London Hearts Supporters Club

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Valdas Ivanauskas <-auth Alan Pattullo auth-> Nicolai Vollquartz
Aguiar Bruno [P Kapetanos 88] ;[N Liberopoulos 93]
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Era when 40,000 fans flocked to Tynecastle to learn about European football

PERHAPS emphasising how long ago it is since Hearts hosted almost 40,000 supporters for a European tie is knowledge of when the side were next asked to play.

The revising of the fixture list is now almost taken as read when a Scottish club participates in Europe in midweek, with Thursday night fixtures automatically leading to a Saturday league game being put back to a Sunday.

But in 1958, when Hearts made their debut in what was then the nascent European Cup against Standard Liege, the team were required to dust themselves down and head for Ayr the very next night for a League Cup quarter-final first-leg clash.

What remains Hearts' record attendance for a European home crowd of 39,000 crammed into Tynecastle to watch the 9 September fixture. The next night a not unimpressive 14,000 came to see how Scotland's European representatives got on back in the humdrum world of domestic football.

It was an era of swollen crowds and high expectations, remembers Hearts' inside right Jimmy Murray. He can still recall the hot breath of the Tynecastle crowd on his neck against the Belgian champions, who had been regarded as an unknown quantity when the draw was made. By the time they arrived in Edinburgh rather more information had been gathered about them. Liege won the first leg at home 5-1, thanks mainly to a stand-out performance from the African forward Bonga-Bonga.

But this didn't discourage the Tynecastle support. They came in their droves to Gorgie for the second leg less than a week later as European football arrived in Gorgie for the first ever time.

"You have to remember, European competition was still very much in its infancy," said Murray. "Hibs had started if off, though there were not many teams in the competition then. The fans were intrigued by who Liege were, despite the first-leg result. We didn't know much about them either. This was before coaches gave you detailed instructions of your opponents, and before you had videos.

"I don't imagine anyone [in the Hearts staff] had gone over to watch them either. We often played to sell-out crowds at Tynecastle, European tie or not," continued Murray. "We had great players, men of the calibre of [Dave] Mackay, [Willie] Bauld, [Alex] Young and [John] Cumming."

Hearts rewarded the loyalty of their fans with a 2-1 win, Bauld grabbing a double. The following day a team containing only three changes defeated Ayr 5-1 after a no doubt uncomfortable bus journey through to the west of Scotland. The aches and pains of the previous night were off-set by an awareness that Hearts had arrived on the European stage.

Although their debut campaign had been truncated, it had given the players a thirst for more. A Hearts team that still included Murray experienced continental football again two years later after another Scottish title win, although once more it was brief. Benfica won 5-1 on aggregate, in front of 29,000 - a home European attendance that wasn't bettered until last month when Hearts played NK Siroki Brijeg at Murrayfield.

The new sensation of European football proved an enduring one. Even now Murray can recall the nights when Tynecastle trembled while hosting these exotic visitors. "All the lads revelled in it," he says. "Personally, the bigger the crowd the more I enjoyed it. Mind you, at the time, you had little option - they were mostly big crowds."

Hearts hope tonight's tie with AEK Athens will see the club get near the record set 48 years ago. The Murrayfield attendance is unlikely to exceed it, while there is no doubt that the rugby stadium will be a poor relation to Tynecastle in the atmosphere stakes. Murray was at the friendly against Osasuna prior to the season and declared himself impressed with the facilities but underwhelmed by the atmosphere generated.

"Even if they reach 40,000 at Murrayfield, it won't seem the same as against Standard Liege," he said. "The fans are so spaced out, with vast empty tiers. But I'll be there against AEK Athens. Maybe we should occupy two seats each to make it look better."

However many turn up, at least Hearts won't be expected to play again tomorrow evening. Falkirk on Saturday back at Tynecastle is soon enough.


Taken from the Scotsman

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