GARY LOCKE has welcomed the deal which will allow Hearts to remain in residency at Heriot-Watt University, insisting it would have been a nightmare scenario for the Tynecastle club if they had been forced to find a new training base.
Hearts manager Locke was relieved by the outcome of talks earlier this week between club administrators BDO and Heriot-Watt which successfully re-negotiated the terms of their lease at the Riccarton complex.
Locke can ruefully recall the days when Hearts players had to form a convoy in their own cars to locate a different patch of ground in the Edinburgh area to train every day. Since 2004, the club have been based at Riccarton where they pay an annual fee in the region of £400,000.
That outlay was questioned by BDO as they seek to minimise costs at the club, which is still financially vulnerable. The terms of the new agreement have not been disclosed, although it is believed the administrators accepted the ongoing value of Riccarton’s facilities in developing young talent with a potential transfer value for Hearts.
Locke is hopeful the relationship between Hearts and Heriot-Watt can continue for the long term as they look to benefit from the £30million National Performance Centre of Sport, to be built at Riccarton by 2016.
“I’m delighted we are staying here,” said Locke. “It was always a worry, because everyone knows the situation we’re in.
“It’s great that Heriot-Watt have backed the club for as long as I can remember. The fact that they want us to stay here is great. I’ve seen the plans for the new development, too, and it’s certainly something that Heart of Midlothian Football Club should be involved in.
“Us being involved should move us forward as a football club and you can see why just by looking at the current team, seeing what has come to fruition with the young players who have come through.
“There’s no doubt that we wouldn’t have had as many good young players coming through (elsewhere). We’ve got a lot of talent here and there are worse places to work. With John Murray and Darren Murray working hard, this place has been brilliant for us. It’s up to us to keep producing the players now.
“It would have been a nightmare if we had gone back to the days when I played for the club. You used to turn up at Tynecastle and drive all over the place to training – Stevie Fulton wouldn’t take his car because he didn’t like getting it dirty!
“Seriously, it wouldn’t have been great if we’d had to move out. But the good thing is that it looks like the administrators, Heriot-Watt and everyone involved have got together to agree a package. That’s great news for everyone.”
As Locke attempts to engineer a great escape from relegation for Hearts in a season they began with a 15-point deduction for going into administration, his task is clearly aided by the daily working environment the club have managed to retain.
“The facilities here are outstanding,” he added. “The sports science and the strength and conditioning side of things have moved on since I played and we have the best of that here at Riccarton.
“Dave Sykes, our sports scientist, plays a massive part in developing the young boys and the first-team players. We have the indoor astroturf and the training pitches on our doorstep. That plays a massive part for in the development of our players and we could not afford to lose that.
“It is very difficult to quantify what it is worth to us in terms of points during a season. But you can clearly see the amount of youngsters we have had to put into the first team because we cannot sign any players this season. Hearts as a football club has always brought through young players in order to sell them on and keep the place ticking over. That is not ideal but it is always important to produce young players as well as bring in quality ones.”
As Locke prepares for tomorrow’s Premiership fixture against Ross County in Dingwall, he has repeated his warning to his players not to lose their cool in the face of contentious decisions going against them.
Hearts have had controversial penalties awarded against them in consecutive league defeats against Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Celtic, that trend even extending into this week’s under-20 derby against Hibs when they conceded two spot-kicks.
“I have told the lads that their discipline has to be top notch because we do not have a big enough squad to cope with suspensions,” said Locke. “If we do get decisions that we get aggrieved by, we have to keep the head.
“I saw one of the worst penalty decisions during the under-20 derby. It just seems to be the way things are going for Hearts at the moment but I will not use that as an excuse. We cannot afford to feel sorry for ourselves.”