GARY Locke, the Hearts manager, last night said he was confident his team would be playing in the Scottish Premier League next season, despite fears that they could be relegated as punishment for their financial problems.
Tomorrow, an SPL board meeting will discuss whether and how Hearts should be sanctioned after it emerged last week that their parent company, UBIG, had asked to be declared insolvent. They and their sister company, Ukio Bankas, own 79 per cent of Hearts’ shares.
If the SPL determine that the insolvency process began before the end of the season, the Edinburgh club will be docked 18 points, a decision that would consign them to the First Division. If not, the points deduction will not come into effect until after the summer break.
After Hearts’ 1-1 draw with Aberdeen at Pittodrie yesterday, Locke was asked whether he was confident that Hearts would still be in Scotland’s top flight next season. “Yes, very confident,” he said. “That’s what I’m building towards next season – us being in the SPL. Until anybody tells me different, that’s the way we’ll carry on. I’m not worried at all. What will happen will happen. I just concentrate on the football. I can’t influence what happens off the pitch so it doesn’t worry me. That’s the season finished with now. It’s been a long season for us, and a lot of things have gone on. I’ll be glad to see the back of it. Hopefully, we can just build for next season.”
That will be easier said than done, with uncertainty likely to hamper their efforts in the transfer market. “Any manager will tell you it’s very difficult to get players in because we all seem to be after the same ones,” said Locke. “I’ll just work hard with John Murray in the next couple of weeks, as we have been doing behind the scenes, trying to rebuild for next season. That’s all I can do.
“If you’re talking to players, they’re obviously wanting stability. So that could affect us a little bit, but for me, the size of the club… when you see the support we had today, the support we’ve had for the last two home games. If it’s a player with any ambition, I’m hoping he will come to Hearts.”
SPL bottom club Dundee would be the beneficiaries if Hearts were relegated but their manager, John Brown, insisted yesterday that he was still preparing for life in the First Division. “If I am holding my breath from today until Monday, I am going struggle,” Brown said. “As it stands we are in the SFL so we are preparing for that and let the authorities deal with anything else.”
Dundee goalkeeper Steve Simonsen added: “It’s the SPL decision and that’s nothing to do with us. We can’t affect anything that happens there. I think that anybody who supports Dundee will have their eyes towards there [tomorrow’s meeting at Hampden] but as players there’s not too much we can do about it.
“We went out the last few weeks and got the results we could but whatever happens now is out of our hands.
“You have mixed emotions because you feel for the other party involved, you feel for their fans and their club because you would hate the same thing to be happening to yourself. It’s a difficult time for everybody involved. You don’t want to benefit from another club’s adversity but we will have a watching brief obviously and what will happen, will happen.”