Greenock Morton v Hearts: The 33-year wait, weather Gods, Star Wars and the Italian trialist
One of the many consequences of the coronavirus pandemic is the away days fans are missing out on.
The SPFL resolution vote and the subsequent fallout involving failed league reconstruction meant that many of the Championship grounds were going to be no-go areas for a lot of Hearts fans – even if supporters were allowed in grounds.
However, if the team were to have dropped out of the top flight after 38 leagues games last campaign, then the likes of Gayfield and East End Park, Somerset and Palmerston would have been the destination for thousands of the Tynecastle faithful.
But one team, or one ground rather, more than any other could well have been the one which enticed supporters the most.
Cappielow, home of Greenock Morton, is one of the most iconic in Scottish football and where Hearts are heading this weekend.
Weather Gods and Star Wars
The ramshackle Main Stand which is, of course, full of character and then terracing on three sides. A large travelling support would have likely been housed in the ‘Wee Dublin End'. No barriers, no cover, just an expanse where, for 90 minutes, you are not so much exposed to the elements but sacrificed to the weather Gods. Almost as a way of saying ‘I am willing to suffer to see my team win’.
The most eminent feature of Cappielow isn't even in the stadium.
Not far behind the Wee Dublin End, the Titan Crane at James Watt Dock dominates the skyline. They look like a preserved Imperial AT-AT Walker, a relic of the Republic from the Star Wars universe re-imagined.
For Hearts fans, Greenock and Cappielow has been a location which has required looking up for a long time now.
A 33-year wait
The last competitive fixture between the two sides to take place at the ground 67 miles to the west of Tynecastle Park was more than 30 years ago during the 1987-88 campaign.
On Boxing Day of 1987, a team consisting of Henry Smith, Craig Levein, John Colquhoun, Gary Mackay and John Robertson, managed by Alex MacDonald and Sandy Jardine, drew 0-0 in front of more than 6,700 at Cappielow on their way to finishing second behind Celtic in the 10-team, 44-match Premier Division.
It was one of five games between the sides that season with four league meetings and a Scottish Cup fourth round clash at Tynecastle Park.
The man who opened the scoring in the first fixture was Hearts hall-of-famer John Colquhoun before John Robertson added a second from the penalty spot in a 2-1 win.
The match was in the midst of a run of eight wins in nine in the league, the other a draw with Rangers, which propelled the team forward as title challengers.
Looking at the team which faced Morton that September afternoon, you had the experience of Smith, Jardine, Walter Kidd and Brian Whittaker surrounded by a vibrant, youthful team packed with talent. Of the other seven players which included Dave McPherson, Colquhoun, Mackay and Robertson, Neil Berry was the oldest at 24.
Eight of the 11 started on that fateful day in Dundee on the final day of the 1985/86 season.
This was a team with so much title-winning potential.
A 3-0 win over Morton at Tynecastle in October – a Kenny Black brace and Mackay strike – was the 12th game in a run of one loss in 19 league games.
But it was that 0-0 draw at Cappielow just after Christmas which epitomised the frustration of pushing Celtic closer. Hearts would draw five in succession in December and remarkably seven in eight matches.
Come the season end, more than a third of Hearts games were a stalemate. Bizarrely, the 16 draws weren't the most in the Premier Division that campaign. Aberdeen recorded 17 and Hibs 19!
Just as they were thwarted by Celtic in the league, the Parkhead side bettered them in the Scottish Cup at the semi-final stage.
The cup run included a 2-0 win over Morton at Tynecastle in front of more than 13,500 spectators, Mackay and Sandy Clark the scorers.
Since then, just one competitive game has taken place between the sides, the last of the four league fixtures during the 1987/88 campaign.
The Italian trialist
Of the 40 other teams in the SPFL, it is only Edinburgh City Hearts have yet to play competitively during that 32 year period.
The most curious meeting note was the friendly in the summer of 1998, a 4-3 loss in Greenock when future Hearts player Kevin Twaddle scored a brace for Morton.
However, it was a goalscorer for Jim Jefferies’ side that may prompt some headscratching amongst the Tynecastle support of a certain vintage.
According to London Hearts, the comprehensive statistical website on all things Heart of Midlothian, Italian Simone Baldo scored twice in the game.
The 29-year-old would feature four times that pre-season, scoring four goals in total with other strikes coming against Cowdenbeath and Berwick Rangers.
It appears Baldo started his career at AC Milan, going on to play for five further teams in Italy. According to transfermarkt, he would retire the same year as being on trial at Tynecastle.
But as Hearts make the trip to Morton on Saturday, Mike Galloway’s brace in a 2-0 win at Tynecastle in March 1988 remains the last goals scored in a competitive meeting between the sides.
The match has been a long time coming but unfortunately fans won’t be able to take it in in person from the Wee Dublin End. Typically the weather forecast signals a dry afternoon.