LIKE almost everyone else, Brad McKay doesn’t know the ins and out of Ian Black’s alleged betting offences. However, the Hearts youngster is sure about one thing – neither he nor his team-mates can plead ignorance when it comes to knowing the boundaries for professional footballers and gambling.
It is simple, really. The players know that betting on football is a no-go zone, although this does seem somewhat fanciful when it is so straightforward to place bets anonymously on websites.
Shortly after the start of pre-season training, McKay sat with his team-mates and heard former Hearts player Kevin Twaddle deliver a cautionary tale about the perils of gambling.
In a book published last year Twaddle chronicled how he lost over £1 million due to a gambling addiction that drove him to the brink of suicide. He has since started working closely with PFA Scotland as he seeks to offer the benefit of his wisdom to young professional footballers in Scotland. Twaddle turned up with PFA Scotland chairman Jack Ross at Hearts’ Riccarton complex earlier this summer – more than anywhere else in Scotland, Hearts is the place to head these days if you want to catch them young when imparting a serious message.
“We know what we are supposed to and not supposed to do in terms of gambling,” said McKay yesterday, one day after another former Hearts player, the Rangers midfielder Ian Black, was accused by the Scottish Football Association of betting against his own team, amongst other betting related charges.
“We have a meeting every pre-season when someone comes in and lets you know the rules and regulations of what you are supposed to and not supposed to do,” added McKay. “But I don’t think it is a problem with any of the boys at Hearts – it is not something we have to worry about here.”
The centre-half added: “I don’t know if every player knows but, as far as Hearts are concerned, we have been told what we can and cannot do.”
During that pre-season visit by PFA Scotland, McKay heard that professional football operates a zero tolerance approach towards bets placed by players. “We know what gambling can do and what it does do”, said the 20-year old. “But it is not a problem for anyone here. It is not talked about here. It is up to players – they have to have responsibility and respect at the end of the day. Especially with betting on football – it is a profession where you have to be a lot more professional than in a lot of other jobs.”
You also have to be fitter. McKay played 270 minutes of football in six bruising days last week. First of all was the hardly inconsequential matter of an Edinburgh derby last Sunday, which Hearts won 1-0 as they began eating into their 15-point penalty for going into administration. Two days later McKay made his debut for the Scotland under 21 side in the 6-0 defeat to England. And then the centre-half completed a memorable if draining week by helping Hearts secure a valuable point in the Friday night fixture against Partick Thistle.
“I’d never been called up by Scotland at any level before, so to come straight in at under-21 level was great for me,” he said. “I was watching Match of the Day on Saturday night and the guys we played against were playing and scoring.
“They are in the Premier League and it’s an eye-opener to see these guys up close.
“It keeps your feet on the ground. You think you are a player and because you are in the Hearts first-team – or any first-team – at a young age that you are doing well. But then you see how developed these guys are and the size of them. They are huge, but great players as well. It’s a huge learning curve.”
McKay believes that playing alongside Danny Wilson – Hearts’ barely much older but more experienced skipper – has been a significant bonus as he seeks to establish himself.
“He [Wilson] is still young but when you see what he has achieved in his career, it is an inspiration,” he said. “Danny’s a great lad and is good around the dressing-room. He helps the younger lads and is vocal. He also collects the fines – and he isn’t quiet about that.”
After picking up four points from their opening three league games, Hearts, who entertain Aberdeen this weekend, are now 11 points away from the zero point target. “When you look at the points and look at the table, you always need to win as many points as you can whether there is a deduction or not,” added McKay. “You have to win games – it is as simple as that. The points deduction is always on everyone’s mind. We have to do a job by winning as many games as possible, claw the points back and then, once we get to zero points, take it from there.
“Once we get there – when we get there – it will massive for us and we’ll be flying,” he added.