GARY Locke has already had personal experience of administration when he was a player at Bradford City. But yesterday he explained that what happened then felt nothing like as bad as the present situation at Hearts.
For one thing, as a lifelong supporter of the Tynecastle club, Locke has felt the same worries as every other fan. And besides, now he is manager, he feels responsible for the players and backroom staff as well as for himself.
Locke was on a family holiday when news broke that Hearts were going into administration. He then returned in time to be told by administrators BDO that 14 backroom staff were being made redundant immediately, and that four mebers of an already depleted playing squad were likely to follow.
“It’s been horrible, absolutely horrible,” Locke said yesterday. “Thursday was as bad a day as I’ve had in football. To say I’ve not had much sleep over the last 48 hours is an understatement. To see so many terrific people losing their jobs was heartbreaking.
“The last four or five days of my holiday ended up being pretty disastrous as well. Although I had a good time with the wife and kids, it was heartbreaking to hear things that were going to happen here. I had a good meeting with the administrators on Thursday. They told me everything, although it wasn’t something I wanted to hear. They told me the truth and told me how it is.
“We’re in a bleak, bleak position. There’s no money. If the fans don’t rally round the club, we won’t be here. That’s it in a nutshell. I saw how the fans rallied round the club last year. I’m one myself, so I’m hoping we can reach the target of 3,000 season tickets, because that’s what we need to stay afloat.”
Looking back on his time at Bradford, Locke suggested that while that was similar on an individual level for those who lost their jobs, it was not as difficult to deal with for him as the present situation at Hearts.
“It was horrible – they just phoned and told you that you had no job. Fortunately the English PFA were on the phone and as a player it’s slightly different because you worry about yourself. As the manager, you worry about players, your staff and the other people at the club. I only had myself to worry about at Bradford.”
At Tynecastle, by contrast, Locke has worried about the staff who have already gone, and still has concerns for those whose jobs have yet to be secured. “I was there when they were coming out the door upset and it was very difficult,” he said of the series of meetings on Thursday at which members of staff were told whether they were being made redundant or kept on.
“You can offer words of comfort: that’s all you can do. There were a couple of tears, because you get emotionally tied to people who work at the club.”
The position has at least improved since then in at least two ways. Jamie MacDonald and Ryan Stevenson have agreed to take wage cuts, and the supporters have raised a substantial sum of money.
“That’s one positive to come out of a difficult 48 hours,” Locke said of the two players’ willingness to have their salaries reduced. “We don’t have a lot of experienced players now. I thought I’d be able to bring in a few players but that’s not the case now. These two have shown me they’re prepared to take wage cuts to play for the club and I’ve nothing but great things to say about them. They are the types you want playing for you.”
The two other high earners are John Sutton and Jamie Hamill, and although it has been speculated that they are the two senior players who will leave in addition to two youth players, Locke refused to reveal what he had said to them.
“I’ve managed to touch base with them, but it’s not a decision you can make straight away. I’ve told them the circumstance and had two really positive conversations with them, so we’ll see what happens.”
Danny Wilson, whose signing was only announced recently, will not be registered now that there is a ban on new players, as he is still under contract at Liverpool. Andy Webster’s contract has expired, and Marius Zaliukas’s runs out in August.
None of those three has been included in the administrators’ calculations, meaning that four players in addition to the trio of defenders are still likely to go.
Locke expects an announcement from the administrators regarding the players next week. “Hopefully they’ll have something to release in the next few days,” he said. “I’m not 100 per cent sure what’s happening.”
Having thanked two of his players for their contribution, Locke also thanked the fans for their efforts. “They put so much money into the club last season. “We’re not stupid. We know the financial climate in the whole world at the moment, and we’re asking them again for their money and I’m pretty sure, being [a Hearts supporter] myself, that they’ll give us it.
“I just pray that everybody rallies round the club, which I think they will do. I’ve no doubts. I’ve seen what happened last year.
“I’m hoping the same thing happens again and we can get the club back to being the club it was when I played here.”
Asked if the task faced by Hearts now was tougher than the 2012 Scottish Cup final, in which they beat Hibs 5-1, Locke unsurprisingly said it was. “Easily, This is the biggest battle that the club has faced.”
Asked if that triumph and the other Scottish Cup win under Vladimir Romanov six years earlier were worth the present grief, he found it harder to commit himself to a definite answer. “That’s a difficult one,” he said. “If you were to ask me what the highlight of my career was, I would say the 5-1 game against Hibs, but when you look at what happened yesterday and what’s happening now, you think to yourself, well, was it?
“It’s a very, very difficult question. Would I change it? No. But if I knew this was going to happen, then you probably would.”