AK-86: Two Shots In The Heart Of Scottish Football

WORDS: GRANT HILL

On 3rd May 1986 fans at Dens Park, Ibrox, Easter Road and Love Street watched with transistor radios pressed to their ears as one of the most dramatic days in the history of the game in Scotland unfolded. With the destination of that season’s league championship in the balance, a man named Albert Kidd made a rare and late appearance on the stage and tore the show apart…

DFC v Hearts May 86

Image: Copyright of Fotopress

On the last day of the 1985/86 season, fans across Scotland watched the action unfold with transistor radios pressed to their ears, desperate for the news that would decide the destination of that season’s league championship. 

With just minutes remaining and with Hearts edging towards a historic title, Dundee forward and Celtic fan Albert Kidd made a rare appearance and won the league for his boyhood heroes without ever playing for them. His life would never be the same again.

With contributions from players and fans of Celtic, Dundee, Hearts, Hibs, Rangers and St Mirren, ‘AK-86: Two Shots In The Heart Of Scottish Football’, explores every side of the incredible story and places it in the context of a wider revolution.

Thirty years on, AK-86 sifts through the rubble of an explosive day with rumour and counter-rumour, controversy and drama, a day that gave rise to conspiracy theories, delirium, and broken hearts. The following extract takes us back to where it all began…

FINAL-AK86 RGBSaturday, 26th April 1986

It was the day that Chernobyl, a hitherto little-known Ukrainian city, became a byword for atomic folly as a catastrophic explosion that would ultimately claim tens of thousands of lives, devastate the environment and help hasten the end of the Soviet Union, ripped through the nearby nuclear power plant.

Two-and-a-half thousand miles away, the minds of the supporters and players of Heart of Midlothian Football Club were not focused on a nuclear winter but rather a glorious spring. For them, the beautiful game was truly stunning at that moment in time, an exhilarating distraction from the realities of Britain’s most turbulent post-war decade.

It was an era of contradiction. Plenty and penury. Boom and bust. Excess and Orgreave. Wine bars and race riots. Shoulder pads and flying pickets. Popular culture remembers the decade style forgot, those from the UK’s industrial heartlands remember the communities their politicians abandoned.

It had taken the jingoism born in Port Stanley and the ineptitude of a bitterly divided opposition to save Margaret Thatcher from electoral disaster in the summer of 1983 but three years hence her monetarist revolution was in full swing. With victory secured over the enemy without at Goose Green and the enemy within on the coalfields that had powered the industrial revolution, the Conservative government was by now picking off what they saw as impediments to Britain’s global competitiveness one by one.

The post-war consensus was torn up as the commitment to full employment was jettisoned, council houses flogged and public utilities auctioned off to the whims of the free market. Thatcher’s capitalist democracy awash with property and share ownership may have been irresistible to many but also represented the end of the certainties that generations of British families had enjoyed.

With the Poll Tax riots that would ultimately lead to her downfall still four years away, it was the high watermark of Thatcherism. Depending on which side of a polarised country you stood this was either a cause for mourning or great celebration.

DFC v Hearts May 86

Image: Copyright of Fotopress

At 4.40pm on Saturday, 26th April 1986, politics, economics and class war mattered little to the maroon half of Edinburgh as Tynecastle Park was rocked to its foundations by the euphoria that greeted that day’s final whistle. A nervy 1-0 home win over Clydebank had moved Hearts to within a point of their first Scottish League championship since 1960. With a Scottish Cup final against Aberdeen to follow in a fortnight’s time the club was now 180 minutes away from an unprecedented double. It was in a spirit of suspended celebration that 20,000 delirious Jambos spilled out from the terraces into the streets of Gorgie.

“I was nervous before the Clydebank game and Hearts struggled badly,” Hearts fan Mike Smith remembered. “I was still nervous after it but I thought that was it. We were starting to look edgy but still weren’t losing and there’s the old cliché about it being the sign of a good team winning even when they’re playing poorly. All those months unbeaten and it just came down to one more game, one more point. I wasn’t in any doubt anymore. This was our year.”

“The relief when that goal went in was incredible,” remembered another Hearts supporter, Bobby Mitchell. “The pubs around the ground were all crammed afterwards and I ended up staying out until closing, which pissed off both my wife and her brother, who lived in Australia but was still Hearts-daft and phoned me every Saturday night for a match report.”

The exhilaration was not confined to the club’s long-suffering followers either, as Hearts legend John Robertson later recalled. “We were getting excited, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “The club hadn’t won anything since the early 60s and the players desperately wanted to be part of the team that brought silverware back to Gorgie Road.”

DFC v Hearts May 86

Image: Copyright of Fotopress

Hearts were four points ahead of Celtic, the only other side with a chance of winning the championship, with only one game of the league season remaining. If they avoided defeat when they visited Dundee’s Dens Park they would be champions. Celtic still had to play two games – a rearranged fixture against Motherwell on Wednesday and then St Mirren on the final day. Hearts’ superior goal difference meant Celtic had to win both their games by an aggregate score of 5-0 and hope Dundee beat the Tynecastle side. The odds were stacked firmly in the Jam Tarts’ favour.

What followed was one of the most momentous days in the history of Scottish football, the impact of which would reverberate for decades. May 3rd 1986 would go down in the annals of the national game as a day of unparalleled drama. By the time the sun set that evening a legend had been created and grown men across the resolutely macho central belt openly cried tears of joy and despair.

A hitherto little-known journeyman pro was about to be elevated to the status of hero at two clubs he never even played for and folk devil – as reviled as the Prime Minister of the day among the section of society that did not prosper under her leadership – at a third. Football’s ability to change lives with the flick of a boot was about to be demonstrated like never before.

‘AK-86: Two Shots In The Heart Of Scottish Football’ is available now, published by Wholepoint Publications in paperback and eBook formats. More information, including where to buy copies, can be found here.
This extract is © Grant Hill 2016 and may not be reproduced without his permission.
Follow Grant on Twitter @GrantH1979
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