The early 1980s were revolutionary in Scottish football.
From 1965-66 to 1978-79, the league title remained in Glasgow, Celtic winning 11 times to Rangers’ three, but Alex Ferguson guided Aberdeen to glory in 1980, signalling a change to the status quo.
The Dons would add more titles in 1984 and 1985, with Dundee United emerging to win in 1983. Celtic’s wins of 1981 and 1982 were the only two for the Old Firm in that six-year period – something which had never happened before.
In 1986, Celtic did reclaim top spot and, since then, either they or Rangers have been champions. However, that 1985-86 season is the one that got away for Heart of Midlothian.
Alex McDonald’s side lost five of their first eight games, but between October 5, 1986 and April 26, 1986, they played 27 games, winning 19 and drawing eight (two points for a win), to leave themselves two ahead of Celtic going into the final day. A first title in 26 years loomed, while they also had the Scottish Cup final to look forward to against Aberdeen the following week.
In their final league game, the Jam Tarts faced a trip to Dens Park on May 3 to face Dundee, who were in sixth but were looking to secure European football by finishing in fifth.
Due to the dark tones of both sides’ home kits, Hearts were in their continental-looking away strip of silver shirts, maroon shorts and white socks. Mita Copiers had replaced Renault as sponsors the previous summer, though the ‘Copiers’ wouldn’t be seen on a football shirt they sponsored until they partnered with Aston Villa a few years later.
A draw would have been enough for Hearts – a loss might even have been sufficient if Celtic failed to beat St Mirren by a large margin as Hearts had a goal difference of 28 to the Bhoys’ 23.
At half-time, it was scoreless, though Celtic were 4-0 up. As the second half wore on, Dundee manager Archie Knox brought on Albert Kidd, a striker who hadn’t scored all season, but in the 83rd minute he found the net. Hearts were reeling and they were firmly floored when Kidd scored again on 89.
Celtic won 5-0 to take the title on goal-difference. There was something of an added insult for Hearts – in 1965, they had lost the title to Kilmarnock on goal average when they would have won on goal difference and they pushed for the change in 1971; this time, goal average would have won it for them.
They had to try to pick themselves up for the cup final at Hampden on May 10. With Aberdeen winning the toss for first-choice colours, Hearts were again in their change kit, though the Mita logo was smaller due to TV rules, while the shorts had a single rather than double stripe and the socks were devoid of the Umbro diamonds.
Both they and Aberdeen had special cup final inscriptions below their crests – the Dons retained the ‘Premier League Champions, 1985’ writing which had been there all season as well.
In an early example of his famous mind-games, Ferguson told his players to commiserate heartily (pun intended) with their opponents before the game, just to reinforce the disappointment.
It probably wasn’t needed as Aberdeen began like a storm and were ahead through John Hewitt in the fifth minute while he netted again early in the second half and Billy Stark added a third. Ferguson told the Hearts players in their dressing room that the season was theirs but they were left empty-handed.
Meanwhile, Albert Kidd was voted player of the season by a Hibernian supporters’ club in Sydney while to this day he is still invited to events run by Celtic and Hibs fans. In a similar vein, Jay from Design Football believes that the kit worn by Hibs goalkeeper Alan Rough against Rangers on the opening day of 1986-87 was intended to poke fun at Hearts.
Silver or grey shirts might have been considered too traumatic to revisit for Hearts, but their 2003-04 change top had grey as secondary to white and it’s a colour-scheme which is used in the current 2018-19 campaign, too.