This is the (definitive) story, this is the song ... new book charts Hearts long-awaited 1998 Scottish Cup win

It is sometimes difficult when considering Hearts’ relative success in the Scottish Cup in recent times to appreciate why so much hysteria greeted their win over Rangers in 1998.

Hearts manager Jim Jefferies and players celebrate winning the 1998 Scottish Cup after a 2-1 win over Rangers at Celtic Park.
Hearts manager Jim Jefferies and players celebrate winning the 1998 Scottish Cup after a 2-1 win over Rangers at Celtic Park.

It is a triumph that stands alone and not only because it occurred at Celtic Park as opposed to Hampden. It brought huge crowds – estimates range from 80,000 to 250,000 – onto the streets of Edinburgh for the following day’s parade.

This is not now a new phenomenon. Such gatherings have become more commonplace on the streets of the capital, most recently when Hibs fans flooded the vistas and vennels to salute the Scottish Cup winning side of 2016. Such triumphant homecomings might now seem as old hat as David Beckham’s floppy fringe.

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In 1998, however, it felt like a new sensation. Scotland were weeks away from kicking-off a World Cup. I was weeks into my career at the Scotsman and was sent out, notebook in hand, to cover these street scenes and remember being genuinely blown away. Accounting for much of the excitement was the sheer length of time since Hearts last lifted silverware – the League Cup in 1962 – and the near misses the fans were forced to endure thereafter. One had to go back to 1956 for their last Scottish Cup triumph.

Hearts have won the competition on two further occasions since 1998. However, Jim Jefferies' side's 2-1 victory over Rangers seems to hold its charge in the minds of fans of a certain age, which is remarkable in itself given that one of the subsequent successes was a 5-1 thrashing of Hibs.

The surprise is it’s taken so long for an authoritative book to be devoted to the glory of Colin Cameron, Stephane Adam et al. One title was published soon afterwards but it understandably lacks the perspective author Anthony Brown, a 15-year-old Hearts fan at the time, and his impressive cast-list of interview subjects can bring to the table.

This is the (definitive) story, this is the song. Brown speaks to Alan “Scooby” Scott, the driver of the bus that brought the players home from Celtic Park. As the vehicle inched past crowds in Gorgie he remembers looking in his mirror and seeing a pair of legs wriggling in the air. The players were climbing out of the sunroof and were on top of the bus.

Driving through Gorgie after Hearts had lost last year’s Scottish Cup final to Celtic, I recall noting the barriers that were already in place in hopeful expectation of the team’s triumphant return. It was a slightly sad, beleaguered scene.

Health and safety was a less developed concept in 1998. There were no barriers. Fans flocked around the bus. “Even if we’d fallen off, we’d have crowd-surfed," recalled Neil McCann, the winger who was voted the player of the Scottish Cup run.

More often than not, the reminiscing with legends referenced in the title took place across Zoom calls. The idea was conceived during lockdown. The book is published in timely fashion, with the current Hearts side preparing to re-engage with the great Scottish Cup quest in Saturday’s delayed semi-final against Hibs. One of many reasons to admire the finished product is knowing just how quickly Brown was able to go round nearly all the heroes from ’98 and speak to them in such detail.

Likewise, their willingness to take part in such a project also reflects the bonhomie that existed within the side at the time. This still-evident team spirit was one of the reasons, together with no little talent, they were able to overcome a Rangers team that had beaten them 5-1 in the final two years previously. An early goal from Cameron, from the penalty spot, and another from Adam put Hearts in the driving seat before Ally McCoist’s strike nine minutes from the end meant things got reassuringly fraught for the Hearts fans.

Brown speaks to those we are not accustomed to hearing from. Jim Hamilton, who came off the bench that afternoon, tells the author that leaving Hearts is his big biggest career regret. He speaks to Thomas Flogel, the elegant Austrian who is now coaching in his homeland. Little could he have known what was to unfold later that season when he was substituted on his debut at half-time against Rangers with Hearts already 2-0 down. “I have probably made a mistake coming here,” he thought to himself.

The author tracks down popular goalkeeper Gilles Rousset in China. His inspired signing contributed so much to the success of the team. He bought into the Gorgie ways from the start and has contributed the foreword. “We are all brothers,” he writes.

One brother is no longer with us. Forming the basis for a chapter that helps elevate this book far above most in the genre, Brown makes contact with Gillian, the widow of Stefano Salvatori. By the time the team gathered for their first official reunion in 2018 they were already mourning Salvatori’s absence. He died in November 2017 at the age of only 49 after a three-year battle with cancer.

The Italian midfielder was an integral part of the side that season. Brown treats this sad story with the gravitas required and leaves the chapter until last. It is a compelling, tour de force piece of writing.

Salvatori met Gillian, a Scots-born paediatrician who had grown up in Australia, in Edinburgh after his playing career had ended. The Italian was drawn back to the city to live, not something that might have been expected given his initial reservations about the Scottish weather. According to McCann, Salvatori once played a game at Pittodrie on a freezing February night wearing a waterproof jacket under his Hearts kit.

It is desperately sad that future reunions can never be considered complete. Brown’s skill has been to make it seem as if this cherished side, this band of brothers, have put their boots on again.

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