A FOOTBALL historian claimed lax security and staffing cuts at one of Scotland’s top stadiums were major factors in the theft of historical sporting memorabilia.
Jack Alexander, said the latest thefts at Heart of Midlothian’s Tynecastle stadium could deter people from donating items of historical interest for the club’s archive.
Four gold medals - including one awarded posthumously to a player killed on the Somme - and an 18ct gold watch were stolen last Wednesday after a display cabinet in the main stand was broken into.
Mr Alexander, author of “McCrae’s Battalion - The Story of the 16th Royal Scots” about Hearts players who volunteered to fight in the First World War, said: “The majority of Hearts supporters are not aware of how insecure the place is. What’s happened seems to a recurring theme where people just seem to be able to walk into the stand with impunity and take things away. For those who care, this is a very important Edinburgh social institution but this sort of incident will make people who might want to hand things in ask themselves why they should trust the club.
“Staffing cuts are also partly to blame. If you are going to cut back to that extent there is going to be difficulty monitoring things.”
Mr Alexander said thefts over the past decade had included a leather ledger containing minutes of a board meeting from the 1920s and a large Heart of Midlothian locomotive sign given to the club as a gift which had been unscrewed from a wall in the stadium.
He added the club had a locked facility in an old police cell in its admin block but that the stolen items had been put on show in a display case funded by the lottery for those on guided tours of the stadium.
A spokesman for Hearts Football Club said the club did not want to comment on Mr Alexander’s criticism of their security.
The medals stolen last week were a Victory medal awarded to Harry Wattie killed in action during the Battle of the Somme in 1916; a Scottish Football League Championship winners’ medal from the 1896-97 season, won by James Mirk, a Scottish Football League Championship winners’ medal from 1894-95 won by George Scott and a Victory Cup final runners-up medal from 1919 awarded to Bob Mercer.
Speaking at the weekend about the most recent theft, David Southern, managing director of the club, said: “We’re dismayed that, especially at a time when everyone is pulling together to keep the club going, someone would do this. Not only have they stolen part of the history of the club and the city they have effectively stolen from the supporters and the many other people that are giving so much at the moment to help Heart of Midlothian Football Club.
“Our only concern is receiving the medals and the watch back undamaged. We hope that maybe even the person that took them would see the error of their ways and there might be a way that they could be returned, even anonymously, to the club.”
Police issued a description of a man seen acting suspiciously in the vicinity of the theft. He is described as white, 40-50 years old, 5ft 9in tall, medium build, short ginger hair, clean-shaven, wearing a bomber jacket and dark trousers.