DESPITE the joy he took from last season’s Scottish Cup final thrashing of Hibs, the Hearts manager Gary Locke today questioned whether the victory was worth it with his club now in administration and fighting to stay alive.
Overspending on player wages is possibly the biggest reason for the financial collapse at Tynecastle, even though it helped facilitate that 5-1 win at Hampden last May. There was also the 2006 Scottish Cup success against Gretna plus qualification for the Champions League the same year.
Players like Rudi Skacel, Marius Zaliukas, Andy Driver and far too many others earned big salaries throughout the Vladimir Romanov era which their club ultimately could not afford. The final cost has been severe. Fourteen Hearts staff were made redundant on Thursday as Locke watched the heart being ripped out of his club.
Debt of £25 million pounds, plus scandalous waste of funding by former directors and Romanov has led to administration. The Edinburgh club needs to sell 3000 season tickets in the next two weeks to survive until the new season starts in August. Four players are likely to be sacked. Locke admitted it is a heavy price to pay.
“If you were to ask me what the highlight of my career was, I would say the 5-1 game against Hibs,” he said. “But when you look at what happened on Thursday and what’s happening now, you think to yourself, well, was it worth it?
“It’s a very, very difficult question. Would I change it? No. But if I knew this was going to happen, then you probably would. What we face now is easily bigger than last May. This is the biggest battle that the club has faced.”
Supporters have again rallied for the cause since administrators BDO asked for their help on Thursday. Despite raising £1.1 million in a share issue just six months ago and receiving nothing in return, fans are again buying season tickets and donating money aimed at providing funds to keep their club running.
“I do have sympathy for fans being asked to dig deep again, but I’m one myself,” said Locke. “They put so much money into the club last season. We’re not stupid. We know the financial climate, the whole world at the moment, the recession, and we’re asking them again for their money and I’m pretty sure, being one myself, that they’ll give us it.
“I’ve had a lot of support. My head’s actually pickled at the minute, to be honest. You know who your true friends are, and they’ve all been in touch. Hopefully, everyone can rally round now and we can get this club back to where it should be. The situation is bleak. That’s the message that I’ve got to get across. We need the backing of everyone that has the club at heart. It’s easy for me to sit here and say I’m 100 per cent convinced it will happen, but we need it to happen.
“So far they are doing what they did last year when everything went pear-shaped. They are backing the club. They are putting their money where their mouth is. To be fair, that’s what I expect. I’ve got friends, family, my kids, who will be doing the same, just making sure that there’s a football club here because, at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.”
Locke revealed he feared for his own position prior to Thursday’s staff meeting with the BDO administrators Bryan Jackson and Trevor Birch. “As soon as the club goes into administration, you think that you might be out of a job as well. I’ve been through it before as a player (at Bradford City). I met Trevor and Bryan on Thursday and had a great meeting with them, or as great as it could have been. I know what’s at stake. I know what we need to do. It’s important that we get that message out to supporters.
“It’s been a horrible time, absolutely horrible. Thursday was as bad a day as I’ve had in football. To say I’ve not had much sleep over the last 48 hours is an understatement. To see so many terrific people losing their jobs was heartbreaking.”
Locke was on holiday in Turkey when Hearts announced their intention to enter administration at the start of the week. “I spoke to John Murray and people at the club so I had a rough idea of what was happening,” he said. “The last four or five days of my holiday ended up being pretty disastrous as well. Although I had a good time with the wife and kids, it was heartbreaking to hear things that were going to happen here.
“I was there (on Thursday) when they were coming out the door upset and it was very difficult. You can offer words of comfort, that’s all you can do. There were a couple of tears because you get emotionally tied to people who work at the club.”
Four Hearts players are expected to be sacked in the coming days, whilst goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald and midfielder Ryan Stevenson have already agreed to reduced salaries.
“I’ve not had a lot of contact with the players,” continued Locke. “I think the majority of them are still on holiday and, to be honest with you, there aren’t many left.
“The administrators have told me everything, although it wasn’t something I wanted to hear. The told me the truth and told me how it is. We’re in a bleak, bleak position. There’s no money. If the fans don’t rally round the club, we won’t be here. That’s it in a nutshell. I saw how the fans rallied round the club last year. I’m hoping we can reach the target of 3000 season tickets because that’s what we need to stay afloat.”
For now, Hearts’ pre-season plans remain in place. “The fixtures that I have got, they’re okay,” said Locke.
“We will still be going to Belfast and we will have friendlies at Raith and Dunfermline. I’m trying to get another couple of games. I’m hoping to get a game here, where the fans can come and show their support, but it’s very difficult in the current situation.”
Asked about the Romanov regime, Locke opted not to criticise in public. “I don’t really want to talk about the past. I’ve obviously got my opinions on different things, but I’d rather keep them to myself. At the end of the day, we are in administration now. It’s a completely new start. Hopefully.
“I just pray that everybody rallies round the club, which I think they will do. I’ve no doubts. I’ve seen what happened last year. I’m hoping the same thing happens again and we can get the club back to being the club it was when I played here. I hope and pray somebody does buy the club and we can move forward. This is a huge club, a great institution with a great history. We hope something can happen but at the moment things are bleak.”