What a great 'night in!'
FC Basle were the opponents. The same FC Basel that in recent years have put the likes of Celtic, Liverpool, and Rangers to the sword.
Hearts REALLY needed to take at least a point from this game to have any interest left in the group. Even just a point would make life very difficult for us to progress into the last 32. Hearts had not even scored in the first two games, let alone gain a point, so the odds were stacked heavily against us. The pre-match prices were FC Basle - 1/2 Hearts FC 9/2.
I arrived at the Hotel (of which only 2 in the whole of Edinburgh were showing the game!) with an hour to the big kick off. Plenty time to get a drink in! NOT! I eventually got served 15 minutes before kick off! The room was HEAVING! There must have been about 400 people in a room which could normally hold about 150!
Time to find the ideal perch to watch the big projector screen. This was not easy, as my 5" 5' frame seemed to be behind a 6" giant everywhere I stood!
Finally! The program started. The Swiss channel which was broadcasting the game had obviously done their homework. Some scenes of Edinburgh, Scottish culture, and the 1998 cup final goals, which brought huge cheers from the sardine-like Hearts fans in the room. The commentator (which was obviously in German) sounded somewhat like Herr-Flick from the old program Allo Allo, got the game under way.
The Hearts fans in the smallish room made an absolute deafening noise. Sometimes a better atmosphere than what is heard at Tynecastle these days! A dozen or so different Hearts songs one after the other. Superb!
Basel were pushing Hearts more and more as the first half wore on. Dennis Wyness missed quite a good chance. The Wyness boo-boys were giving it laldy at the screen. Nae need! Wyness is a new player under John Robertson, and inevitably the wee man took a cross 12 yards out, and banged it into the back of the net. Controversial or not, we werent caring! The room full of jambos went mental! There was about 3 gallons of airborne beer! Grown men hugging eachother! I've no idea how the room managed to keep the plaster on the ceiling with the racket that was created from the Gorgie faithful.
Half time. Another Huge roar went up. Half the room had to go outside for air! It was roasting in there!
2nd half. If anyone wanted the same space they had in the first half, tough! You just had to make do with any space where you could see the screen.
Basle were really going for it now. Craig Gordon in the Hearts goal was playing an absolute blinder. 2 world class saves from point blank range,a couple of long distance saves, and a few crosses cut out for good measure. Was this going to be our night? Ye would have thought! Then BOOM! 1-1. It was totally amazing how much an atmosphere can change in the space of 2 seconds. Craig Gordon, after all his heroics, kicked the ball straight to a Basle player, who duly turned with it, drove into the box and duly dispached it past a helpless Gordon. The Hearts fans in the room were in disbelief. after all the graft, 110% effort, everything had went tits up!
Only 2 minutes to go. The chap next to me (Steaming drunk he was!) asked me if a draw would be good enough. I replied, It would, but i wouldn't be too enamored about our chances of qualification. We were all resigned to one point at this stage. More hoping that Basel wouldn't score again and end it all for us.
Cue the right back!!!!!!
Robbie Neilson, never been noted for attacking AT ALL! made his way forward. Even made it to the nose-bleeding 18 yard line, held off running back. The ball was crossed in from the right, headed away from goal from Phil Stamp straight into the path of Robbie. BANG! Neilson leathered the ball full force, through the keepers legs and into the back of the net.
Bedlam. That is the only word i can find to describe the scenes in the Orwell. there were bodies everywhere. cheering, shouting, jumping, rolling about the floor! It was MAD!!! Absolutely MENTAL! My voice had all but disappeared!
There was no sign from the 4th official stating how much injury time there was to play. The 4 minutes the referee added on seemed like an eternity. Finally, the final whistle blew. We won! We actually beat FC Basel! We beat FC Basel on their own patch! Unreal! The feeling around us reminded me of the time we beat Hibs 5-1. Superb.
Had to trawl through the bodies in the room to find Chris and Steve. Finally did, as we walked along the road back to the car with smiles on our faces like Cheshire cats, there were Jambos all over the place singing and dancing. People honking their horns in attempts to get Hearts fans to chant.
That was pure elation.