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Interview: Bobby Prentice on his days as a Hearts cult hero

A couple of weeks in the past Hearts misplaced the Edinburgh derby to a Hibernian group who despatched two males hurtling down the flanks. “We want guys like that,” declared Jambos of my acquaintance, they all sufficiently old to bear in mind when Tynecastle gave the impression to be a safe haven for wingers. Certainly, it gave the impression to serve as as an eventide house for left-wingers – the lesser-spotted, extra eccentric, extra erratic, extra infuriating however each so steadily crazily good model of the touchline-hugging breed.

There used to be Denis McQuade, in the past of Partick Thistle, and there used to be Malcolm Robertson, ex-Ayr United, and competing with them for the placement closest to what we will have to now name the outdated stand when taking pictures in opposition to the College Finish used to be Bobby Prentice. Scan group lists from the wind-down of the 1970s and it’s the primary two who will have to have reached the dressing-room at precisely the similar time, jamming themselves within the doorway ahead of Robertson used to be in a position to lunge for the No 11 blouse whilst McQuade made do with No 7. That left Prentice at 12 or 14.

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Former Hearts and Celtic winger Bobby Prentice. Image: Neil Hanna

Ah however Bobby had the tune. “Bobby, oh Bobby Prentice, oh Bobby Prentice at the wi-hing,” Jambos would warble from the Shed. That will have to have warmed his center as his bottom-warmed the bench, I recommend. “It’s humorous, however I simplest ever heard the tune when I used to be sub,” he says. “If you happen to’re at the park you’re too busy concentrating at the sport – or when you had been me you had been misplaced to your personal wee international! Nonetheless it used to be great that they sung about me. I will have to had been no’ dangerous once in a while.”

Later in our chat Prentice, who’s reverted to Rab, will comic story that he simplest had a excellent sport “when there used to be a z within the month” however he’s being too onerous on himself. No longer all his daft, delirious dribbles got here off but if they did it used to be wonderful and Hearts lovers of a definite age raise spherical their favorite Bobby vignette to nowadays. Protected in an imperishable casket within the memory-banks, it’s proper subsequent to their mom’s retailer quantity. Possibly – with Hearts taking part in Celtic the following day – my causes for digging up Prentice are relatively contrived as a result of whilst he used to be at the Parkhead books for a few years he by no means made the primary group. However all my Jambo buddies will likely be satisfied to listen to from him, even supposing he’s somewhat too truthful when discussing his mythology.

For example, Gary MacKay, Hearts’ document look guy, writes in his memoirs of a vintage Prentice comedy interlude which he needs he’d noticed, relayed to him through Cammy Fraser: “In opposition to Falkirk someday Bobby took the ball off Jim Cruickshank within the left-back place and ran up the wing, beating one guy after some other. But if he reached the nook flag he became spherical and ran the wrong way, beating everybody once more ahead of passing again to Cruickie.” Prentice laughs however can’t consider this going down, regardless that he does upload: “It feels like me, doesn’t it?”

Right here’s some extra vintage winger behaviour: Prentice owns a cell phone however at all times leaves it at house. That will have to be why he’s past due for our rendezvous: he neglected my message reminding him about it. No, he wouldn’t have noticed it anyway as a result of he by no means reads texts. A few afternoon drinkers within the pub in Dalkeith, Midlothian had with a bit of luck predicted he wouldn’t display.

Woolly-hatted in opposition to the chilly, I virtually don’t recognise him when he does. The lengthy locks from the primary half of of his Hearts profession have long gone, so too the bubble perm of the later years. Then he pulls that acquainted gloomy expression – paying homage to Blakey, the hapless inspector in At the Buses – and we’re transported again 40 years to a drookit afternoon when he’s overwhelmed 3 males with sensational sleight-of-foot simplest to crash into the terrace wall. Now 64, he temporarily tells me about contemporary battles with melancholy and drink.

“Some guys who pass out of the sport finally end up committing suicide, don’t they? Lifestyles may also be tricky, particularly when you’re by yourself. I’ve were given my mum, who’s 87 and lives within sight however I by no means married. There were instances after I’ve virtually felt like giving up, however I haven’t. I’ve been looking to combat in opposition to having a drink and aye having a look again. I’m looking to glance ahead now.”

Must I prevent the interview presently? He doesn’t want some 1970s-obsessed nut prodding him for tales about his jousts with John Brownlie on flinty parks whilst the Gorgie Boot Boys roared on the Psychological Hibees they usually chucked bathroom rolls proper again. No, he’s satisfied to reminisce and, cradling a espresso, he debunks his legend some extra.

Prentice’s best-ever function is usually reckoned to had been at Tynecastle in October 1975, no longer for Hearts however Scotland’s Below-23s. Reporting in The Scotsman at the Four-1 win over Denmark which featured a hat-trick for Andy Grey, Mike Aitken described it as “astonishing”. “Surviving a fierce take on on the nook flag,” the bulletin endured, “Prentice crawled over the full-back proceeded to overcome two extra defenders, and when everybody anticipated the cutback, he flicked the ball over the goalkeeper and into the web. The stadium went wild.”

Want I’d noticed it, I say. “I’ll inform you a wee secret about that ‘marvel function’,” he chuckles. “I used to be a sub and had simplest simply come on. The shorts they gave you for Scotland had been means too tight – properly, they had been on me, anyway. We gained a nook and as I used to be lining as much as take the kick I unexpectedly concept: ‘Christ, I’m going to tear them. If I swing my leg my arse goes to fall proper out.’ So I performed the ball quick to Frank Grey and he gave me it again. That dribble used to be actually about keeping off gross indecency!”

Prentice joined Hearts after the membership had persisted a depressing season and instantly helped raise the gloom. The 1972-73 marketing campaign will pass down in infamy for the 7-Zero thrashing through Hibs on New 12 months’s Day however Hearts would achieve some revenge within the subsequent Edinburgh derby 8 months later. Prentice’s fellow beginners, Drew Busby and Kenny Aird, scored within the Four-1 win at Tynie and the winger shared within the lovers’ pleasure as a result of he used to be one himself.

This may sound unexpected. Finally, he’s no longer a son of Gorgie however hails from Douglas Water, the South Lanarkshire village the place his father Willie labored as a coal miner ahead of hearth closed the pit and the circle of relatives moved to Dalkeith. “Where used to be if truth be told extra Hearts than Rangers or Celtic,” he says. “And [future Jambos’ goalie] Henry Smith used to be in my wee brother’s magnificence in class.

“I had a circle of relatives connection to the membership as a result of [1960s winger] Johnny Hamilton used to be my mum’s cousin and an excellent day for me used to be when Doug Baillie [centre half with Rangers and Falkirk] who’s some other Douglas Water boy took me to the 1962 League Cup ultimate after I noticed Hearts beat Kilmarnock within the lashing rain.”

Prentice used to be a tight sprinter, successful medals at county video games, nevertheless it used to be at all times going to be soccer for him. “Each and every evening I’d chuck my college bag in the home and run down the park for 20-a-side, cock or a rooster, and we’d play till the sunshine went.” There actually will have to be one thing within the water in Douglas Water since the village additionally produced Andrew “Jock” Davidson, a Hull Town legend who advisable Prentice for a tribulation at Boothferry Park. That didn’t figure out and neither did Dundee. “The executive used to be John Prentice. The opposite boys used to mention I used to be simplest there as a result of he used to be my uncle. I used to be associated with him, however simplest distantly.”

Then got here Celtic and two years in the second one XI with little prospect of dislodging Bobby Lennox. “My father if truth be told went to look Jock Stein to 
ask why I wasn’t getting a sport for the primary group. There used to be a fall-out and that used to be me on my means.” His boyhood favourites temporarily snapped him up on a salary of £40 per week.

“Tynecastle used to be in turmoil after I joined. By no means thoughts the 7-Zero sport, Hearts had long gone a very long time the former season rarely scoring a function at house. Guys like Cruickie and Roy Kay had misplaced their puts and the outdated guard had had their noses put out of joint through the arriving of the brand new boys – Drew, Kenny, Jimmy [Cant], John [Stevenson] and myself.”

However the drastic makeover shot Hearts to the summit of the outdated First Department within the early weeks of 73/74 and alongside the way in which they gained at Everton within the Texaco Cup. Our guy scored his first function in maroon in a Three-Zero win over Rangers at Ibrox two days after his 20th birthday, however conventional of him he performs down this second. “Kenny crossed and Peter McCloy flapped at it.” This activates a reminisce about some other sport in Govan the place as soon as once more Prentice laughs at himself. “We had been main two-nil, each objectives scored through Willie Gibson. Cruickie threw me the ball, I misplaced it and Rangers were given one again. Subsequent factor Cruickie is chasing me up the pitch along with his cap flying. The Rangers lovers were given their kill at that.”

The table-topping shape fizzled out however Prentice beloved the ones first few seasons at Hearts. He had a nickname conferred on his through his idol, Donald Ford – “I used to put on this lengthy brown coat so he referred to as me Columbo after the TV detective.” He’d found out the capital’s Tiffanys discotheque. And at the park he had licence to shimmy, swerve and sway.

“I simply beloved beating folks. I may run and I had a wee little bit of talent. There have been instances after I held onto the ball too lengthy. There have been instances after I beat myself. I’d get an opportunity myself and balloon it over the bar. However I used to be younger and didn’t care. I believed I may take at the international and not anything scared me. Now the whole lot scares me!”

John Hagart changed Seith as supervisor, and Prentice may sense the sector converting. Soccer used to be converting – the ten-team Premier Department used to be presented – and there gave the impression to be much less room for wingers and particularly the quixotic sort.

“John were given out a techniques board. I don’t suppose any folks had noticed this kind of ahead of. He stated: ‘Simply you sit down within the nook, Rab, and we’ll try to figure out how we will be able to get the ball to you.’ He knew that kind of stuff would pass over my head.” Prentice had grown aware of murderous seems to be from team-mates when objectives had been misplaced, even supposing he hadn’t been without delay accountable, and those would simplest building up. “[Full-back] Davie Clunie used to be at all times on at me to lend a hand the defence.” Prentice wonders if this used to be the primary recorded example of a winger being instructed to – dread phrases – take on again. “I informed him I didn’t want his lend a hand overlapping however I assume I used to be changing into a luxurious.”

The patter-merchant may nonetheless pull out the occasional plum, regardless that, and Prentice helped Hearts succeed in 3 home cup semi-finals, they all finishing in defeat. His favorite reminiscence is 1976’s sensational comeback within the Eu Cup Winners’ Cup, hammering Lokomotiv Leipzig Five-1. Hearts certified for Europe thru some other Hampden loss, the former season’s Scottish Cup ultimate in opposition to treble-
successful Rangers, and that is the cue for some other humorous yarn.

“The evening ahead of John gave us every two dozing capsules. You’ll consider how we began that sport – shedding a function within the first minute. I don’t suppose I correctly awoke till half-time.” Hearts had been nonetheless issuing avid gamers with a code of habits in at hand pocket-sized shape which preached moderation relating to bevvy. “The rule of thumb used to be no alcohol after Wednesday, however I’m afraid a few of us would pass out on Thursdays – the ingesting tradition used to be somewhat well-established – and I’d at all times have a pint on Fridays to lend a hand me calm down.”

There have been few alternatives for the group to unwind, regardless that, because the smaller league unfold concern and loathing. Prentice by no means gained some other derby after his first, however he would dance previous John Brownlie – “A collector’s merchandise, that” – to earn his group a attract a capital conflict a couple of weeks after the Leipzig win. However that season below Willie Ormond would result in relegation, the primary within the membership’s historical past.

“That used to be a depressing time. I do know I had a couple of awful video games, however I wasn’t the one one that performed badly. I at all times awoke on matchdays your entire optimist. ‘It’s going to be excellent the day,’ I’d inform myself. And it used to be, proper up to date when it very clearly wasn’t. The primary run would set the tone. If that didn’t figure out, properly I tended to worsen and worse.”

As Hearts started their yo-yoing between divisions the awl fell on some avid gamers and Prentice made his break out to the North American Football League, signing for Toronto Snow fall with Busby. The latter would go back to Scotland, however Prentice stayed, going local within the indoor league, turning out for Baltimore Blasts and Buffalo Stallions and tussling with Franz Beckenbauer and George Best possible.

“I beloved my time there. It used to be wine, girls and tune. It used to be razzmatazz, an enlightening revel in.” In the end he needed to come house, too. With Malcolm Robertson, he shaped a woebegone wingers society, two buddies serving to every different come to phrases with the tip in their dribbling days over a couple of pints. Robertson died in 2010 and existence has endured to offer demanding situations for Prentice. He attempted to grow to be a jail warden, however that didn’t figure out.

He implemented for “high-profile” jobs, making an allowance for shelf-stacking underneath him. “Standard daft winger,” he says, “at all times going for the unimaginable.” He slurps the closing of his espresso and pulls down his hat. “Now, for me, it’s all about getting through.”

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