Two shots in the heart of Scottish football
by Grant Hill
Reviewed by Archie MacGregor
From WSC 357 November 2016
Last day of the season title deciders are invariably occasions when the spectrum of unbridled joy and despair is stretched to the wildest extremes. The denouement of the 1985-86 Premier League campaign however surpasses most in the degree to which it is remembered not only by supporters of the clubs directly involved but also by anyone professing even a passing interest in the Scottish game.
It became a “where were you when?” moment in fan folklore – one that actually lasted four second-half minutes when a hitherto unheralded bubble-permed Dundee midfielder called Albert Kidd scored twice late on to crush Hearts’ dreams of a first Championship in 26 years and hand the title to Celtic.
It was a scenario that featured layer upon layer of improbability. No one would have given Hearts a chance of getting within sniffing distance of the top as the season got underway. Alex MacDonald’s workmanlike side had finished an unremarkable seventh in the previous campaign.
Yet on Saturday May 3, 1986 there they were a single point away from clinching the title having gone nearly eight months and 31 games unbeaten, thanks to a developing team ethos and self-belief that had coalesced into a juggernaut. Second-placed Celtic could do nothing if Hearts avoided defeat at Dens Park.
Despite being Dundee’s record signing Kidd appeared destined not to feature that fateful afternoon – his form had been poor and he hadn’t even started a game for nigh on three months. He banged on manager Archie Knox’s door the day before the Hearts game in the seemingly faint hope of getting on the team sheet. Knox said he’d think about it.
There’s the makings of a decent script for a movie in all this and author Grant Hill does a fine job in marshalling the material to build the suspense. Moreover his book shines a light on what was undisputedly a watershed period in the development of the Scottish game.
The same day that Kidd was triggering an almighty commotion Graeme Souness was taking charge of Rangers for the first time. The grinding imperative of money came to prevail and since 1986 no club apart from Celtic or Rangers have become Scottish champions. It now seems completely astounding that in four of the six previous seasons the title had gone elsewhere.
As for Kidd, though he rails against being cast as some kind of football one-hit wonder he’s done OK from his four minutes of fame. Celtic have had him along as a guest of honour on match days, Billy Connolly embraced him as a hero when they met in Adelaide and Hibs supporters’ clubs made him their player of the year in gleeful schadenfreude.
The reception from Hearts fans has inevitably been less friendly – although the book does recall one more bitterly ironic twist in the plot. Kidd’s intervention would not have prevented Dundee’s opponents that day from winning the League if it had been decided on goal average, as in the past, rather than goal difference. The club who had lobbied hardest for the change? Hearts.