IT WAS at the end of August 2004, ten years ago yesterday in fact, that Vladimir Romanov was revealed – by The Scotsman, incidentally – to be the man ready to step in and keep Hearts at Tynecastle. In his early months in charge, the Russian-born businessman spoke of his long-term plans for the club, and his subordinates even hinted that the Romanov family of companies would go on into the indefinite future. In the event, it did not even last a full decade.
Romanov quickly polarised opinion, first between Hearts fans and those of other clubs, and then within the Hearts support itself. You were either a so-called Vlad sheep or you were an implacable enemy of the man who had built up a business empire from nothing. Or so, at least, it seemed at the time.
Now, with the man himself a fugitive from justice in Russia and Hearts back on an even keel again, a more complex picture can perhaps begin to emerge.
Of course he was infuriatingly autocratic at times, and in the end his reckless business methods endangered the very existence of the club he claimed to love.
But, in a sport which is essentially part of showbusiness, he was always great entertainment. And the fact remains that, whatever else went wrong on his watch, he kept his one original promise: Hearts stayed at Tynecastle during his years at the helm, and they are still there today.
Had Chris Robinson remained in charge, they would have left home, moved to Murrayfield, and faced a very uncertain future.
It would be wrong to make light of the charges of financial wrongdoing laid against Romanov in Lithuania, and the way in which he imperilled Hearts’ very existence is no laughing matter either.
But for anyone who remembers how spectacularly he lit up Scottish football, it is easy to feel a certain nostalgia for the man, and perhaps even harbour a little sorrow about his departure.