WHEN Craig Gordon thinks about Marius Zaliukas he remembers a Lithuanian with barely any English who would grow into a Scottish Cup-winning captain. He recalls the fiery competitive spirit of Fernando Ricksen, too.

Both men will be reminisced over - along with others to have been blighted by the curse that is Motor Neuron Disease - at Tynecastle this afternoon when Hearts and Rangers will throw their full support behind MND Scotland’s campaign to find a cure for this horrific, debilitating illness.

Zaliukas would go on to play for both clubs but is remembered more fondly at Hearts. One of a legion of Lithuanians brought to Scotland by Vladimir Romanov, the defender would prove he had staying power as well as talent by putting down roots for seven years in Edinburgh. It was he who would lift the Scottish Cup in 2012 after rivals Hibernian had been humbled 5-1 at Hampden, something that saw him instantly catapulted into the pantheon of Hearts legends. Sadly, just eight years later he was dead at the age of 36, another victim of this merciless condition.

Gordon had moved on by the time Zaliukas lifted that trophy for Hearts but remembers the early days with this fun, gregarious figure who went on to become a dressing room leader.

“I was here first time around when Marius first came over,” recalled the Scotland goalkeeper. “He was one of the loudest and bubbliest characters, and if there were jokes going on he’d always be involved in them.

“It’s not an easy thing for a foreign player to come in and captain Hearts the way that he did. But he had the personality for it and the performances to match.

“You could see he was a leader from very early on. And he led by example perfectly in the Scottish Cup final that will be remembered at this club forever. He was the guy that went up there and lifted that trophy. Those pictures are everywhere and always will be.

“We’ll be remembering Ferando Ricksen, too. I played against him in my first spell at Hearts and what a great competitor he was. It’s a good day to remember the guys.

“There will be a tinge of sadness but also a celebration of what they brought to the clubs and to Scottish football. Hopefully we have a good day for them and their families and raise a bit of money too.”

Gordon will spend a moment remembering his friend and former rival before kick-off before switching his thoughts back to the present day. That Hearts are third in the table is largely down to some of the saves he’s made this season and he will likely be busy again this afternoon with Rangers in town.

Now just shy of his 39th birthday, the former Celtic ‘keeper has endured a tumultuous journey to get to this point but he is in the form of his life with a chance of playing in a World Cup next winter. But, with things going well, he’s eager to try to stay in the moment.

“I am probably too busy concentrating on the here and now to spend too much time thinking about (the past) at the moment,” he added.

“It is very busy and the role of the captain here is demanding as well. There is always plenty on the go. It is about staying in the moment. If I think back about what could have been or what happened in the past then I am taking my focus away from what we are doing right here, right now and I think I need to do that. 

“There is plenty of time when I finish playing to look back and see all the ups and downs that most players have in their career, although I have probably had a few more than most. Certainly there are a lot more ups to remember and those are the ones that I will remember more.”

Gordon was a Hearts player first time around when they last split the Old Firm in 2006 to earn a place in the Champions League qualifiers. It will be a big ask to do the same with Celtic having steadied the ship under Ange Postecoglou and Rangers still leading the way at the top, but the former Sunderland player believes at the very least Robbie Neilson’s men should be aiming to become the best of the rest.

“This is where I feel Hearts should be,” he added. “Trying to get up to Rangers and Celtic and, on a very good year, try to split them and do something very special. 

“At the moment we are doing well but we want to keep trying to improve. We have ground out a few results recently but would still like to play better. There are a few that have got away, times when we have played well and not won games. So, we could have been a few points better off if things had gone to plan but we are still in a good place.

“Success now is being there consistently. There is no point doing it over half a season. It has got to be a full season or even two, three, four seasons in a row to fully establish ourselves back as a major force in Scotland and then trying to move forward. There will always be a turnaround in players and we have to continue to develop, evolve and remain at that level. That is the challenge for everybody here.”