David Johnston recalls football and rugby career with Hearts & Scotland

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David Johnston has recalled how he was the first Hearts player to experience Murrayfield after also becoming a Scotland rugby international.

As work continues on the new main stand at Tynecastle, Craig Levein’s side take on St Johnstone on Saturday in the second of three games at the neighbouring 67,000-seater stadium.

And former midfielder Johnston has reflected on being in the unique position of having played both professional football and rugby.

Pic Eric McCowat

The 58-year-old joined the Gorgie club in 1977 and went up against Celtic great Jimmy Johnstone when he made his debut against Dundee in the second game of the season.

But with Johnston combining his Hearts career with his pursuit of a law degree, he was released by the club a year later.

The Edinburgh-born sportsman then joined Watsonians rugby club and went on to make 27 appearances for Scotland, the highlight being a try against England in the 1984 Grand Slam Five Nations triumph.

Commenting on his background in both sports, Johnston said: “It’s 40 years ago that I signed for Hearts and started playing. 

“I ran parallel rugby and football careers when I was younger, so I was playing three games a weekend; two football and one rugby.

“When the opportunity came to join Hearts, my hometown team, I was going to Edinburgh University to study law – so it made sense. 

“I had offers to join Rangers but in those days it was harder to get to Glasgow so I decided to say no. Dundee United was the other one I was closest to signing for at that time.”

Johnston still has vivid recollections of his only competitive outing for Hearts, which ended on a sour note when he sustained a long-term injury in a 2-1 victory over Dundee.

He added: “We had a pretty strong team and fairly early on I saw there was a chance because Bobby Prentice was suspended. 

“I was picked for the league match against Dundee in 1977. 

“The atmosphere was incredible, it really was. A full house, first home league game of the season.

“But at the end I got a stress fracture in my foot and I couldn’t really get going until the Festive time after that.

“I had been full-time at Hearts but I started University and when I came back I was a part-timer. 

“Being a part-timer, getting back into the first team was hard and I didn’t make it although I was in the squad for a League Cup semi-final.”

Johnston then embarked on a successful career in another discipline.

He added: “I enjoyed playing rugby and football equally and if I hadn’t been part-time I thought I would have had a better go at it but there was no way I was going to give up a legal career. I think I made the right decision.

“I was incredibly lucky, I got back into rugby fairly quickly with Watsonians and my first international rugby match was in 1979 against New Zealand, who were the best in the world.”

Just like in the modern era, Johnston insists the atmosphere at Tynecastle during his day was also deafening, and reckons Hearts fans created more noise than 70,000 supporters at Murrayfield.

Speaking to the Foundation of Hearts, he added: “The New Zealand game was an Autumn international and In those days you couldn’t fill Murrayfield.

“It wasn’t full, there was no comparison between Tynecastle and Murrayfield. Tynecastle was incredible. 

“The noise that was made by 20,000 fans, full. Everyone is so much closer to the pitch, when it came to the Five Nations there were probably 70,000-odd in 1980 but there was only one stand and most of the noise went straight up in the air.

“It is a bit surreal seeing Hearts run out at Murrayfield, I really hope the fans take to it because it can be a great stadium. The supporters have to make it a great stadium.”

Hearts’ links with rugby actually go back to 1936 when Watsonians rugby player Norman Bruce joined the club as an amateur.

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