AS LONG as I’m alive, this club ain’t gonna die,” said John Robertson at half-time, capturing the mood of defiance at Tynecastle yesterday, as Hearts and their supporters came together in a show of emotion that reminded you why football is special.
Scarves swirling above the heads, every seat filled save for those that segregated the travelling contingent, and a victory into the bargain. Not a very comfortable one mind, but a victory all the same, and in circumstances like these, who would begrudge them the pleasure?
Worth only three points in the league table, it was symbolic of so much more. When Danny Grainger scored the game’s only goal – with a deflected free kick, just after the hour – he ran almost the length of the pitch before sliding to his knees in celebration.
This was his, and his team-mates’, way of thanking the fans for all they had done these last few days, but it was also a relief. Until then, the game had been a poor one, a hectic, derby-style struggle in which there was too much at stake. In fact, there was everything at stake, and it doesn’t get much more meaningful than that.
The tone was set by the match programme, which urged supporters to “secure our future”. Also pictured on the front page was Robertson in familiar goalscoring pose, together with the current Hearts team, lined up arm-in-arm as though for battle. Ten minutes before kick-off, those same players wandered out into the centre circle, accompanied by John McGlynn, their manager, and a number of the Tynecastle staff, to applaud the supporters for their recent efforts.
Some £500,000 has been raised since the club’s share issue was launched three weeks ago. And outside the ground yesterday, the “sold out” signs were up for the first time in five years. No wonder the public announcer was moved to say “thank you for keeping the Hearts beating”.
This, remember, had threatened to be Hearts’ last-ever game if the supporters didn’t get their fingers out, a shocking state of affairs. The way they have been exploited in this sorry saga is perhaps an argument for another day, but it was difficult not to soak up yesterday’s spectacle without a tinge of sadness that it had come to this.
Sadness that, as usual, it was the people who care most about the game who had been left to pick up the pieces. Sadness that, at a time when money is short, it was the humble supporter who again had to foot the bill. Sadness also that players and coaching staff had been willing to play without pay in an effort to sort out the mess created by others.
Vladimir Romanov, the club’s majority shareholder, should be embarrassed by all this. He should be ashamed that so many people with such limited resources have stepped forward to bail him out. Ashamed that, even after all the fans have done in recent weeks, and all they did yesterday, it still might not be enough.
“I won’t back down,” boomed out of the loudspeakers here, but as Robertson, and all at the club, keep saying, they are not out of the woods yet.
This rallying cry has got them through the immediate crisis, but what about the next one, and the one after that? As the public announcer put it, Heart of Midlothian are not for Christmas, they are forever. Here’s hoping.