The man who has promised Hearts fans that his team will expect to win whether it’s “rain, sun, no matter what” was greeted by a sky from Gorgie’s grotty past when he got down to work yesterday. A giant grey dog blanket hung over the old stadium reminiscent of the days when lums reeked and brewery chimneys belched – an era that Ian Cathro, just 30, never experienced and will only be able to read about in books.
Well, he might do this. In the days leading up to his appointment he was described as “bookish”, among other things. Many other things, in fact. Rarely can a man have had his character so scrutinised before most of us have met him.
“I had no idea I was so popular!” he beamed, seeming to knock down one part of the scepticism surrounding him: that he’s a reticent fellow and might not be able to command a roomful of hardened professional footballers.
He was commanding a roomful of hardened hacks just fine and at the back of the Bobby Walker Suite, Craig Levein, Hearts’ director of football who first noticed that Cathro might have something, stroked his beard approvingly.
Earlier, trying to get into Tynecastle had proved a challenge. Men in hard-hats barred the way as the demolition of the buildings around the old stand continued. We tried to tell them we might be meeting the future, but it was no use: we’d have to find a different entrance. This, however, was nothing compared to the resistance experienced by Cathro in the run-up to yesterday.
Kris Boyd and Stephen Craigan had led the doubters worried by Cathro’s age, inexperience, modishness, reliance on computers, quiet, boffiny nature and him never having been in a situation where he’d had to tell a big name in the game to lay off the Monster Munch.
But Cathro, alongside Austin MacPhee whose late arrival as his No 2 had delayed the start of the unveiling, breezed into room with a bright “Good morning!” and was soon cracking jokes, mainly at his own expense. Asked about his vision he said he could show us “numerous” power-point presentations only for once he didn’t have his laptop with him. In any case, yesterday wasn’t a day for “specifics”.
Quizzed about the scepticism he addressed the point about his tender years. “If you’d met me when I was 18 you would probably have thought to yourself: ‘What a boring 40-year-old he is.’” Not just because MacPhee sports the long, lank hairstyle of the eternal student or the indie-band guitarist or the software whizz, this felt like an altogether different day for Scottish football. Instead of the often weel-kent and craggy faces usually put before the cameras, the detailed back-stories, the long careers as players, the Fergie anecdotes, here were two young men with none of these things.
Considering that only a few weeks ago, the weel-kent Alex McLeish and the craggy Walter Smith were being touted as replacements for Gordon Strachan had the latter ended his tenure as national team coach, will yesterday turn out to have been a watershed day? That, as ever, will depend on these two winning matches. As the old brigade always say, and this is a maxim to which fresh-faced revolutionaries must adhere as well, it’s a results-driven business.
All Cathro knows for sure at this stage is that he’s at the right place for his first big job. Like previous clubs Valencia and Newcastle United, Hearts mean everything to the fans; they live their lives through the team. That, he said, made Tynecastle an inspiring place to come and work.
Cathro, to be fair, knows a few other things. He knows that football sentences don’t need to contain the words “to be fair” and his opening address wasn’t peppered with traditional manager-speak and the same went for MacPhee who, when talking about comfort zones, explained that many things can take you out of them. Ideas, for instance, also madness.
Madness? I’m pretty sure that’s what he said. It was an unusual day for sure, and one which removed football-watchers from their comfort zone. Afterwards, on the basis of quotable lines alone, some of the hacks voiced immediate approval for the new regime. Cathro, who had no idea how the day was going to pan out, given the suspicion his name had provoked, had remarked earlier: “I need to enjoy my time with you guys. Honestly, I mean it.”
But this isn’t the key relationship; it’s those with the Hearts players and supporters which matter the most and will determine whether Ann Budge and Levein have been brave or foolish. On the basis of yesterday, when of course no points were awarded, this was a highly accomplished debut. Criticism – opinion – was valid, Cathro said. It added to the great debate, filled grounds and kept the game beautiful. Was the criticism he’d received just provocative punditising? “I think you’ve answered your own question,” he smiled.
His only mis-step was to say that as a young man with big ambition and keen to spread his wings he was appalled that having been born in Dundee he might have ended up dying there. A bad day for Cathro’s native city, perhaps, but depite the gathering Gorgie gloom, maybe a bright one for his new football home.