The Scottish Cup semi-final didn’t go Heart of Midlothian’s way. Steven Naismith’s side had the chances to finally end their Hampden hoodoo against Rangers last month but didn’t take them, and the result was a familiar one for the team: defeat. But all you had to do to see success was take a look around the stands at the national stadium.

Among the 19,000 maroon-clad supporters in Mount Florida were 750 fans who would not have been there at all, if not for a remarkable act of generosity from the wider fanbase. The week prior, a fundraiser had been launched by Big Hearts to provide tickets, transport and food for those who wanted to go to the showpiece occasion but couldn’t afford it. Supporters responded in an extraordinary manner – five days later, over £28,500 had been donated.

It’s moments like these that serve as a reminder that football is so much more than a game. Sure, the team lost but each and every one of those 750 fans who benefitted from the initiative won’t forget their afternoon anytime soon. Each and every one has a story to tell and an experience to share – like Nicola Higgs.

Hearts Standard: Nicola Higgs, top left, enjoyed a memorable day out at the national stadiumNicola Higgs, top left, enjoyed a memorable day out at the national stadium (Image: Big Hearts)

Nicola, her husband John and her grandson Jamie are regulars at Big Hearts’ kinship carer meetings, a programme aimed at providing support and reducing isolation for kinship carer families. Jamie, naturally, is a die-hard Jambo but a trip to Hampden was out of the question. Until, that is, Nicola glanced at her phone one afternoon a couple of days before the game.

“We got the message from the family support officer, Sandra, to say that we had a chance to get tickets,” Nicola recalled. “I knew the initiative was going on and I’d read all about it, but never for a minute thinking that we would get tickets.

“I had to read it twice! When me and Jamie were talking about it we were like, ‘that’ll be ace, we’ll try and get it on the telly or watch it somewhere’. When I got the message I was out shopping. I read it, came home and said to Jamie that Sandra had messaged to say we had got tickets. He was so excited, he couldn’t believe it.

“But then you think, ‘how are we going to get there?’. They came back and said they were going to put on some sort of transport, maybe tickets for the train or buses. The coaches made everything that little bit easier and took that worry off you.”

READ MORE: The impact of Big Hearts as told by one of the charity's heroes

Big Hearts had it all worked out. As well as providing tickets, the club’s charity arm arranged coaches to take supporters to and from Hampden, as well as giving out food vouchers to be used at kiosks at the stadium. Everything was taken care of – and the entire operation ran smoothly. No mean feat, given its scale.

“From start to finish it was super well-organised,” Nicola explained. “We managed to get the tickets then we had to tell them how many we needed or wanted. Then we got picked up by the bus at Tynecastle. Our names were down and our tickets were handed to us in envelopes when we got on the bus. We were handed scarves and everything.

“It was just a great opportunity to not only be with other people in the kinship group, but to also meet other people from different Big Hearts groups. The journey was fantastic and there was a bit of a singalong, then when we got to the stadium it was great. Most of the kinship families were sitting together. It was a really, really great day without a spot of bother at all. The bus dropped us off at Tynecastle and it was just a fantastic day from start to finish.”

For families like Nicola’s, the outcome of the game itself was always going to be of secondary importance. Being on a day out, making memories alongside loved ones – this is what really matters. Nicola doesn’t attend too many games, and days out like the semi-final are a rarity. But when they come around, the work that Big Hearts do draws her towards the matchday experience.

“We managed to get extra tickets because as a kinship family your extended family are involved in that situation as well,” she said. “So I managed to take my son and my granddaughter who’s 12 as well. So we went as a family, as a group – and it was just brilliant. Jamie still can’t believe we got tickets.

Hearts Standard: Big Hearts arranged transport to take fans to and from HampdenBig Hearts arranged transport to take fans to and from Hampden (Image: Big Hearts)

“We went to Hampden for the first time last year because our grandson was picked to be a mascot for the League Cup semi-final in November. It was also really well organised and a great day. It’s not that I’m not a massive football fan, but going to games… I’d rather sit on my own sofa and watch them!

“But because everything is so well organised with Big Hearts, it makes you want to get involved. I’m a lot more interested now than I was. My grandson says he can have conversations with me now about Hearts, rather than just his grandad. They’re so inclusive for everyone.”

The tickets, the travel, the food – these were wonderful gestures, coming at a time when many are struggling. Only the stone-hearted could fail to be moved by the Big Hearts at Hampden initiative but it is the quiet work behind the scenes that often has the biggest impact.

“Me and John have had Jamie for nearly five years but we only found out about Big Hearts just under two years ago,” Nicola explained. “We messaged Sandra, the family officer, and went along and it’s just been a regular thing from there. We go on a Tuesday night and the coffee mornings every second Monday.

READ MORE: The beating heart of Gorgie: How Big Hearts is changing lives in the community

“We go on a Tuesday night with the kids. Jamie is very football-orientated and goes to play during the holidays as well. You’re included in everything and you feel like it’s almost another safety net around you. Kinship can be quite daunting sometimes for a lot of people and Big Hearts has been so fantastic for us. It’s been an absolute godsend – not just for us as a family, but for Jamie as well.”

There are hundreds of stories like Nicola’s, and they were only possible due to the work of Big Hearts and the fans’ generosity. Naismith and his players may not have triumphed on the day – but in some ways, the Heart of Midlothian support had already won.