One of the Scottish grounds I had planned to revisit this season was Tynecastle Stadium in Edinburgh, home of Heart of Midlothian. I had been to Tynecastle before for an SPL match against Rangers. This was almost three years ago, before I had started the website, and I always thought the pictures I took on that day were not on par with the pictures I had taken at the other SPL stadiums. That was a shame since Tynecastle deserved better than that. I found it one of the better SPL grounds and I remembered the brilliant atmosphere as the Jambos beat the Old Firm side 2-1.
When Hearts were drawn against Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League, I immediately decided to try and get a ticket. I had expected the home game to be staged at nearby Murrayfield, since the demand for tickets would certainly outstrip the relatively small capacity of Tynecastle. I was at Murrayfield five years ago when Hearts, who had finished the 2005/06 season as SPL runners-up, were playing AEK Athens in the first leg of the third qualifying round of the Champions League. AEK were much stronger that night and the 2-1 defeat by the Greek side flattered the men from Edinburgh. It got worse in Athens where AEK won 3-0 and qualified comfortably for the Champions League group stages. At the time Tynecastle was deemed unsuitable for European football and Hearts had no choice but to stage the home game at Murrayfield. An impressive 32,459 attended, double the amount of fans present at the Spurs game.
I had expected the home game at Spurs to take place at Murrayfield as well but it was quickly announced by the club that the glamour tie would be staged at Tynecastle. I knew the club had invested a substantial sum in making sure the ground was UEFA compliant but I thought their own ground would be deemed too small. I do not know if it was possible at all to play at Murrayfield (the Scottish national rugby team were playing Italy two days later) but I was glad the decision was made to go for Tynecastle even though it would make it slightly more difficult to get a ticket. I bought my brief online on the first day of the general sale and the match was declared a sell-out later that day.
I left work a bit earlier on match day (2pm) to give myself plenty of time to travel to Edinburgh. After taking a few pictures of the film set of the upcoming Brad Pitt zombie film 'World War Z' around George Square in Glasgow I took the train from Glasgow Queen Street. I got off at Haymarket, the station closest to Tynecastle, from where I took a bus to Corstorphine in the west of Edinburgh to tick off a new Wetherspoon pub, The White Lady. After a curry, which arrived five minutes after my order, and a couple of pints, I jumped on the bus back to Haymarket where I made my way to the stadium on foot. Although I arrived at Tynecastle quite early I was disappointed to find out all programmes had sold out.
I had a ticket for the Roseburn Stand, which was shared with the Spurs fans, and my seat was about four rows up from the pitch, very close to the action on the park. The proximity to the pitch is one of the characteristics that make Tynecastle such a great stadium. As expected, the stadium was packed to the rafters. Some Hearts fans were optimistic beforehand, thinking they would be able to get a result at home. This was Tottenham's first competitive match of the season after all; their league game against Everton was postponed because of the London riots. Some believed manager Harry Redknapp would field a second-string team against the number three of Scotland and there was hope that Spurs may underestimate the Edinburgh side. Unfortunately for the Hearts fans, and Scottish football, neither was the case. Spurs simply blew Hearts away. My compatriot Rafael van der Vaart opened the score after only five minutes. Jermain Defoe and Jake Livermore added to the tally and after 28 minutes the tie was effectively over: 3-0 to the Londoners. There was a definite gulf in class and there was a feeling in the stands that nothing could be done against this side. Just like their fans, who even started to applaud Spurs goals and substitutes as the game went on, the Hearts players seemed a little too much in awe of the English team. The Jambos were lucky to be only trailing by three goals at half-time.
Things got slightly better for Hearts in the second half, i.e. they conceded only two goals and remembered that the purpose of football is that both teams try to score. Nevertheless goals by Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon ensured the return leg at Whiteheart Lane would only be a formality. Although the match was a disappointment in footballing terms (it was hardly a contest) the Hearts fans were in great form and a packed Tynecastle ensured a great atmosphere. I hope to be back here in the near future, the Edinburgh derby is still on my list.
For pictures of a Hearts SPL match at Tynecastle see this post.
Police had cordoned off Roberton's Bar, I am not sure if anything had happened here before I arrived.
Thursday 18th August 2011
UEFA Europa League play-off round (first leg)
Heart of Midlothian 0 Tottenham Hotspur 5
Goals: Van der Vaart 5, Defoe 13, Livermore 28, Bale 63, Lennon 78