BILLY Brown will stay on at Hearts for at least the remainder of his contract as assistant manager after the club’s players persuaded administrator Bryan Jackson to make a U-turn.
The change of heart means that Brown, who had thought Saturday’s 3-3 draw at St Johnstone would be his last involvement with Hearts, remains officially until the end of the month as things stand, and could even stay beyond then, according to Jackson. In any case, he is set to be still in the dugout alongside manager Gary Locke, although perhaps in an unpaid capacity, for the League Cup semi-final against Inverness at Easter Road on Sunday 2 February.
Even if it turns out that the 63-year-old Brown only has his stay extended by less than a fortnight, it is still a significant victory for player power at Tynecastle. It is also a sharp lesson for Jackson, who did not foresee the strength of reaction against his decision last week to part company with the assistant manager, who is in his third spell with the Edinburgh club after two previous stints working with Jim Jefferies.
The day after the announcement that Brown was to leave Hearts, the club announced that managing director David Southern and director of football John Murray were to take unspecified pay cuts. That decision is understood to have been hastily made in order to back up Jackson’s contention that Brown was going as part of a continuing programme of cost-cutting measures. Southern and Murray had initially argued that Locke should also go, but Jackson chose to back the manager.
In a statement on the Hearts website today, Jackson made it clear that he had made the decision to keep Brown on after talks with Locke and some of the club’s most influential players. “I went up to see the senior players, who put forward a case of being 100 per cent behind Billy, as was Gary,” he said.
“I spent quite a bit of time with Gary as well, and again he emphasised what he has been saying, that he’s 100 per cent behind Billy and wants Billy to remain with him. Longer term, that’s a decision for any future owner. But for the short term, Billy’s contract doesn’t run out until the end of this month, so I agreed with Billy that I was happy for him to see out the rest of his contract.
“He will be with us until January 31. The footballing side seem to know 100 per cent that that’s what they want, so I have to support that. All I can do is support what the footballing side wants.”
Jackson went on to emphasise the depth of feeling from “the football side” of the club, in terms that hinted at a possible failure previously to understand the respect and affection in which Brown is held. “I have to support what Gary wants. If that’s what Gary wants, and he feels so strongly about it, we’re only talking about a couple of weeks, then I’m happy to let those two weeks run. We may well reassess the situation during those two weeks, but Billy will be with us for at least the next two weeks.
“There’s no additional financial outlay for the club. He’s contracted to the end of January so he’s getting paid until the end of January, so it’s not costing the club anything to let him do his two weeks.
“As Billy says, he has absolutely no agenda to stay on for the full term: he just wants to try and help Gary and help the team. His contract runs out just before the Scottish League Cup semi-final and that does make it a bit awkward, but one of the arguments of the players was that it’s coming at a bad time – two weeks before such an important game – so for us to change something at the club and not have Billy there was just bad timing.”
Before each match, clubs have to give officials a list of their staff who will be in the technical area. If Murray tried to veto Brown’s inclusion on that list, he could find every other employee at the club, with the possible exception of Southern, lined up against him.