A YEAR ago, Jamie Walker’s summer break was interrupted by a phone call telling him that Hearts had gone into administration. It put a downer on the remaining few days of his holiday and heralded a year that he describes as “draining”.
Twelve months on, he is looking forward to recharging his batteries with a vacation in the Dominican Republic, comforted by the fact that the club will soon be exiting administration and confident that the trials of last term are behind them.
“I was in Egypt when I got a call from someone at the club. I was a bit worried what would happen, but you just have to deal with it. You just get on with it. You just have to try to put it to the back of your mind and play as well as you can. It is hard but it’s part and parcel of the game,” said the forward, who was at Tynecastle yesterday to support the Tesco Bank Football Challenge Festival.
“At least we know we have a job for next season. Last summer we didn’t know what was happening and even throughout the season we didn’t really know what was happening. But this season there won’t be the same distractions.
“Obviously, we start this season on zero points instead of minus 15 and we won’t have the transfer embargo. Hopefully, we can start the season well and progress.”
With an arduous campaign behind them, Hearts start next season in the Championship. There will be a new manager and fresh faces in the playing squad and Walker, who missed a few months with a foot injury but still did enough in his 30 appearances to earn a contract extension, says there is an air of positivity.
“Yeah, it was very long season,” he said. “The boys are all very young and it’s hard to take on board everything that was happening but I think the boys did themselves proud. It is difficult to deal with all the fundraising things and fans rallies and everything else when you are trying to concentrate on playing, but we were all trying to help save the club. Hopefully, we have done that now and everyone can kick on.
“I think me and the whole team probably feel a lot wiser after what we went through. We’ve gained so much experience and, hopefully, it will stand us in good stead for next season. It’s great to be starting from scratch.”
Although sad to say goodbye to manager Gary Locke and some friends, Walker says the changes will inject fresh life into the rest of the squad.
“The prospect of new signings is exciting,” added Walker. “We are a very young squad now and I think a few more experienced players will help us give it a really good shot next season. New faces coming in will have everybody buzzing and we’ll all be fighting for our places, so that should work in our favour.”
Even the appointment of a new head coach does not bring with it the degree of uncertainty it might if he had been parachuted in from another club. The new gaffer, Robbie Neilson was in charge of the under-20s, which means most of the players know him, while the results he managed to get with a depleted squad speak to his coaching credentials, says Walker.
“He was the coach for the 20s and when I was coming back from injury I played a few games under him. It was a difficult season for the 20s because most of our players were in the first team, so they had to go with a younger squad, but they did well and he took them to a cup final that they could have won so, obviously, he’s a good coach.
“I’m looking forward to working under him. He never really shouts. He’s quite calm. He obviously knows what he is talking about and, hopefully, I can get to know him a lot better next season.
“If it was a completely new manager then the boys would need to get to know him from the start but most of the lads know Robbie and like him. I wasn’t too surprised when he got the job. It is Hearts – anything can happen!
“He has told the boys he expects us to work hard. He knows we won’t play well every week but he expects us to give 100 per cent.”
Walker refuses to concede the league title to pre-season favourites Rangers before a ball is even kicked.
“It’s not that clear cut,” he said. “It is a hard league and it’s not easy to pick up points. Rangers will be favourites as they are a massive club but, if we bring in enough good players, we can give it a right good crack.”