London Hearts Supporters Club

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<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Valdas Ivanauskas <-auth Alan Pattullo auth-> Nicolai Vollquartz
Aguiar Bruno [P Kapetanos 88] ;[N Liberopoulos 93]
39 of 066 Saulius Mikoliunas 61 E H

No record crowd, but supporters heed call to catch what might be only a fleeting glimpse of the promised land


WHAT did you do the night the Champions League came to Edinburgh, Dad? It at times seemed to border on emotional blackmail in the run-up to last night's match as Hearts sought to attract their biggest European crowd in history.

In the end they didn't manage to eclipse the attendance which welcomed the European Cup to Tynecastle in 1958, but the crowd of 32,459 still slam-dunked its way into the top two, out-doing last midweek's number for the match with NK Siroki Brijeg by more than 3,000. The fascination for the tournament is clearly swelling, even if the prediction that 40,000 might click through the Murrayfield turnstiles proved somewhat outlandish. But at this rate of increase Hearts will be playing before a crowd of 40,000 before long if only they can sustain their own interest in the competition. The events of a heartaching final few minutes last night render this a much less robust hope.

Of course, whenever we speak of the Champions League it is still incumbent to add a small footnote which mentions the fact it is not actually the Champions League, proper. The one with the cranked up organ and the Handel re-arrangement. And the fluttering tea-towel in the centre circle. But it might be soon you dared imagine, before the roof fell in.

Waiting to see how this turned out - "ach, I'll just bide my time until it's the real McCoy" - was not really an excuse for non-attendance. Edinburgh has waited a generation for even this preliminary stage. It might now wait another one.

Valdas Ivanauskas made the kind of clarion call that called to mind the plea for the dejected hippy masses to gather at places like Woodstock and the Isle of Wight. He was not so much sucking on a peace pipe as blasting on a trumpet. It was strange to see this man who once sat so sullenly behind Graham Rix and George Burley coming across like William the Conquerer on a white steed.

He was evangelical, even employing the under-hand tactic whereby pricks are applied to the conscience. "I don't doubt that every Hearts supporter will be there," he said, somewhat slyly. There was clearly a subtext, one which went something like this: simply watching this on television is not an option if you claim to be one o' Alex Young's bairns. Anyone who braces at the mention of Albert Kidd, whose eyes light up when talk comes around to Steven Pressley, as it does so every ten minutes or so in Gorgie grog-houses, were expected at Murrayfield last night.

Lapsed fans, new fans. Whatever the style of the shirt, whatever vintage. Bukta, Umbro. Valdas's finger was pointing at you.

And even those not touched, however faintly, by the maroon stick found themselves included in the Lithuanian's appeal, with denizens of Edinburgh's Georgian streets asked to put down their tea-time glass of sherry, slip on their Barbours and head to the west of the city. This was a matter of civic pride.

It's a drill these types know well, with one crucial alteration. The picnic hampers were to be left at home. The nourishment would be provided by the players, it was hoped. For long periods this notion seemed as fanciful as that which imagined 40,000 spilling into Murrayfield. But then Saulius Mikoliunas intervened at the start of the second half. Those who had proved resistant to Ivanauaskas' advances were now kicking themselves as another famous night for Hearts threatened to announce itself. Alas, they might have taken last night's sad conclusion to be some kind of justification for their absence.

Valdas had stopped short of urging the Hibs fans to come along and be part of the gang but he clearly hoped those stopping off in Edinburgh this festival month might be lured to Murrayfield. Perhaps they had been. The AEK fans sounded as though they were in some noisy production or other, leaping around in tandem and banging drums. With their heads.

Jimmy Murray, the old Tynecastle inside right, spoke this week of the thrill he got when playing in front of a large crowd. He remembered feeling the hot breath of the Hearts fans banked up behind him on terraces that were steep and strong in the Fifties.

It's what you wanted if you were a big-game performer. Last night was a litmus test for this new generation of Hearts players. On Sunday they suggested they were the type who revelled in such atmospheres but here they were required to prove it all over again. One hoped the answer was not that which we received hints of in the opening half, where Hearts struggled to match the speed and guile of their opponents. They endured this rocky spell, until it came again in the final stages. Roared on by the crowd, Hearts sought to preserve the hope that we might all meet here again in the group stages. But desperate hope is perhaps now all it is.

Taken from the Scotsman

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