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Jim Jefferies 2nd <-auth Aidan Smith auth-> Iain Brines
11 of 016 Rudi Skacel 32 ;David Templeton 52 L SPL H

Stylish Cruickie was the Lev Yashin of 1970s Scottish fitba'
When I heard the sad news that the great Hearts goalkeeper Jim Cruickshank had died, there was only one place to go for corroboration of his early 1970s heroics.
My good friend, another Jim, was the biggest Jambo I knew back then. In school playground kickabouts - random stretch of tarmac, limitless number of players as long as sides were even, Stead & Simpson stackheels all round - he always volunteered to go in goal. Cruickie, you see, was his idol.

You supplied your own personal, customised match-commentary in those thrilling lunchtime games, describing incredible technique ("Beats one man, two, three ... six!") and occasionally impersonating the professionals ("Alan Gordon ... lays it off to Alex Cropley!"). But every time Jim threw himself onto the hard ground, risking grazes and trouser-rips, he would shout: "Cruickie saves!"

"The greatest goalie I ever saw," confirmed this ex-policeman and the first of my old school year to retire, which makes us feel bloody old, but at the same time privileged to have watched football in Cruickshank's era.

"Do you remember that song?" "Which one?" I said. "There were so many football chants in the early 1970s, and so many great ones." "True," said Jim, "but none as great as: 'We all agree/Cruickshank is better than Yashin/Donald Ford's better than Euseb-ay-oh/ And the Hibees are in for a thrashin'."

Jim said that in his memory - biased, but usually a reliable department of record - Cruickshank was the first Scottish 'keeper to adopt the great Soviet Union goalie Lev Yashin's all-black ensemble. "I don't know how many times I asked Thorntons sports shop when they'd be getting boys' sizes in. They never ever did."

My pal knows that my early 1970s recall is pretty good, too, so there's no point in him embellishing or embroidering Hearts' achievements. "To be honest, they weren't a great team back then," added Jim, "but they would have been a whole lot worse if Cruickie hadn't been there." Cruickie saved! Again and again. "His greatest feat, one that will always be talked about, was a triple save from Hibs' Joe Davis - a penalty and two shots on rebound. That was 1967, and I think I saw it, but it may have been a bit before my time and what I have in my head is like an artist's impression, assembled from the descriptions of older fans who were there."

Jim's own special memories of his No.1 are drawn from two games against Jock Stein's all-conquering Celtic. "In a game at Tynecastle Cruickie did something truly astonishing, clawing away a shot from Harry Hood that was zinging into the top corner. A Celtic fan standing next to me - this was pre-segregation - was so gobsmacked he dropped his half-bottle of whisky on the ground and it smashed.

The save was at the far end but I've always thought that if it had been our end, Cruickie could have jumped the wall and saved the bottle as well.

"That was the best save I ever saw him pull off but his greatest-ever performance was in a Christmas Day match at Parkhead. Celtic eventually won 3-2 but Cruickie was out of this world - his reactions were incredible. A great table-tennis player, apparently, and it showed that day."

With his moustache and prowling gait, Jim Cruickshank was a big figure in the Scottish game and probably should have been even bigger, winning more Scotland caps. Jambo conspiracy theorists claim this was because he didn't play for one of the Old Firm and quote the example of Ronnie Simpson, whose international career began after he left Hibs for Celtic.

But, for one Jambo, he was big enough. Jim begins a story about Cruickie appearing to gift a struggling Hearts side a goal and a draw at Boghead while playing for Dumbarton - then quickly scratches it. He refuses to believe his always-and-forever hero would do such a thing, no matter that his Tynecastle years ended unhappily. After all: Cruickie saves!

"If he forgot Hearts for whatever reason, some of us never forgot him. We've had some great goalies since - Antti Niemi, Craig Gordon, etc. But every time the opposition have a shot tipped over the bar or round the post there's a few of us at Tynecastle who always say: 'Good save, but Cruickie would have held it'."

Taken from the Scotsman

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