Pasquale Bruno was ultimate Hearts cult hero as charismatic 90s enforcer reflects on his Gorgie love affair

‘O Animale’.

That was Pasquale Bruno’s fearsome on-park moniker, borne out of a penchant for crunching tackles and the dark arts that were fully apparent in his two years at Heart of Midlothian between 1995 and 1997.

Surely this can’t be the laid-back gentleman on the other end of the line, taking in some early evening sunshine in his southern hometown of Lecce, as he picks the bones out of Italian football following their World Cup calamity?

Bruno, who marshalled the maroon back-line alongside the likes of Dave MacPherson might have parted Gorgie some 25 years ago but, even if he’s mellowed out since his days as a rough and ready centre-back, the bond is strong as ever.

So strong, in fact, he’s preparing for a return to Edinburgh for the league derby against Hibs on April 9, a trip that may now be extended with the sides meeting again at Hampden for the Scottish Cup semi-final a week later.

Across a glittering career Bruno enjoyed spells at Turin’s big two, Juventus and Torino, along with hometown side Lecce, Como and Fiorentina.

A UEFA Cup champ and two-time Coppa Italia winner, just what prompted this stalwart of Serie A to up sticks and head for Tynecastle?

And does he ever think what might have been, having lost two cup finals to Rangers before leaving and then watching from the stands as the 1998 side finally ditched that “always the bridesmaid” tag?

RecordSport speaks to the man himself as part of our cult heroes series.

How did he end up in Scotland?

Bruno explained: “When I was in Fiorentina, really the last three years (of my Serie A career) my dream was to go to England to learn English and for a new experience.

“I was at Man City when Peter Reid was the manager, they let me go.

“A friend of mine, his agent was in Florence.

“He rang me and said, ‘Pasquale, Heart of Midlothian, they want you. They want to test you in Edinburgh’.

“I’d never been to Edinburgh but I had heard of Heart of Midlothian because of Joe Jordan.

“He was at Heart of Midlothian and I had played against Joe Jordan when he was at AC MIlan. I knew of Heart of Midlothian as a club, so I said, ‘OK, I’ll go’.”

Bruno would play three games as a trialist, the last of which was an Edinburgh derby victory against Hibs, and that was enough to secure his permanent signature.

He scored the following week at Parkhead, the only problem being John Collins would fire home a hat-trick in reply.

But from that moment on, and as chants of “Bruno, Bruno, Bruno” rang louder, he’d caught the bug.

Why did the fans love him so much?

A former Juventus player who goes by ‘The Animal’ arrives at your club; wouldn’t you?!

But seriously, he was entertaining, hard as nails and cast from a mold simply unseen in the modern game.

He had confidence and the credentials from a superb career to back it up while those in the newly build Wheatfield Stand would often gasp from new vantage points when they saw big Bruno about to dish out a reducer .

There was also the time he shook every player’s hand as he was the first to be sat off in a bizarre match at Ibrox when three more maroon jerseys followed him for an early bath.

Former Hearts physio Alan Rae recalled in his book when Bruno was once asked if he was nervous ahead of a European tie.

He matter-of-factly reminded the inquirer, young Bobby Clyde, that he’d marked Diego Maradona.

And that was the appeal of him in a nutshell.

Bruno was also one of a number of foreign recruits under Jim Jefferies that oozed class. His compatriot Stefano Salvatori, dearly missed, sticks out.

Gilles Rousset, Thomas Flogel and of course Cup legend Stephane Adam were all similar.

There were no “stepping stones” or ideas above stations of “top five leagues”. For Bruno and the others, only Hearts mattered.

And that’s why, 25 years down the line, he still has such an affinity for the club.

“It was a great memory and a great moment for me,” he said. “I enjoyed all of my three years.

“It’s a pity I was 33 and moved back to Italy for the children, who had started school, but I enjoyed it so much.”

Where did he go after Hearts?

Essentially back home to Italy, though he did fulfill his dream of playing in England with a short stint at Wigan – and later even came out of retirement to play once for Craig Levein’s Cowdenbeath while on holiday in Scotland.

While the rest of the aforementioned names from overseas stayed for the success at Celtic Park against Rangers the following year, Bruno departed in 1997.

He’d been on the receiving end of Scottish Cup and League Cup Final defeats, both in 1996 against Rangers. Brian Laudrup and Gordon Durie combined for five goals in the former but the latter was a close-run affair, the firepower of Ally McCoist and Paul Gascoigne providing too much in a 4-3 epic.

Hearts were getting closer.

The only problem was Bruno was in the stands for the re-run in May ’98, Colin Cameron’s early penalty and Stephane Adam’s clincher delivering a first trophy in 36 years.

He accepts: “For sure (I wish I could have played).

“We lost the finals before because of Laudup and Gascoigne, Rangers had great players and were just better than us. They were great players and we were around the bottom for each of the finals.

“But when they won, I thought I would like to be there with them on the pitch. But it’s football, it’s life.

“We made it to two finals, lost them both but it was still a great result for us. It was a miracle for us to even reach a final. When I arrived at Tynecastle we were at the bottom.

“At the end of the season we saved ourselves from relegation and reached the Scottish Cup Final, it was a great result.

“I hope they can make it through the semi-final and beat Hibs to reach another final. It’s my dream.”

Still involved in many facets of the game back home, Bruno is a commentator and an agent.

He even recently linked up with old team-mate John Colquhoun, also in the agent business, and runs his own footballing academy.

Related Posts

George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *