Scottish Cup remaining: Hearts’ Craig Gordon desires one other medal for his attic
|Conference location: Hampden Park, Glasgow Date: Sunday 20th December Time: 14:15 GMT|
|Cover: Watch live on BBC One Scotland and online, live radio coverage on Radio Scotland and text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app|
Gianluigi Buffon is a godsend for all goalkeepers, an inspiration for all veterans who follow him. When the subject of age is mentioned, as it was when 37-year-old Craig Gordon sat down to discuss Sunday’s Cup final against Celtic, the Buffon argument is put on the table the way a poker player reveals a royal flush could.
Gordon will be 38 years old in a few weeks. Intentions to wind up? Zero. “I love to get out of bed in the morning, to throw myself in the mud,” he says. Hungry after the game? As it always was. Bigger, if anything.
He didn’t mention Buffon by name, but you knew where he was from. “You see, Gigi? Forty-two years old and nearly 43 years old. Just last week, Juve saved a lot against Barcelona in the Champions League. Still has it, the great man. Age is only a number. ‘
Of course there are other numbers to quote in Gordon’s story. As with the number of finals he lost in Hampden – none – and with the number of finals he won in Hampden – nine. These include a youth cup final with Hearts 20 years ago and two league cup finals with Celtic that saw him stay on the bench, but he still won nine consecutive medals.
“I was hoping that wouldn’t show up,” he smiles. The concept of 10 in a row is copyrighted by Celtic and is now being challenged by Rangers. But what about his personal 10 in a row? “It would be nice, very nice,” is all he replies.
“Take out medals and look at them when I’m done”
The medals are not in a beautifully lit showcase in the living room at home. If you went to his house, you wouldn’t know anything about his glorious career. All bullets are up in the attic where he can’t see them. “I’m still very much in the moment,” he says.
“Taking them out and looking at them is for me when I’m done. We’re the underdogs on Sunday (he’s never been an underdog in a final) but if we win you’d go to the attic too. I am I am still hungry for more success and when you look back on what you have and what you have done it can potentially break your focus. I’m just striving for the next and the next. I’d love to show off medals when the time comes but it’s not yet. “
Gordon says he always found it a bit strange when he returned to Tynecastle as a Celtic player, and the opposite is now the case – he finds the prospect of facing Celtic as a Hearts player a bit strange.
As a member of Brendan Rodgers’ ‘Invincibles’ from 2016-17, he made his name in the club’s history. As the winner of five Premierships, five League Cups and two Scottish Cups with Celtic, his contribution to the east of Glasgow will never be forgotten. The pursuit of trophies in green as opposed to maroon could continue if circumstances didn’t get in the way.
Gordon won the Scottish Cup twice during his six years with Celtic
Leaving that summer, he believed Celtic would sign Fraser Forster for a permanent deal with Southampton. He had only played six games in 2019-20 and the prospect of sitting on the bench for another season had not caught on. As it turned out, he could of course still be Celtic’s goalkeeper of choice.
The Forster deal never worked. Celtic has signed Vasilis Barkas for £ 5m and he’s not training either. You tried Scott Bain and he’s lost his place too. Young Conor Hazard is at the finish line these days. If Gordon had stayed, he would likely go into this final as a Celtic man rather than a Hearts man.
“There is no such thing as bad blood”
However, he does not regret it. He knows how lucky he is to have played for so long, to have won the things that he won. Leaving Celtic was only part of life. “It wasn’t messy and there is no bad blood,” he says. “I wanted to play soccer. They went a different route, they could have had Fraser and I would have sat another year and not played, and I didn’t want that.
“Even if I saw what happened there, I wouldn’t change anything. I had a great time and got on well with all the coaches. I spoke to (goalkeeping coach) Stevie Woods when I was shouting to join the Scottish squad, Neil Lennon after I left wishing me well. John Kennedy was excellent all summer letting me know what was going on. “
After going through the last week of the Cup with Celtic so many times, he knows exactly what they’ve been up to all week and knows exactly what caliber Hearts will be up against on Sunday. He’s heard people say it’s a free kick for his team that no one expects to win. He’s heard other people say it’s a great opportunity, that this is the best time in years to face Celtic in a cup final.
Gordon and his Hearts teammates celebrate their 2006 Scottish Cup final victory over Gretna
There is an undeniable fact: hearts are outsiders. “But outsiders can win football games,” he says. An underdog won in Paisley on Wednesday night when St. Mirren knocked Rangers out of the League Cup.
In his own career he was involved in a number of shock games. France should beat their Scottish team in 2006 and 2007 but lost both times. Inverness shouldn’t beat their Celtic team in the 2015 Scottish Cup semi-finals, but they did it. Celtic is experiencing very turbulent times, but has won 15 games in a row at Hampden. Nobody in Scotland knows more about the highs that day than Neil Lennon’s player.
There is a hidden power that drives hearts. We don’t need to go through the events of the summer again, but the feeling of injustice of being thrown into the championship remains strong. “Yes, there is a lot of feeling,” explains Gordon. “I wasn’t here but when I came back to the club you felt like everyone here had something to prove and that’s a good thing. We can use that as motivation and bring it to the field.”
“I may not have been to Hearts while it was all going, but I’ve been a Hearts fan all my life so I knew how people felt. I have friends and family who felt it. There was an opportunity for everyone (in football) to get together and prevent all of that, and for some reason it didn’t happen.
“It popped up in the locker room. We don’t talk about it all the time, but we did talk about it, especially when we are playing against a certain opposition that may have voted in a certain way. We take advantage of that.” We will do everything we can to get out of the league we play and get back to where we belong. “
16 years ago, Gordon went to Hampden with Robbie Neilson as a teammate. Now they are players and managers. “As a player he was pretty calm, but very professional, always in the gym, always trying to improve, and he took that ethic into coaching,” says Gordon of his manager. “When he got the job in the summer, he called me within a few hours and asked me about my situation. It was just like before. We started where we left off. It’s nice how it came after all these years is. “
In this cup final of 2006, Neilson assisted the Hearts goal, made a goal-saving duel and took his penalty home in a penalty shoot-out. Gordon, for his part, saved a penalty in regular time (Gretna scored the rebound) and saved one on penalties. “It was a bit scary how the final went, but we did it in the end,” he added.
“The older you get, the more it means to you these days. I’m so happy to have been a part of so many, but you never know when your last might be. This might be my last and I have to go out and play like it is. ”
So many unforgettable days and, win or lose, a December final in an abandoned Hampden will be another part of the eternal goalkeeper’s great story.