'Rab beat players, and then beat them again' - Eamonn Bannon remembers Hearts icon Bobby Prentice
"We've got Bobby, Bobby, Bobby, Bobby Prentice on the wing,” was the chant regularly heard from Tynecastle’s old shed throughout the 1970s.
Indeed, it still gets an occasional airing at present-day matches as supporters of a certain generation wistfully celebrate the talents of a mercurial left-winger who established himself as a cult hero by helping illuminate an otherwise bleak decade for Hearts.
Bobby Prentice - or Rab, as he became more commonly known - passed away on Monday, aged 65, prompting tributes from those who were treated to his dazzling old-school style of wing play between 1973 and 1979 - an era when Hearts failed to finish higher than fifth in the Premier Division and also suffered relegation twice.
"During some hard times for Hearts, Bobby Prentice brightened up a Saturday at Tynecastle,” Hearts historian David Speed wrote on the club’s website as confirmation of his passing was delivered yesterday morning.
Eamonn Bannon, whose early years in Hearts’ first team coincided with Prentice’s closing few years at Tynecastle, recalls “a classic mercurial left-footed winger, the type you never really see these days.”
“Rab basically beat players, beat them again and then beat them a third time,” Bannon told the Evening News. “He was exciting for the crowd but he could also be frustrating for the strikers who were waiting for the ball to come into the box. He could either be very, very good or very bad but when he was on form, he was exciting.
“He was quick, he took players on, made things happen and got the crowd on their feet. It’s something personally I love seeing when a winger takes on a full-back and gets a cross in, but it’s almost a skill that’s disappeared from the game. Rab had it in abundance.”
Prentice joined Hearts as a 19-year-old from Celtic at a time when Bobby Seith was the manager at Tynecastle. He also played under John Hagart and Willie Ormond, and was a team-mate of players like Jim Cruickshank, Jim Brown, Dave Clunie, Roy Kay, Kenny Aird, Donald Ford, Donald Park, Graham Shaw, Drew Busby and Jim Jefferies, who is currently recovering from a heart attack suffered on the same day Prentice passed away.
The winger helped Hearts to the Scottish Cup final in 1976, where they lost to Rangers, and a few months later he played his part in one of the club’s finest European nights as they defeated East German side Lokomotive Leipzig 5-1 at Tynecastle in the Cup Winner’s Cup.
In total, Prentice scored 20 goals in 240 appearances for Hearts, the team he supported as a boy, after his family moved from Lanarkshire to Dalkeith. After Hearts suffered a second relegation in three seasons, Prentice left Tynecastle in 1979 to move to Canadian side Toronto Blizzard.
Some 40 years on, Prentice is gone but certainly not forgotten by those who revelled in his maverick moments.