I don’t think I’ll ever forget my 27th birthday. Not only did I spend the day looking around the immaculate gardens of Herefordshire’s Hampton Court Castle, but the days either side of it were a whirlwind of activity.
London, Dover, Wrexham and Castleton (in the Peak District) were all visited before my trip to Hampton Court, which was then followed up by a spur of the moment decision to see Edinburgh. My friend, Brad, was up there providing extra Fringe Festival cover for the restaurant he works for and he invited me to crash with him.
It proved very hard to turn down. A lot of my friends had recently visited Scotland for the first time and I’d yet to venture north of the border. Then when I found out Hearts v Celtic still had tickets available, the deal was sealed. I grabbed the cheapest seat available at Tynecastle and booked a 5.30am train up to Scotland’s capital the day before the game; plenty of time to see what Edinburgh had to offer.
My knowledge of Hearts – or Heart of Midlothian, to give them their full title – was pretty sparse before heading to Edinburgh. I knew the basics: they played in purple, Hibernian were their city rivals and they were nicknamed The Jambos.
Walking to their stadium, though, I began learning more about the team – and admiring them a lot as well. The first flash of that purple kit started things off. It was more maroon than purple. And I loved it! My favourite colour, on a t-shirt that featured charity logo Save The Children rather than a betting or beer company. Very refreshing.
Being at Tynecastle only increased my admiration. The whole place had a really good vibe – from the super-cheery programme seller, to the fans relaxing at Foundation Plaza outside the main stand. The stadium really impressed me too. I really liked the open concourse that allows you to look into the ground from behind the floodlights. And the seats were all maroon! What a beautiful sight.
The Hearts fans around me were a funny bunch as well. Because we were right behind the goal, every player could hear what was being shouted at them. I enjoyed the exchanges between the fans and home goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal in particular. Although, I still don’t know why they called him Bobby. He seemed to like it anyway, giving supporters a “wee” wink.
Since the inception of the Scottish Premiership five years ago, only Celtic have been crowned champions. That must make them an almighty scalp – especially when they roll into town and leave with nothing. And for that reason, I couldn’t be more happier to see the biggest upset possible in my first experience of Scottish football.
Credit to Celtic’s fans, they absolutely packed out the away end and were backing their team right until the end. Hearts’ supporters, however, were even more ferocious. Emotions were running high with opposition carrying such high stock, and it probably contributed to the number of tackles flying in. It stopped any great football being played, in truth, but that played into the hands of the home team.
Celtic had no real rhythm. Scott Sinclair looked their biggest threat but he was thwarted many times by a well-drilled home side. Whenever Celtic did get through their battling opponents, some key tackles and saves kept them out. Micheal Smith provided the most important of these – a last-ditch clearance off the line from Leigh Griffiths’ shot kept the score goalless going into the break.
Soon after the restart, the atmosphere went up a notch with the game’s only goal. Northern Ireland international Kyle Lafferty – scorer of many big goals in his career – produced a sublime volley from the outside of his left foot. From my position behind the goal, I honestly thought his shot was going wide. But he put that much spin on the ball that it rocketed past Gordon and into the bottom corner. Fantastic technique and a goal worthy to be the difference between the two sides.
Huge praise must also go to Uche Ikpeazu. The Hearts “big man” provided the ball for Lafferty’s volley, and his strength and power also kept Celtic’s defence busy right until the final whistle. He was on the floor at full-time having just chased down Gordon with all the energy left in his body. He optimised Hearts’ effort.
In the incident where Smith cleared Griffiths’ effort off the line, Hearts captain Christophe Berra got his studs caught in the turf and ended up receiving treatment for some time. The centre-half had been immense at the back, and I began to worry about Hearts’ second-half prospects without him.
However, as he tried getting to his feet, just a second-half without him would have been a blessing. The former Scotland international couldn’t stand up and still looked in visible pain as he sank back down to the ground. He was then stretchered off to anxious applause from the crowd.
It’s since emerged that he’ll be out of action for six months with a torn hamstring – a big blow for a man in his mid-30’s. I just hope it’s not the end of his playing career.
Being located in a vast and vibrant city like Edinburgh, it’s no surprise Hearts have such a huge backing, along with a few famous supporters as well. One of which actually passed away very recently.
Scott Hutchison was the lead vocalist and songwriter for Scottish indie band Frightened Rabbit, and took his own life last May after suffering from depression. I didn’t know Hutchison had died until the announcer mentioned it before kick-off. I figured I misheard him but when they played Hutchison’s rendition of the Hearts Song, things began to sink in.
I’m not massively into Frightened Rabbit beyond one song called The Woodpile, but that tune means a lot to me. I played it many times during my own period of depression five years ago. It takes me back to a time when I wanted to end my life. So obviously hearing the news about Hutchison shocked and saddened me.
His brother and Frightened Rabbit drummer, Grant, has since opened up and called for more action to be done to prevent people taking their own life. He was also at the Hearts-Celtic game and I’m so glad Hearts won for him. I just hope he knows how much their band – and Scott’s songwriting – has influenced people’s lives for the better. Mine included.
Hearts 1 – 0 Celtic
Ground rating: 8.5/10
Best Of The Rest
Edinburgh became one of my favourite cities over the two days I was there. Just getting out of Waverley train station, you’re treated to an amazing stretch of Old Town architecture that peaks with the castle at the end. And what a castle! It dominates the skyline from the top of dark, jagged cliffs.
Adjacent to the castle is a stadium of sorts. It’s for the military tattoo, while there’s also plenty of other grounds to scope out in the Scottish capital. From the concourse of Tynecastle Park, you can see Murrayfield – the home of Scotland’s rugby team. I decided to have a quick look around after the game and was very impressed with its scale.
Elsewhere, Hibernian’s Easter Road is visible from the top of Calton Hill, a place that’s been created from volcanic rock. When I headed up there, I had the very fortunate pleasure of seeing a rainbow, which provided many photogenic scenes on top of the already-stunning surroundings.
It would be interesting to visit Edinburgh when the Fringe Festival isn’t on. The streets were rammed full of performers, flyers and tourists – which I liked, but a less hectic time might have given me a different perspective of the city.
Even so, Brad and I enjoyed the free comedy being housed at various venues and the amazing backdrop, added with the culture bursting through the streets, made Edinburgh a place we both wanted to return to.