Hearts say goodbye to a stand that has seen it all

If Archibald Leitch was looking down from his perch in the High Stand yesterday he will surely have been satisfied with his work.
Isma Goncalves scores the Hearts equaliser against Aberdeen in front of Archibald Leitchs stand. Picture: SNSIsma Goncalves scores the Hearts equaliser against Aberdeen in front of Archibald Leitchs stand. Picture: SNS
Isma Goncalves scores the Hearts equaliser against Aberdeen in front of Archibald Leitchs stand. Picture: SNS

After 103 years and 2,253 competitive matches, the stand he designed in difficult circumstances was consigned to history with Hearts’ 2-1 defeat to Aberdeen.

Harry Wattie, later to lose his life on the first day of the Somme, scored the first goal in front of it in a 2-0 home win over Celtic in August 1914, Anthony O’Connor, sadly for Hearts, headed in the last – a winner for the visitors. Prior to the match, those wanting to pay their respects formed in small half circle groups on the pavement opposite. It almost felt like the aftermath of a celebrity death in London, when crowds gather in muffled silence outside the unfortunate person’s home to lay flowers. No one seemed to quite know what to do.

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From one master builder to another; Aberdeen owner and construction magnate Stewart Milne strolled past, perhaps wondering what the fuss was about. “Och, it’s just a building. I could fit aboot 30 generic new builds into this footprint.”

Fortunately it isn’t housing that is replacing this wonderful old building. Rather it’s another new stand, one that would surely earn Leitch’s approval. Not that his first originally met with the club’s, coming in wildly over-budget and causing a rift between the architect and Hearts. But after 103 years of excellent service, we can surely now let bygones be bygones.

So what do you do to mark the end of a structure? Well, take some selfies of course.

They came from far and wide to do so. Not everyone was interested in capturing images of themselves standing grinning with the stand in the background, as modern mores demand.

Alan MacKellar, 74, a supporter since the mid-1950s, had driven two hours from Dunoon: “Plus twenty minutes on the ferry”.

He used an old-fashioned camera to capture images of the incongruous-looking chimney and the idiosyncratic kink in the stand towards the Roseburn end, soon to be lost forever.

He sits –“actually I stand” – in what used to the enclosure area, right behind the home dugout. “My wife has warned me not to bring any bricks home or anything like that,” MacKellar added.

Another supporter, Alex Stewart, simply stood drinking in the scene. “I always found it a bit gloomy,” said the 67 year-old. “The fans made the atmosphere but the structure itself, I always felt, was a bit sinister – those wee nooks and crannies, which few people have seen.

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“It would be different if they had to take it down for health and safety. But it’s good and positive that it’s because a new stand is coming.”

He used to sit high up in the Wheatfield stand opposite. “You were looking over the castle in the distance and all that,” he said. “When there was a lull in the game I used to look across the Edinburgh skyline and count the cranes; there was a lot of developing work on Lothian Road.

“When I came back for the next game I would see if there were more cranes or less cranes, as jobs were being completed and other ones were starting.”

Now the view’s gone. Or least it will be by the time Hearts next line up for competitive action at Tynecastle, when the old main stand will have been replaced by a 6,000-seat colossus, due to be open for business on 9 September.

It’s hard to overplay the significance – at least for football stadium spotters, who are conscious of a disappearing landscape where terms like “latticework” and “enclosure” are becoming ever more obsolete.

The first of the sandy red bricks were laid in the shadow of the First World War. Shortly after the stand was christened with that 2-0 win over Celtic, the Hearts players conscripted en masse to help the war effort. Manager John McCartney bid them farewell at Waverley station, later commenting: “The finest men I ever knew were gone”. Many never returned.

The plaque commemorating this sacrifice will be relocated, as will the mosaic, a typical Leitch flourish, that features the club’s original badge located just inside the front entrance. How many club legends have walked over it?

But much won’t – can’t – be preserved. Around 4.50pm yesterday the seats were flipped up for a final time, more angrily than was hoped, while the turnstiles, some of them original, had already clicked their last.

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The sound of boot studs clacking towards the tunnel entrance will now echo no more. It could be a lot worse. Hearts could be moving from this location, they could be upping sticks and moving to a greenfield site in Straiton or somewhere else as spectacularly unsuitable for a football club to be based.

“The face of our beloved club will be changed permanently …but this is Tynecastle, now, then and forever,” thundered Tynecastle DJ Scott Wilson, who it is hoped will find an alternative perch in the new era to play his thoughtfully selected records.

The Style Council’s Walls Come Tumbling Down! was one such choice yesterday, as was REM’s Stand –with the lyric “stand in the place where you are”.

And so we all did, for a while afterwards at least, supporters of other teams as well as Hearts fans, all lost in a few moments’ reflection.

There’s too few of these old-fashioned structures left not to want to mark the final curtain in some way. Aberdeen did what they had to do, slightly ruining the party. But it’s not about one 90 minutes. It’s about over a century’s worth of them.