Club News

Leaders of Men: John Harvey

24th March 2020

A Hearts man through-and-through, John Harvey gave a lifetime of service to the club in a variety of important positions and his sterling contribution to the Heart of Midlothian Football Club cannot be underestimated.

Below is a profile of his career, as written by Club Historian David Speed in this year's match programme.

John was born in May 1914 at Wallyford, near Musselburgh, where his father worked as a coal miner. On leaving school, he also worked in the pits, while developing his football reputation in juvenile football with Musselburgh Imperial. John graduated to the junior grade with Ormiston Primrose and his long association with Hearts started in August 1932 when he signed a provisional contract. The sturdy left-half  was called-up by Hearts’ Manager, Willie McCartney, at the end of January 1933.

In season 1933-34, the youngster was loaned to the East of Scotland League side, Bo’ness, where John became noted for crisp tackling and judicious passing. As a result, he became a regular in Hearts’ team in 1935-36, covering the established half-back trio of George Robson; Jimmy Dykes; and Archie Miller.

The rugged midfielder also had a sensational one-match loan to East Fife in April 1938. The Fifers had drawn 1-1 in the Scottish Cup Final against Kilmarnock, but Andy Herd, had been injured. John Harvey was not Cup-tied and the East Fife Manager, David McLean, secured him on loan. John played a sound game in the Replay, which East Fife won by 4-2 after extra-time. Kilmarnock remembered his display and John moved from Tynecastle to Rugby Park in September 1938 for a fee of £1,200.

Kilmarnock completed the first season of the Second World War, 1939-40, then closed down for the duration of hostilities. John immediately joined the Army and became a physical training instructor. He rose to the rank of Sergeant Instructor and while on home service, John was able to play as a guest for Hearts, Raith Rovers, Bradford Park Avenue and Bradford City.

Nevertheless, much of John’s six years of service was spent overseas and he took part in the Normandy Landings and later served in India and Ceylon. While in the Far East, he teamed up with Tommy Walker’s touring side that played to entertain the troops. 

In December 1945, John came home to re-join Kilmarnock, but his expertise as a physical training instructor was known to David McLean, the former East Fife Manager, who had moved to Hearts. Accordingly, in April 1946, John Harvey was appointed Assistant Trainer of Hearts, under John Torbet. When Tommy Walker took over as Hearts’ Manager he wanted a more modern approach to preparation and, as a result, in May 1952, John Harvey stepped-up to replace John Torbet as Trainer.

He was ahead of his time with regard to physical fitness, and his coaching skills underpinned the great Hearts teams that won the League Cup four times; the League Championship twice; and the Scottish Cup in 1956. John was also Tommy Walker’s right-hand man during the club’s first ventures into Europe, and he represented the club with distinction on major tours to Germany; Sweden; South Africa; Australia; and North America

His contribution towards these years of success was enormous. In fact, when Hearts won the League Championship in 1957-58, it was said that the players were in superb physical condition thanks to the work of John Harvey. He had introduced the training circuit test that was popular on the Continent and greater fitness gave Hearts the edge over the long campaign. In addition, John moved with the times and regularly attended the FA Coaching Courses at Lillieshall.

In April 1954, John Harvey won his first International honour when he was Trainer of the Scottish League team that played the Football League. He regularly looked after the Under-23 side and the Full International team up to 1966. John certainly had management credentials and in April 1958, East Fife made a lucrative approach in this regard. A five-year contract kept him at Tynecastle and Raith Rovers also made an unsuccessful approach for John’s services in November 1961.

In May 1966, Hearts’ Manager, Tommy Walker, was striving to restore the club’s playing fortunes and he asked his old friend, John Harvey, to reorganize the training staff and become Head Scout. John was pleased to assist, because he was happy working directly with players and helping to build their careers. Accordingly, he somewhat reluctantly replaced Tommy Walker as Manager at the start of October 1966, initially on an interim basis.

On 19 December 1966, John was invited to take the post of Manager on a three-and-a-half-year contract. Thankfully, he had the benefit of a full-time Secretary, William Devine, to relieve him of most administrative tasks. There was certainly work to be done, because season 1966-67 saw Hearts make no impact in the Cup competitions and drop to eleventh in the League, the lowest position since 1926-27. Goals were hard to come-bye after the loss of Willie Wallace in December 1966.

There was no improvement in Hearts’ League form in 1967-68 and indeed, the team dropped one place in the table. At least the £20,000 recruit, Jim Townsend, looked the part and Harvey’s youngsters, Donald Ford, George Fleming, Eddie Thomson and Arthur Mann, provided hope of progress.

Danish International striker, Rene Moller, also joined the squad and spirits were temporarily raised by a fine Scottish Cup run. This included a 6-5 victory against Dundee United and a single goal win over Rangers. However, Hearts lost the Final to Dunfermline Athletic and the campaign, once again, ended in disappointment.

In 1968-69, Hearts moved up to eighth in the League, despite the sale of its major asset, Arthur Mann, to Manchester City. John Harvey did what he did best and gave youth a chance. Jim Brown and Kenny Garland further enhanced his young squad and the Hearts boss made a hugely significant move in January 1969 when he recruited Jock Wallace from Berwick Rangers as Assistant Manager. It was hoped that Wallace would be John’s successor, but his future lay in Glasgow.

Under the new structure, Hearts certainly improved in 1969-70 and finished fourth in the League. Further youngsters, Eric Carruthers, Andy Lynch, Peter Oliver and Ian Sneddon made the breakthrough and the supporters were in an optimistic mood. Too many drawn games prevented a real Championship challenge, but fourth position was the highest for five seasons.

Unfortunately, during the course of the campaign, John Harvey approached the Directors on several occasions to say that the stresses of management were affecting his health. He suggested the appointment of a younger Manager which would allow John to step-back and work with the youngsters. He would also scout for talent. John’s successor should have been Jock Wallace, but he was lured to Rangers as Head Coach in April 1970.

However, in November 1970, John was very happy to return to the coaching staff, following the appointment of the Scottish Youth Coach, and former Preston North End Manager, Bobby Seith.

John took over as Hearts’ Youth Coach and was in his element working with the developing players. He remained a father figure to the club’s youngsters and was also the Chief Scout until his untimely death at the city’s Eastern General Hospital in March 1977. He was only 62 years of age.

John Harvey had served Hearts for almost 45 years in an astute and dedicated manner. As a player, Trainer, Coach, Manager and Chief Scout, he was devoted to the club and John was also held in the highest regard when working with the International teams. He was knowledgeable, approachable and helpful, and a huge figure in the history of Hearts.