Gary Locke was yesterday making little attempt to hide the hurt he clearly feels at being deprived of an assistant manager he describes as being a mentor to him. It is likely that Locke would have been unable to disguise his feelings even if he tried.
The Hearts manager will have Billy Brown next to him in the dug-out for the last time this afternoon following the decision not to renew his assistant’s contract when it expires later this month. This news was relayed to Brown earlier this week but Locke suggested it was a mark of the man that he has gone about his duties as diligently as ever in the run-up to the clash with St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park.
“It makes my job more difficult, yes,” Locke said bluntly, yesterday. “I can lean on [goalkeeper coach] Alan Combe and [Under 20 coach] Robbie Neilson, obviously. But it’s a huge blow.
“It’s a decision that I obviously wasn’t overly enamoured with,” he added. “But I understand the situation the club is in, as well. So we have to move on.”
Asked if he could confirm why the very moderately paid Brown has been let go, Locke replied that he had been informed that it purely financial. “They spoke to me about the decision, told me it was obviously for financial reasons,” he said. “That’s what the club have said so we get on with it.
Locke quickly closed down the subject of whether Brown has been offered the chance to work for free, as it has been suggested he is prepared to do.
“I don’t want to go into all that,” he said. “We’ve got a big game tomorrow, we’ve got to focus on that. Billy being the man he is, that’s all he wants us to focus on.
“He has been in as normal [this week], he was through at the under-20 game with me on Tuesday night. All Billy wants is Hearts to get three points tomorrow – and that sums the man up.”
Locke was clearly disappointed by the decision, but he stressed that it had not prompted him to consider his own position at the club. “No, definitely no. Not at all. I’ve got a job to do here,” he said. But there could be no avoiding the scale of his frustration at another obstacle being placed in his way in a challenging first year in management.
“Obviously I’m really disappointed but, you know, the club have made a statement and we’ve just got to get on with it,” he added, as he paid tribute to someone who has played such a major part in his career, at Bradford and Kilmarnock, as well as at Hearts.
“I’ll miss him badly because he’s a great help,” he said. “He has been fantastic for me, personally, over the years. So it’s a big blow to lose him. He has been there to support me. That’s why you appoint an assistant, somebody to bounce ideas off, work very closely with.”
“The club has made a statement and made a decision,” he added. “I’ve just got to get on with it now until the end of the season. It’s been a long season so far, with everything going on off the pitch.”
Locke suggested that he might have more to say after today’s game, when Hearts seek to secure a first win since November against a side who were comprehensive victors at Tynecastle in their last meeting.
The Hearts manager was desperate to concentrate on the up-coming match but the Brown situation has been a central issue in another trying week. It was also revealed by BDO, the club’s administrators, that managing director David Southern and director of football John Murray have agreed to take wage cuts as efforts to exit administration remain ongoing.
“The most important thing, as I’ve always said, for Heart of Midlothian is that we survive and try to get this CVA [Company Voluntary Arrangement] pushed through,” stressed Locke.
“Our main aim at the moment is to come out of administration, that’s our biggest battle. After that, who knows? There are a lot of players out of contract, I’m out of contract myself. It would be foolish of me to look too far ahead.”
The current situation with Rangers has been instructive, he admitted. The aim must to be return to a level financial footing and personal agendas and issues must be put to one side for the benefit of the club. “100 per cent,” he answered, when asked if the most recent developments at Ibrox, where the players have again been asked to take a wage-cut, has given Hearts some food for thought. “All along we have said that, we are in this position through no-one else’s fault,” continued Locke. “It is the way the club has been run over the past five or six years. We are in the mess we are in because we have out-spent and paid out money we should never have paid. There is no-one else to blame. We take that on the chin. When you see the situation at one of the biggest clubs in Great Britain and the problems they are having it is important we don’t get involved in that type of mess again,” he added.