Queues snaked around Foundation Plaza, up McLeod Street to the Tynie Arms. Fans had started lining up outside Tynecastle Park early, reminiscent of supporters eagerly awaiting the release of tickets for a big European match or Scottish Cup final. Only it was a Friday in July and the season had yet to start.

The anticipation was reserved for a football strip. Not just any strip, but one celebrating Heart of Midlothian’s 150th anniversary which arrives next year. It had only been unveiled the night before. 

At 5.30pm on July 27, the club teased the release on social media. Fifteen minutes later, while Hibs were losing in Andorra, it landed. The timing was mere coincidence, the launch having already been planned. But the reaction left the club and those who worked on it from start to finish stunned.

This is the story of how Hearts produced the strip to celebrate the club’s sesquicentennial, a process which lasted up to 14 months. It was a collaboration between club and kit supplier Umbro and, in this instance, it involved Zoom calls, fabric swatches and trims, a lorry from Turkey, an orchestral composer and a new online system, slicked-back hair, disclaimers and a spine-tingling video. 

Each season the kit supplier will have a particular style they want to roll out, a look and feel that is its own. They will present that to clubs and for Hearts that was the case with the home and away kit. However, the club wanted to produce something special, something unique for the third kit, an anniversary kit. Early discussions involving Cat McCallum, the club’s commercial director, Marilyn Stewart, the head of retail, Ann Park, director of heritage and community, and members of the marketing and communications team revealed a clear vision: A homage to the first strip ever worn by the club but with a modern twist. If you were to look at the kit from the 1870s it would resemble something Freddie Mercury would don when headlining at Wembley. It was a vision which Umbro was willing to help bring to life. 

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“We’ll start to get ideas from the supplier 14 months out from when we are going to launch the kit,” McCallum told Hearts Standard. “Because it was the 150th we had a lot more ideas about what we wanted to do. We were 100 per cent sure that one of the kits we were desperate to do was that very, very first kit Hearts had played in. We needed it to have a modern twist.

“It is always a really collaborative process but we had some very firm ideas about that one kit in particular. The home kit is always going to be a version of a maroon kit. The away is something we try to make a little bit more modern that is going to appeal to a different market, it tends to be a bit more of a lifestyle choice. And the third, because we continued this season to know we could do that unsponsored, we felt was the right kit. That with a sponsor on it would have lost that heritage feel it ended up with. They came to us with ideas for the home kit and away kit again putting in some heritage elements but with the third kit we were very firm in what we wanted. We wanted it to be that white kit, with the oversized maroon heart, the funky socks. We really wanted it to look like that iconic first picture that we have of the players in that kit.”

There are certain elements Hearts will ensure won’t be in a kit, green or purple for example. In terms of the third kit, it didn’t take long for a consensus to form. Popular kitman Gordon Paterson played his part, ensuring the club have options which avoid clashing. Getting the right fabric is also crucial. A technical fabric which is suitable for playing football in and looks the part. In the past the club have had samples come back of the home shirt and it looks too brown or too pink. 

“It was just down to finessing the details,” McCallum explained. Such as opting for a notch collar. 

Hearts Standard:

One of the more complex areas was the over-sized heart. There were early considerations of just doing the heart as it was on the original kit. But the club crest was required which meant work had to be done on incorporating that within the heart. Then it had to be ratified by UEFA due to the team’s involvement in the Conference League.

“There are so many rules, especially in European football about what you can and can’t do,” McCallum explained. “We started very early and came up with that concept of having that over-sized heart and having the crest in it. Once we got that design and the ideas around that it was a case of getting that off to UEFA to make sure they are going to sign it off as a kit you can play in.

“The kit process with UEFA, there are certain things you are meant to have. You are meant to have one club emblem. Last season’s home kit we had a wee heart on the sleeve. We had to cover those over for European games because that was seen as another club logo on our kit.”

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Players and coaches are normally left out of the original discussions until designs are locked in and the club does not see the finished product until quite late in the day.

Throughout the whole process of the kit, from design to launch to it going on sale, Hearts ensure they are hands-on. Even more so with this kit and the reveal. Fans are well aware of the slick videos produced by the club’s in-house creative and communications team, including videographer Jordan Allan and graphic and digital designer Robert Doyle. There was never any doubt about the promotional material matching the popularity of the kit.

The video reveal of the third top has been viewed more than 800,000 times across social media. The finished product is eighty-two seconds long. Eighty-two seconds which captures the club’s history and heritage. Eighty-two seconds which bring the Hearts stars of that famous photo in the 1870s, wearing that kit, into 2023. Eighty-two seconds which take the current Hearts stars back to the 1870s. Eighty-two seconds of goosebumps.

“We always had this vision for that real heritage feel to the shoot,” McCallum said. “We knew we wanted a really old venue, quite opulent. We wanted lots of players, we wanted to do that line-up shot with them, some in their chairs, some behind with the old balls. We wanted one looking normal and then one with slicked-back hair. We knew we wanted a mix of black and white imagery, colour imagery.”

Umbro were more than accommodating, even suggesting the venue which was the capital’s City Chambers, looking out from the Old Town. A location Hearts have visited after Scottish Cup success. 

McCallum explained: “We needed something with texture, we needed something with scale, we needed somewhere other people couldn’t wander in because with kit shoots we’re terrified of somebody being able to take a photo of it. You don’t want your kits leaked ever.

“We looked at various venues. They sent us photos of the room and we thought it was perfect. It worked an absolute treat. It was a real collaboration but the vision came from the club. We were very sure how we wanted it to look and feel.”

It all came together following Zoom calls, the studying of old photographs and the creativity and vision of Doyle. The players involved - Peter Haring, Beni Baningime, Jorge Grant, Stephen Kingsley, Alex Cochrane, Hearts Women’s captain Georgia Hunter and club captain Craig Gordon - revelled in the experience, aided by the trust they have in the club’s in-house creative and communications team. As with any kit release they all had to sign disclaimers to ensure nothing would be leaked. Unlike in the past, phones were not confiscated, however.

“We had, as a team here, this vision in our heads of exactly how we wanted those videos and images to work,” McCallum said. “We had our own videographers and photographers there catching behind the scenes stuff. They had ideas in their head how the video was going to come together. Being honest, what we ended up putting out was exactly what we had in our heads. We were so chuffed with it.

“Even on the day you could tell it was going to work. It looked amazing and the guys were all really into it. We said to Craig would he go in the playing kit because in that original photo the goalie was in the original kit, he wasn’t in a different kit. Everyone bought into it, getting stuck in and getting their hair slicked back. They know we are never going to do anything that makes them look stupid so they are always on board with the stuff we ask them to do. That day in particular just felt great. You could tell with the images coming through on the photographer's laptop that this is going to be amazing.”

Hearts Standard:

The imagery used, the location, the set-up, the way the video was shot helped capture the very essence of the anniversary kit. It was elevated by a unique version of the Hearts song. An orchestral version which the club have been asked by fans to release. It is impossible to listen to the music and, on the 30th second, when it reaches a crescendo, not have the hair on the back of your neck stand to attention. 

Rory Cairnduff was the composer of that piece of music. Someone who was suggested to McCallum by a member of the communications team after he had produced music for a video released by Rangers. He produced versions of the Hearts song and those involved knew straight away it was going to work with the vision they had in mind.

“When it all fitted together and we saw the final product it was actually quite emotional,” McCallum said. “There was something really emotional about those two things coming together. In the video I think you could see it in the players how they felt in the kit and about the club. That really came across in the whole package. I don’t suppose things like that happen all that often where everything fits into place and you get exactly what you had in your head but even better.”

The reaction to the video when it landed across social media was overwhelmingly positive. Now they had to prepare for it going on sale. The release was the following day at 11am.

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Hearts were required to place orders for the anniversary kit in October with the aim of getting a delivery at the end of June or beginning of July. Therefore it is somewhat of a balancing act to ensure the club doesn't massively over-order. On this occasion there was a special request made to Umbro for a long sleeve option, not normally something produced for a third kit. 

With the strips manufactured in Turkey rather than Asia transfer time has been reduced with the club paying extra to have deliveries done by lorry rather than boat. This particularly helps with re-orders should the kit prove particularly popular. As it has done.

“We have to look at previous sales and forecasting then make the decision of how many we are going to order” Marilyn Stewart, head of retail, explained. “On this particular shirt we were pretty certain it would be a very, very good seller. I looked at sales of what would be our best selling change shirt which had been the previous third kit, the Inter Milan style kit. We increased those numbers quite significantly.

“It is always the worry with a kit, we put a lot of heart and soul into it and hope everybody likes it. The previous night we got an idea it was going to be popular. When we put the first batch on it was astounding how quickly they went. We had just put in a new online system and thankfully we had because I don’t think our old system would have coped!”

The kit sold out within an hour and a half of going on sale. Such was its popularity and such was the scale of the queue outside the shop, some fans who had gone down to Tynecastle left empty-handed. Stewart had ensured there were as many staff as possible working to cope with the demand, double the number that would be working on a normal day. 

“We didn’t anticipate being sold out so quickly,” Stewart said. “I knew what we were getting in our second batch and knew when we would be getting it. We immediately put most of the second batch on pre-order as well. I immediately phoned Umbro that day to order lots, lots more.

“We very quickly thought what we were going to have to do is make sure we have kit for the people in the queue. We normally have a ring fence of so many in the shop and so many online. The online sales came through so quickly they ate through some of the ones in the queue. What we did was we got staff to go outside and take details for all the customers in the queue and guaranteed them shirts from the next batch which we knew would be within the next couple of weeks.

“The last time I saw a queue like that for something was for cup final tickets. When we release shirts we sometimes get a few people queuing but I don’t think I have seen people queue before nine o’clock for a top. Never ever.”

In the aftermath, rather than close the club shop to cope with the demand and order, Hearts kept it open with staff going above and beyond to do so. It took more than two weeks to get through the order.

“Everybody who could be in was in for the two weeks afterwards," Stewart said. "The scale of the orders was something we’ve never really had before in that short period of time.”

Having seen the cost of the Scotland anniversary top cause plenty of consternation earlier this year, the pricing by Hearts was straight forward. There was no consideration to increase the cost of the third kit, keeping it the same as the home kit and cheaper than a few notable Premiership rivals.

“Being fan owned, we are always very conscious of the pricing of football kits,” Stewart said. “We made sure our kit was pretty reasonably priced compared to most. We never considered upping the price of it, it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.”

Hearts Standard:

Hearts have been blown away by the shirt sales this season. While exact quantities are kept in house, the pink away kit has been the best-selling away version in the club’s history despite criticism online, and the anniversary kit has, of course, been a huge seller.

“We know down to a single shirt how many we’ve sold,” McCallum said. “That’s the same for the last ten years. Everything is digital. As you can imagine with changes of ownership it is not always clear some of the stuff in the past.

“The last few seasons, year on year, it has always gone up, especially from an away and third perspective. I think that’s because we’ve started to get those a little bit better. We’ve put a lot more thought and effort into what will work, what people will like. Like the Inter Milan one, black Foundation kit. We’ve put a lot of effort into giving people something they can wear, not just coming to the football. Giving people a bit of variety in what we’re offering in terms of shirts. They are much more of a lifestyle thing.”

As for next season’s strip, that has already been signed off. And it is a “little bit different”.

“Still maroon but it’s not exactly something we’ve done before,” McCallum said.