Footbal:Farewell to the fog on Tynecastle

Phil Gordon says that Jim Jefferies has the Hearts to end 35 barren years
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The Independent Online
Just across the railway embankment ferrying trains past the imposing presence of Murrayfield, which dominates the skyline of Edinburgh's west end, sits Tynecastle Park. The splendidly revamped home of Hearts is a fitting metaphor for the team: they too, are moving out of the shadows.

Today, a near full house of 18,000 will watch the Premier League leaders' home match with Kilmarnock. Not quite the 60,000 who trekked to the other side of the tracks yesterday to witness Scotland's rugby international with Australia, but certainly matching, if not eclipsing, Murrayfield for passion and commitment.

Like the rash of town-house developments which have grown around the line into Edinburgh, Jim Jefferies, the Hearts manager, is hoping he can provide a further chapter to the success story of the city's regeneration. The astute Jefferies has crafted a side from foreign bargain buys and emerging Scottish talent which is challenging Rangers' championship monopoly.

Edinburgh has not been home to the Scottish title since the Fifties when Hibernian won it twice and Hearts then copied that feat, the last coming in 1959-60 when the side included the talents of Alex Young, who went on to be dubbed the "Golden Vision" after moving to Everton.

Hearts' last trophy, the League Cup, came 35 years ago and the double disappointment of 1986 - when the title and the Scottish Cup slipped through their fingers inside seven days - seemed to signpost a miserable future, summed up by naming the fanzine Always the Bridesmaid.

Now, though, things are definitely looking up. Jefferies' team is playing an entertaining brand of football, pulling in an average crowd of 16,000 to Tynecastle. If the rise continues, the ground, which has undergone an pounds 8m facelift in the past two years, will be unable to cope with the demand. However, with the scars of 1986 not fully healed, you will not find anyone at the club even daring to talk about the possibility of winning the championship come next May.

"There's no point in looking ahead," insists Jefferies. "If we concentrate on what we are doing right now, then we'll be fine." What his side are doing is putting the pressure on the Old Firm. While Celtic were losing last week to Motherwell, and Rangers drawing at Aberdeen, Hearts also looked like slipping up at home to St Johnstone.

Then, in injury time, a penalty was awarded and the midfielder Colin Cameron coolly scored to the roars of Tynecastle's delirious crowd. As one fan, Roddy McDougall, explained: "In years gone by, we would have been the ones to mess it up and Celtic and Rangers would have got out of jail." Maybe the luck is changing after all.

McDougall, a lifelong Hearts fan but exiled in London, can only attend a dozen games a season but he was one of the many who invested in the club's successful share issue, the profits of which have underwritten Jefferies' teambuilding.

He has spent around pounds 2m on bringing Cameron, Neil McCann, David Weir and Jim Hamilton to the club. Cameron and McCann cost pounds 400,000 each form Raith and Dundee respectively, and both are on the fringes of the Scotland squad. Weir, a steal at pounds 250,000 from Falkirk, is already in it, and his display last week against France indicates he may be in Craig Brown's defence when the Scots return for the opening World Cup fixture next June.

In addition, there is the formidable presence of the former French international goalkeeper Gilles Rousset, the Italian midfielder Stefano Salvatori, once of Milan, and the summer forward signings Stephane Adam from Metz and Thomas Flogel from Austria Vienna.

There is a change too in attitude at Tynecastle. Jefferies explained: "If we had been in that situation against St Johnstone 18 months ago, we would not have won the game. We might even have lost it. The crowd might have gone against the team but they have shown a greater patience this season and it is paying off."

The playmaker Steve Fulton, once of Celtic and Bolton, admits that the crunch will come next month when Hearts must face both halves of the Old Firm. "That is going to be a crucial spell but... we have been beating teams who have been taking points off Celtic and Rangers. We have won 10 of our 13 games and there is no reason to think that we cannot put in a challenge for the title."