HEARTS’ Under-20 team is in no danger of being abolished this season despite the current shortage of players at the administration-hit club.
The Tynecastle squad returned for pre-season training yesterday, with only 21 players – some as young as 17 – in attendance, including three goalkeepers.
With Gary Locke’s experienced options reduced even further following the news that John Sutton has been made redundant after failing to agree a paycut, most of the youngsters who would ordinarily be involved in the Under-20 side will instead be required for first-team duty this season.
However, the Hearts manager is adamant that there is no chance of the club scrapping their youth set-up, as it is currently one of their primary assets. Locke did, though, concede that the Under-20 squad – like the first team – will have a much younger look to it than in previous years.
He said: “We will have a team in the Under-20 league because we’ll have 16s and 17s coming in and there are always boys at school who can come in and make up the numbers. It’s important we fulfil those fixtures because if you look at our current first team, it’s where all the boys have played. It’s important for their development.”
Aside from Sutton four other players – Marius Zaliukas, Andrew Driver and two youth players – have been told that they are to be made redundant, although their contracts were due to expire on July 31 in any case.
Administrators BDO last night confirmed that they have set a deadline of July 12 for interested parties to sumbit their bids for the club and Trevor Birch praised the Hearts supporters for the way that they have rallied round in their hour of need.
However, he urged the Tynecastle fans to continue to buy season tickets and merchandise as there is still a long way to go before they can say the club is safe. Hearts administrator Birch, said: “The support the club has received has been overwhelming: the generosity of the fans over the last week in buying season tickets, the support of those players taking pay cuts, the staff at the club who have not been paid last month’s wages, and Wonga, which has brought forward payment of its sponsorship money for the coming season. Even though the bid deadline is only just over two weeks away, it will take time before a deal can be concluded and a CVA initiated, as a result of the ownership issues, so there is still some way to go before we can say that the club is safe.”
Meanwhile, Locke is working tirelessly to add at least another two friendlies to his side’s pre-season itinerary. The Tynecastle club currently have four warm-up matches organised: away games at Dunfermline and Raith Rovers followed by two ties in a four-team tournament in Ballymena, Belfast.
While Locke hopes to fix up a money-spinning home game for Saturday July 20, the Evening News understands the club are close to confirming a friendly against Romanian side Rapid Bucharest down in Lancashire, with Leigh RMI’s ground the probable venue. Locke also moved to reassure travelling fans that, despite being in administration, there is no threat to Hearts’ trip to Belfast next month for the four-team tournament featuring hosts Crusaders, Celta Vigo and a Liverpool XI. “Belfast’s definitely happening,” he said. “That was all agreed long before administration, so the fans who are booked up can relax.”