JAMIE MacDonald yesterday calculated that he has spent very nearly half his life at Heart of Midlothian, since joining up as a 14-year-old. He is, therefore, a credible front-line witness to the Vladimir Romanov era, from its promising start to the highly traumatic finish.
Being among those squad members who have agreed to take a 50 per cent wage cut, the 27-year-old goalkeeper reflected yesterday on a reign that has led to the financial collapse at Tynecastle.
Has it been worth it? This question has been asked several times already as various Hearts employees stumble from the wreckage of Romanov’s maverick and largely absent stewardship. The full picture is slowly emerging of life at a football club once owned by the Russian-born businessman, as players, released from his command, feel able to freely express how it really was.
MacDonald describes some of the goings-on at the club as “mental”. He recalled the threats and the mind games that have been commonplace at Tynecastle since 2005.
“There was the odd time when he [Romanov] would come in for meetings and do his little speech through his interpreter,” he recalled. “Some of the meetings were a bit mental to say the least, with threats and what not, especially in the early days.
“That was just his character. You don’t know if it was just a psychological thing to put in a fear factor. It’s a different culture over there [in Eastern Europe].
“I remember one Christmas Vlad brought over 33 players from eastern Europe to play against our under-19 side,” he continued. “We played three games against three separate teams of trialists and we ended up signing about 15 of them.
“We had between 70 to 80 signed players over the years when Vlad was in charge. If you look back at those days and look at how many players we were carrying then it’s astonishing.”
It is also not surprising that the club has ended up in the mess it has. “From a professional point of view, it was great at times,” MacDonald said. “I played with big [Edgaras] Jankauskas, a Champions League winner. I played with Takis Fyssas, a European Championship winner the year previously with Greece. There’s been a lot of great players. I had the pleasure of playing with Rudi Skacel as well. It’s been fantastic from that point of view.”
Of course, it had to be asked: Have such experiences been worth the agonising over whether to accept the administrators’ offer of half payment of his wages, never mind the peril in which the club is now in?
“Just like everyone else there is the financial side of things you need to look at,” he said. “We all have bills to pay, mortgages to pay. I spoke to my wife about it and it’s something we can manage for the time being. All in, including youth football, I have been at Hearts since I was 14 so that was pretty much half my life.
“I wouldn’t change it. If you ask the fans if they would change the 2012 Scottish Cup Final win over Hibs, then I don’t know about that [either].
“There are a lot of players who have come through the youth system at Hearts, I am one of them, so it’s unfair our success is all about money.”
MacDonald has made a significant financial sacrifice to aid Hearts’ cause. John Sutton remains the only senior player yet to agree to a cut in wages, and it looks as though he will be moving on from Tynecastle. MacDonald has appealed to the fans to show some understanding of each player’s own situation.
“People sometimes forget that football is all a job,” he said. “Yes, it’s a great job, it’s the best job in the world and we’re very privileged to do what we do. Playing for a club like Hearts, it’s a dream come true.
“But, at the same time, you can’t have a go at somebody for their decision, whichever way. You do what is right for yourself. John has made that decision and you have to respect that.”