AMID grave concern over Hearts’ very existence and the distress of people losing their jobs, last June’s collapse into administration will ultimately be regarded as one of the bleakest days in the club’s history.
It is a period that winger Sam Nicholson will not forget in a hurry.
The 15-point penalty and signing ban that followed meant the writing was on the wall for Hearts in their forlorn attempt to remain in the top-flight last season.
But it was during those debilitating conditions that Nicholson was allowed to blossom.
Then manager Gary Locke had no choice but to fast-track the teenager into the first team and Nicholson, for one, did not look back.
The prodigious potential of Nicholson provided some hope in a season that offered few highs.
And after making 26 appearances last term, Nicholson remains an integral part of the side under head coach Robbie Neilson.
“It was obviously bad for the club when we went into administration,” admitted the teenager.
“But for the likes of myself and Billy King, it was good for us because it got us on the park.
“The more games we played, the better we became, although it’s a hard level to get used to.
“Administration wasn’t a nice thing to happen to Hearts but it meant we played players like Jordan McGhee.
“He’s played over 30 games at first-team level and he’s 18.”
Despite being described as one of the hottest prospects in Scottish football, Nicholson has vowed to keep his feet firmly on the ground. Speaking ahead of today’s visit of Dumbarton to Tynecastle, he added: “Something like that being said is obviously good for me but I’ve not really done anything with my football yet.
“I’ve still got a lot to prove. I’m just looking to try and kick on and live up to whatever is being said.
“It’s doesn’t really put pressure on me. When I play, I’m just trying to do as well as I can.”
Hearts head coach Neilson, meanwhile, admits he plans to make sure the only thing his players are devouring are points – not junk food.
Celtic manager Ronny Deila’s much-publicised crackdown on unhealthy eating at the Hoops has brought into sharp focus how footballers look after themselves.
Forward-thinking Neilson has not gone as far as banning any particular food from their Riccarton training base. But, with a nine-point lead at the summit to protect, Neilson insists he will not tolerate players that do not adhere to a healthy lifestyle.
Neilson, who looks set to be without captain Danny Wilson today due to a hamstring strain, said: “We’ll have reviews with players about body fat and lifestyle, and what we feel we need to work on.
“We’re always in contact with them about what we want to do to try and improve them. We’re not here to make life difficult for them, my job is to make them better players.
“We can give them all the information we can, we can speak to them and do this, do that, but it’s up to them to look after themselves, it’s their career.
“It’s their life and their ambition to play. If you want to do it, they’ll do it. If they don’t, they won’t be here for long.
“It’s up to them, players have a responsibility now to look after themselves. We can’t be with them 24 hours a day. Most of the time they’re here from nine to maybe three, four o’clock and, after that, they can go and do what they want.”
Neilson, meanwhile, insists Hearts have become a scalp for the opposition, with their rivals desperate to end the Gorgie outfit’s unbeaten start to the campaign.
Part-time Dumbarton have come the closest following September’s goal-less draw.
Neilson added: “Dumbarton are very dangerous and every team wants to be the first team that beats us now.
“It was the same at Alloa last week, they wanted to be the first team to beat us.
“They played very well and made it difficult but we managed to grind it out. It will be the same on Saturday.”