FOR many footballers the festive period is a time of sacrifice, with Christmas morning usually spent on the training pitch instead of around the tree with family and friends.
However, the youthfulness of Hearts’ current squad has given manager Gary Locke a different perspective on asking his players to assemble as others are opening presents and tucking into the turkey.
Only three of the Tynecastle line-up – the experienced Ryan Stevenson, Jamie Hamill and Jamie MacDonald – will have children unwrapping gifts at home on the 25th and, instead, Locke has quipped that the others in his dressing room will be the big kids who will have to be torn away from their presents.
“We’ll be in Christmas day,” said Locke, who must lift his team for a vital Boxing Day encounter with Kilmarnock. “The only good thing is I’ll not be upsetting too many players because not many of them have got kids of their own.
“Only the three senior guys have kids. The rest will probably just be complaining that I’m dragging them away from Santa and their toys.
“But one of the things as manager is you have to make sure we prepare properly for the Kilmarnock game, so we’ve got to be in.
“It’s a day when you want to see your players spend time with their families though, whether it’s their kids or their mums and dads for the younger lads. At least I won’t have to pull them away from their kids first thing in the morning.”
One face Hearts will not wish to see enjoying the festive period this year is Kilmarnock striker Kris Boyd. The Scotland international, pictured above, proved the difference between the teams the last time they met back in October, when some comical defending from Hearts allowed the 30-year-old to earn the Ayrshire men a crucial 2-0 victory.
However, only a few months ago, Locke believes he was on the verge of adding Boyd to the Gorgie ranks, before the effects of the club’s descent into administration wrecked any chances of a deal being done.
“If all had been well in the summer, Kris Boyd was someone I spoke to. He’s someone I played with [at Kilmarnock],” elaborated Locke. “He would have been great for us – he’s shown it this season, he scores goals. If you’ve got one of them in your team you have a chance of pulling up a lot of good results.
“I’ve known him a long time and he was quite keen on the move [to Tynecastle] – although, obviously, he had a lot of things on the go.
“He’s never changed. He scored goals every day in training, unbelievable goals from places you’d never expect anyone to shoot. If you look at his pedigree, he’s played in different countries, he’s back in the Scotland squad, which is great for him, and he’s still at a good age as well.
“I’m delighted things are going well for him because he’s a fantastic person, first and foremost – a good man and a good player.
“So, in the summer when I thought I had the opportunity to bring a few players in, he was one I’d have liked to have got here. Unfortunately, the way the summer went, it didn’t happen.”
A raft of other things have also not gone the way Locke had envisaged in a tortuous campaign for the Tynecastle side. He has always balked at publicly setting targets, but it can be assumed he would have hoped to have reached the zero points mark and have reined in relegation rivals before now.
The need for a victory is thus becoming ever more desperate but three points against Kilmarnock on Thursday could spark renewed hope as they approach a new year.
“If we’ve got any chance of surviving in the league, we need to try and take points off the teams above us,” admitted Locke.
“I always had the thought that if we could get to January and be in and around everyone, then we would get the chance to strengthen the squad and that would give ourselves a greater chance.
“But, unfortunately, that’s not going to be the case now. So, we just have to keep digging in.”