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Bobby Kirk

Published on Tuesday 2 February 2010 20:26

Footballer and physiotherapist

Born: 12 August, 1927, in Arniston, Midlothian.

Died: 1 February, 2010, in Edinburgh, aged 82.

BOBBY Kirk was a life-long Hearts fan who lived the dream and got to wear the famous maroon jersey. He wore it with distinction, too, on 364 occasions during eight of the greatest seasons in the Edinburgh club's long history.

Born in the Midlothian coal belt, in Arniston, Kirk's talent was evident for the Gorebridge Public Schools team. From there, he advanced through various youth and juvenile teams before signing for home-town team Arniston Rangers as a teenager, just as the Second World War was ending. The young full-back quickly caught the eye of the junior Scotland selectors – the first player from his club to be so honoured – and this attracted the attention of the senior clubs.

Dunfermline Athletic, then languishing in Division B of the Scottish League, moved fastest, and in the autumn of 1947, the 20-year-old was signed. He spent a few months as a provisional signing, continuing to play for Arniston, before being called-up to East End Park early in 1948. He quickly broke into the first team, going on to make 180 appearances for the Pars, scoring 12 goals. These matches included a losing Hampden appearance in the League Cup Final, in October, 1949, Dunfermline going down 0-3 to the rampant East Fife team of the time.

Kirk continued to serve the Pars with distinction until the end of the 1952-53 season, when neighbouring Raith Rovers paid 750 to secure his services and take him into Division A of the Scottish League.

He was instantly at home in the higher division and in two seasons at Stark's Park, he showed a consistency which persuaded Hearts boss Tommy Walker to take him to his boyhood heroes at the start of season 1955-56, paying Raith 2,500 for his signature.

Kirk was now 28 and at his playing peak. He made his first team debut on 13 August, 1955, in a 2-0 League Cup win against Partick Thistle at Firhill. Bobby Parker and Tam Mackenzie had been seemingly set in stone as the Hearts' full-backs, but by the end of the season, Kirk was a shoo-in for either the number 2 or 3 jersey, with the two long-serving veterans disputing the other one. Kirk and Mackenzie were the full-backs on 21 April, 1956, when Hearts ended 50 years of hurt by beating Celtic 3-1 to take the Scottish Cup back to Tynecastle. Kirk played no small part in the victory, by blunting the considerable threat of Celtic's talismanic Irish left-winger Charlie Tully.

That success, following as it did on the heels of the League Cup win of the previous season, marked out Walker's new Hearts as a genuine threat to the Old Firm duopoly. The following season, Kirk was a bulwark of the Hearts team that chased Rangers all the way before losing out by only two points in the league championship race.

Then came season 1957-58, arguably the greatest in Hearts' history. They won the league by 13 points from Rangers, scoring 132 goals in the process. This qualified the club to appear in Europe for the first time, where the team, including Kirk, lost to Standard Liege of Belgium.

Season 1958-59 saw Kirk add a League Cup winner's medal to his collection, Hearts thrashing Partick Thistle 5-1, but Rangers finished two points clear of Hearts in the league title race. The following season saw the League Cup retained, in a 2-1 win over Third Lanark, with Kirk picking up a second winner's medal that season as Hearts edged out Kilmarnock in an engrossing title race, with Rangers 12 points adrift in third.

Season 1960-61 was a disappointing one for Hearts. Their second European foray ended in defeat at the hands of Portugal's Benfica, but in October, 1961, Kirk was back for his fifth Hampden final, Rangers winning the League Cup, but only after a replay.

That 1961-62 season was to be his last as a first team regular with the club. He made his 392nd and final competitive appearance on 21 April, 1962, in a 2-3 Tynecastle defeat to Falkirk, and his 364th and last first-team appearance in a 5-0 win over Ross County, at Victoria Park, on an end-of-season Highland tour.

During these games, he scored 12 goals for the club, all from the penalty spot, with the first and last coming in matches against first club Dunfermline. He was never booked.

International honours fell regularly on Tynecastle during Kirk's years with the club, and he saw team-mates Dave Mackay, John Cumming, Alex Young, Alfie Conn, Jimmy Wardhaugh and Jimmy Murray capped by Scotland. He did earn one Scotland B cap, in a 1-4 Villa Park loss to England in February 1957. Only Ronnie Simpson and Motherwell's Ian Gardiner of the eight uncapped players in that side went on to gain full caps – albeit Simpson had to wait ten years for his – but the ultimate call never came Kirk's way.

Already, he was planning for a future after football and in 1961, he qualified as a physiotherapist. In his final Hearts' season, 1962-63, he happily dropped into the reserves to help bring through the youngsters, before moving on to a successful spell in charge of Gala Fairydean, with whom he won two Scottish Qualifying Cups and a few East of Scotland League trophies.

He returned to Tynecastle in 1967 and for the next four years he looked after the young players in the club's third team. By then, he had established a successful physiotherapy practice in Church Hill, Edinburgh, and after finally severing his Tynecastle ties, he wielded the "magic sponge" for a number of East of Scotland senior and junior clubs, most notably Linlithgow Rose, with whom he was connected for 20 years.

Like so many of his contemporaries, Bobby's final years were blighted by Alzheimer's, but not even this terrible disease could affect his love of Hearts. He lies 25th in the list of players with the most Hearts' appearances, sixth in the list of full backs.

He went about his business in a quiet, efficient and unflustered manner, which perhaps explains his absence from the Hearts Hall of Fame. One of the less-celebrated legends of the club's Golden Age, perhaps, but by no means one of the lesser players, he is survived by his wife Tina and two sons.

Taken from the Scotsman

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