Born on this day is Hearts and former Sunderland goalkeeper Craig Gordon. At the age of 38, the Scottish shot-stopper is still starting in the Scottish Premiership...
Gordon began his career at Hearts as a youngster, making his debut in a 1-1 draw with Livingston in October 2002. His only other appearance that season came in a 4-0 loss to Falkirk in January 2003, in the Scottish Cup.
The following season, Gordon slowly took over from Tepi Moilanen as Hearts’ number one, racking up 29 league appearances. He also made his European debut, playing in the first leg of Hearts' UEFA Cup second round tie in France against Bordeaux. He kept a clean sheet, impressing as the Scottish side won 1-0, although losing on aggregate.
At the end of the 2003/04 season, where Gordon won SFWA Young Player of the Year and SPL Young Player of the Year accolades, manager Craig Levein claimed he only planned to play the keeper in a handful of games, but “he did so well that I couldn't take him out [of the first team]."
He quickly became Hearts’ clear first choice between the sticks, and had also began playing regularly for Scotland. Gordon made his international debut in a 4-1 win in 2004 over Trinidad and Tobago, and played in all ten of Scotland’s qualifying matches for the 2006 World Cup. He had been described by pundit Allan Preston as one of the best goalkeepers in Europe, and the 2006/07 season brought lots of rumours about the young keeper’s future.
Gordon and Paul Hartley accompanied club captain Steven Pressley in issuing a statement against Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov, describing the “significant unrest” in the dressing room. The incident led to the players becoming known as the Riccarton Three due to the players making the statement outside of Hearts’ Riccarton training facility.
Arsene Wenger was one of many suitors for Gordon, praising his “presence and good handling and [he] looks a very good goalkeeper to me." The Scotsman was touted to replace the ageing Jens Lehmann at the Emirates, although Manchester United were also rumoured to be interested. However, he stayed at the club beyond the closure of the transfer window and was named club captain in November 2006.
With Hearts failing to qualify for Europe, speculation ramped up even higher in the summer over the shot stopper's future. His last appearance during his first stint at the club was in a friendly against Spanish giants Barcelona, losing 3-1.
Gordon reportedly turned down a move to Aston Villa in the summer of 2007, joining Sunderland for a huge £9 million, a British record fee for a goalkeeper until Manchester United signed David De Gea for £17 million in 2011.
In Roy Keane’s autobiography, the manager recalls: “Craig is the only player I’ve seen being applauded off the training pitch, in all my career - by his own team-mates. It was after his first training session. Nobody could score against him. We needed a number one goalkeeper; we were in the Premiership. ‘Aim high.’ He was amazing.”
His debut for the lads came in a 1-0 over Spurs on the opening day of the 2007/08 season, with future Sunderland players Chimbonda, Kaboul, Malbranque and Taino starting for Tottenham. Strikers Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent were both on the bench, coming on later but failing to beat our new signing between the sticks.
Despite some promising performances, Gordon was dropped after a 7-1 hammering by Everton. Darren Ward was brought into the side, but lasted just three games before the Scotsman regained his spot in goal. It was a knee injury that kept Gordon out of action for most of the 2008/09 season, and took a while to regain fitness and displace the late Marton Fulop. In November 2009, as he was making a full recovery, Gordon collided with future Black Cat Jermain Defoe and sustained a broken arm, side-lining him for a further three months.
Gordon’s injury required surgery and just days later, it was fractured again in training. When he eventually recovered, new signing Simon Mignolet remained first choice on Wearside. He returned against Spurs in September 2010, starting a run of 15 starts in 16 games which many describe as his best form as a Sunderland player. In December he made a stunning save to deny Bolton’s Zat Knight, rescuing three points for Sunderland in a 1-0 win. It was later voted as the Premier League’s best ever save!
More recurring injury troubles prevented the keeper from cementing a place in the side, and he ended up making just 88 appearances in five years for Sunderland. In 2012 he was released, and spent two years out of the game. It looked like he was set to retire, but in March 2014 Gordon announced that he was free of injury problems and ready to join a new club. He signed for Celtic in July, and was voted Scottish Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year in his debut season back in Scotland.
He quickly fought his way back into the Scotland national team, and started his first competitive match in seven years when Scotland faced England in a 2018 World Cup qualifier. He holds the record for the longest-spanning Scottish international career, with 16 years 5 months and 17 days. It broke a record set by David Marshall just days earlier; a record that had dated back to former Sunderland keeper Ned Doig back in 1903!
After losing his first-team place at Celtic in the 2019/20 season, Gordon returned to Hearts for a final career swansong. He was given the armband on his 200th total appearance for the club, and named club captain in 2021 following the retirement of former skipper Steven Naismith.