JOHN McGlynn knows just how accurate Jock Stein’s statement was when he referred to football as being nothing without the fans.
Without their supporters’ efforts, Hearts themselves could well be gone from the game, with the further loss of over a hundred jobs.
It is notable that, since the news that Hearts had moved back towards the brink again earlier this month, McGlynn’s side have been unbeaten. A 1-1 draw at Inverness Caledonian Thistle, courtesy of a last-minute equaliser, said everything about their spirit. Last weekend’s 1-0 win over St Mirren was attributed in part to the waves of emotion spilling forth from a full Tynecastle, with fans answering the call to attend in numbers after a winding-up order had been received from Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs for non payment of a £450,000 tax bill.
While the financial strife has not been welcomed by players, who are again going without wages, it has made McGlynn’s life easier in one respect. No longer does he need to think about how to inspire greater effort from his players. They have been humbled by the actions of the fans, whose current fund-raising efforts could, in part, be used to fund their wages, with two months’ worth of salaries due to be paid in the middle of next month.
The players cannot control the financial outlook at Hearts, but they can help maintain the enthusiasm by posting vigorous performances each week. McGlynn is conscious that the team now face their most testing week of the season so far, starting with tomorrow’s trip to Motherwell. That is followed by a home game against Celtic on Wednesday before a keenly- awaited Scottish Cup rematch against Hibernian at Easter Road.
“And still a semi-final in the League cup to look forward to in January,” pointed out McGlynn, who, at one point not so long ago, dared not look any further ahead than the next game. Now that Hearts have negotiated a payment plan with HMRC that allows the sum owed to be paid in two instalments, some respite has been glimpsed. But McGlynn knows no-one can rest on their laurels – not players, not fans. He has set another target of £1 million as the club seek to raise enough funds to finance operations until the end of the season. The manager knows it is asking a lot to return to the same set of fans again and again. He was present on Sunday in the Gorgie suite when £27,500 was raised at a supporters’ rally, as were several members of the first-team squad. As well as being humbled, the players, he said, felt inspired.
“You do use it as a motivational tool,” commented McGlynn, who also referenced a hugely significant and emotional episode in Hearts’ history when addressing the players prior to the recent 1-1 draw in Inverness.
“It was appropriate and coincidental that it was Remembrance weekend and you could use that,” he said. “I reminded them about McCrae’s battalion who went to war, and a lot of them did not come back. These guys went there for all of us but they were Hearts players. If they gave up their lives, what we can we do to try and help the football club this time?”
The fans have shown their gratitude after two committed performances by Hearts in recent outings. The subject of sacrifice is a weighty one at Tynecastle, given the club’s contribution in the great War. However, the present players have done what they can in the circumstances after deferring wages when the need became most critical earlier this month. McGlynn cannot detect any resentment within the squad in what has become an ongoing saga of delayed payments.
“It’s not a problem,” he said. “The way the players have dug in during the last two games shows that [morale is not a problem]. It’s not affecting morale at all. The guys are very, very focused and I give them massive credit, because you don’t know what they’re thinking right now.
“With the stadium being sold out, people turning up and supporting the team, and all the fundraising events being put on, then, of course, we can use that as motivation in the knowledge that we need to keep doing our part on the pitch,” he said.
The trip to Motherwell, who won 5-1 against Inverness on their most recent outing, has been made more fraught by the news that goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald missed training again yesterday with a stomach bug. Peter Enckelman is on stand-by.
McGlynn hopes to prey on any unease existing within the home ranks after a run of poor form at Fir Park, where Motherwell have not won since the start of September.
“I think we’ll have a decent travelling support on Saturday, it’s not that far to Motherwell,” said McGlynn. “I am sure the fans will be there in numbers to give us backing. Motherwell have not done so well at home, so that may affect them.
“We have got to take advantage of that, maybe try to turn the Motherwell fans on to their own team, but we need to start well. If we can cause them problems, we can make their fans nervous, and make them think: ‘oh, we are at home, maybe it’s not going so well again’.”