THERE are many things that Ryan Stevenson admitted he will miss about Hearts as he joined Partick Thistle yesterday, but football taking a back seat to financial difficulties will not be one of them.
The 29-year-old has penned a two-year deal, which includes an option for a third year, with the Firhill club after ending his time at Tynecastle on the morning of the long knives that followed Ann Budge assuming ownership and installing Craig Levein as director of football last month.
Stevenson’s disappointment at his second exit from the Edinburgh club – which he was always so vocally passionate about playing for, even in the aftermath of relegation to the Championship – did not give way to bitterness yesterday. Neither did the attacker seek to downplay what the Gorgie side had given him across two spells – in all its forms.
“I didn’t expect [to leave] but I’m old enough to take it on the chin,” he said. “I’ve nothing but good feelings for Hearts. They gave me four-and-a-half-years at an amazing club. All I can do is wish them all the best.
“Playing for Hearts was the highlight of my career so far. It’s a great club and I made so many great friends there. But I certainly won’t miss the off-field stuff. At times you couldn’t put that out of your head. It was difficult when you were right in the midst of it. But when we went into administration it was like a weight off everyone’s shoulders. You knew then the club was out the hands of Vladimir [Romanov]. The darkest times were when he was still there. But the club’s in a better place now with Mrs Budge there.
“When Romanov was there, and then with administration and the points deduction, it was like having a cloud hanging over you. It was always going to be a difficult ask [to stay up] but what it did was galvanise the full club. It’s never nice to be relegated – and it’s not something I obviously wanted to happen to me – but it was a special season with the players and the fans and the way that everyone gelled together.
“That will stand Hearts in good stead as they look to bounce straight back. As much as I’m an Ayr United fan, Hearts will always be a special place with me. I hope they get back up as soon as possible. The club is in good hands and can go from strength to strength.”
Now, the career focus of the former Ayr United, St Johnstone and Ipswich Town performer will be on “hitting the ground running” with Partick. Stevenson is relieved the move to Maryhill did not run aground after he declined to take up an offer to become a Partick player in January out of loyalty to Hearts.
“[After that chance], it came to the summer and Maxi [Ian Maxwell, general manager] and the manager [Alan Archibald] had been speaking to me. I had played with Ian before. I enjoyed playing against Partick last year and enjoyed the style of football they played. It’s a club that I think is going forward. They’ve got a good fan base. So when I sat back and looked at all the places I would have liked to have played in the league then this was probably one of the better ones.”
Stevenson could have gone further afield for the latest adventure in a career that started with him coming through the youth ranks at Chelsea. Romanian side University Cluj were heavily linked with an interest in him during the last transfer window and he said yesterday he did have “a couple of offers from abroad” to consider, as well as the deal from Partick and, it is believed, a less lucrative one from St Mirren.