London Hearts Supporters Club

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Heart and soul

Graeme Macpherson
Football Writer

WHAT it means to be a Hearts supporter is so ingrained in Gary Locke, it is a miracle he's ever of any use on the sidelines.

Locke was at Hampden on Sunday in his role as Paulo Sergio's first-team coach but, if he weren't in Hearts' employ, he would surely have been there anyway, in among the fans.

To describe the 36 year-old as "Hearts-daft" would be an understatement. He grew up supporting the team, played for and captained them, then returned as part of the coaching staff two years ago alongside mentor, Jim Jefferies. Even when Jefferies and Billy Brown were moved on earlier this season to accommodate Sergio's arrival, Locke survived the cull to ease the transition. If it ever crossed his mind to leave in August, or to join up with Jefferies when the veteran manager pitched up at Dunfermline Athletic, then he will be glad he never acted on it. Hearts are back in another Scottish Cup final and Locke is desperate to be a part of it.

As captain, he was stretched off after a few minutes of the 1996 final defeat to Rangers with a knee injury, and missed out against two years later with a similar problem as Jefferies' earned revenge. Locke collected the trophy at Celtic Park alongside Steve Fulton but his delirium was diminished as he hadn't played. In 2006, when Hearts won again by squeezing past Gretna on penalties, Locke was on the books of Kilmarnock.

His chance to win the trophy as a player has now gone – he retired three years ago – but doing so as part of the Hearts' backroom staff would be the next best thing. It is why May 19 is already circled in his calendar as the most important day of the year, a day when Hearts and Hibernian will lock horns in the first Edinburgh derby Scottish Cup final for 116 years.

"It would be a dream come true again," he admitted. "It was frustrating in 1998 not to be involved but, as a fan, it was great. I'd never seen Hearts win anything so it was fantastic. Obviously this one will be a big game for the city of Edinburgh, and I think my phone will probably not stop for the next five or six weeks with people wanting tickets. But the bottom line is we're just delighted to be there. It's going to be a difficult cup final. Hibs have picked up in the last four or five games and are looking okay in the league now. I'm sure they'll get a lift from getting to the final as well."

Ah, Hibs. Locke did his best to play down the rivalry, but you can be sure his heart has been racing ever since word reached him that the Easter Road club had beaten Aberdeen in the first semi-final to keep alive the prospect of an all-Edinburgh final. Hearts delivered their end of the deal by beating Celtic on Sunday, leaving the capital in a state of frenzy.

"You could sell this game out ten times over," added Locke. "The whole city of Edinburgh will be delighted that, for a change, it's an Edinburgh derby in the final, and everyone will be looking forward to it, but it's a wee bit away yet and I'd rather concentrate on the league games coming up, because they're important as well. Then the cup final will take care of itself."

Locke's childhood flashed before his eyes on Sunday when Celtic cancelled out Rudi Skacel's goal through a late Gary Hooper header. It took him instantly back to the 1988 Scottish Cup semi-final when Billy McNeill's Celtic equalised after 88 minutes then found an injury-time winner, breaking the heart (no pun intended) of the teenage Locke. Thankfully for him, Craig Beattie's late penalty on Sunday ended any prospect of deja vu.

"I was there that day," he recalled. "I was just speaking to Alan Carswell, the goalie coach, and we spoke about that game. I was there as a fan and Celtic scored late then scored again – and you're thinking 'I hope it doesn't happen again'. But the players showed tremendous character to dig it out.

"It was unbelievable. You go from probably the lowest point in the world with them equalising to seeing Beats' penalty hit the back of the net. It was a fantastic feeling. I was just delighted for everybody associated with the club – the fans who came through and gave us fantastic backing, and the players especially, because it would have been easy for them to crumble when Celtic equalised. But we showed the sort of character I feel that we've shown a lot of this season. And we're absolutely delighted that we managed to get the win."

Locke's exuberance seems in stark contrast to the brooding Sergio but it is a partnership that clearly works. "I'm just absolutely delighted for everybody, including Paulo," added Locke. "It was an emotional day for him as well. He's very thorough in his preparation and he's very humble as well. That just sums Paulo up. He's been fantastic for the club, and I'm really delighted for him. We stuck to our game plan on Sunday. We'd worked on it heavily on the training pitch and I think you see it worked. We knew we had to be well organised. That's one thing Paulo prides himself on – he likes his teams to be organised, and I thought tactically we got it right."

It's been a strange season for Hearts and Locke has experienced it all, from Jefferies being sacked and replaced by Sergio, to the ongoing problem of players not being paid on time. But a topsyturvy campaign could yet have a happy ending. "It's been a rollercoaster, I would say. There have been a lot of ups and downs but hopefully we can finish on an up come the end of the season."

Taken from the Herald

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