initially been plucked from their native Adelaide.
Their appearance together saw them follow in the footsteps of some iconic siblings in Gorgie. None more so than the legendary Bobby Walker, who played for Hearts with his brother Alex at the turn of the 20th Century. Alex arrived from Bainfield Athletic in February 1899 and was a winger and a junior internationalist. But he could not live with the reputation of his brother and joined Motherwell in 1901 for a fee of £40 in the days when salaries were £4 a week.
Even further back, Hugh and John Wylie featured in Hearts’ first-ever team and were joined by the likes of Hugh and John Sweeney, John and Peter McBeath and George and Robert Barbour. One of the most fascinating stories surrounding brothers involves the three Hogg siblings, George, William and John. George played 450 times for Hearts, winning the Scottish League twice and Scottish Cup twice. He was captain of the team which beat Hibs in the famous 1896 Scottish Cup final at Logie Green. William and John played beside him at different spells – all three never featured together – whilst another brother, James, played for Hibs.
However, the lives of George and William after their Tynecastle playing days are well worth mentioning. They emigrated together to Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, where they ran a gold mine which still and is now owned by a multi-national company. All the Hogg brothers were miners from Mossend, near West Calder, a trade which ran in the family. The British Empire was expanding as the Boer War ended in 1902 and, as experienced miners, they took the opportunity to ply their trade abroad.
The Walkers by then had featured together, with Bobby in particular making an indelible mark at Tynecastle. To this day he is considered one of Hearts’ greatest ever players and was regarded as being years ahead of his time in terms of ability. Brothers David and George Wilson, from Lochgelly, then played for Hearts in the Scottish Cup final in 1906. George scored the only goal of that game against Third Lanark.
Before he was killed in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, Duncan Currie played beside his brother Robert for Hearts. There were three brothers in the same Tynecastle team during season 1922/23, when John, Tom and Willie White featured together. But thereafter it gradually became less common for siblings to play in the same side, a fact not only evident at Hearts but throughout football in general.
“In the early days of football, brothers playing for a team was very common,” explained David Speed, the official Hearts historian. “They were all pals, either from the same street, church or another institution. There are a few names at Tynecastle that people won’t recognise, such as the Wylie brothers and others who were in the club’s first-ever team. When professionalism started in 1893, scouting became a bit more professional and players would travel to play for different clubs. Brothers started to thin out after that. However, Hearts still had quite a few notable ones over the years.”
Indeed, only three sets of brothers have featured competitively for Hearts since the early 1930s. In season 1931/32, John and Tom O’Neill from Coatbridge were in the same team. Tom, a rugged left-back who played nearly 150 games in total, had arrived from Bellshill Athletic in 1926 but was forced to retire from football in April 1934 after contracting tuberculosis. John, the younger of the two, was a right winger who was on the fringe of the squad until his release in April 1933.
Then came the O’Donnells in 1940. Brothers Frank and Hugh, from Buckhaven in Fife, were involved in an Emergency Cup tie against Airdrie on April 1, 1940. Both men previously played with Celtic, Preston North End and Blackpool. Frank also represented Scotland.
The Robertsons, then, were something of a rarity for Hearts when they played beside one another for those brief few minutes over 40 years later. Chris, the elder of the two, scored in that 4-1 win over Queen of the South as 17-year-old John made his debut as a substitute. It proved to be the making of a legend as John went on to become Hearts’ record goalscorer.
Another three decades would pass before siblings could again grace the same pitch in maroon shirts. This time, they hail from the other side of the globe but Ryan and Dylan McGowan made history on Saturday and carry the added bonus of being home-grown players who have passed through Hearts’ youth academy.