GARY Locke has expressed his gratitude for the vote of confidence offered by Hearts administrator Bryan Jackson, and insisted he has never thought of quitting his post.
Jackson not only offered his support for Locke this week, he also said he hoped the manager would continue to stick by the club through its current crisis. Locke reciprocated yesterday by saying he would remain loyal, both for the rest of this season and in the Championship next season if Hearts are relegated.
“It’s a relief, although I’m working under extremely difficult circumstances,” he said of Jackson’s support. “It’s not something that I worry about or dwell on. It’s part of the job and you’ve just got to put up with it.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s been difficult at times because we’re in this position, with such a young team – it makes it hard to compete at the highest level. It becomes even harder when we lose one or two players through injury. Unfortunately, the players we have lost are the ones who are really influential to the team.
“We just have to keep working hard and I think the main thing – something that some people have forgotten – is that the club is still here. We were in a horrendous position in the summer. I think the majority of Hearts fans recognise that the main achievement is the club still being here.
“We’re still not out of the woods. There are still important meetings to come – hopefully this month – that can make or break the club. Hopefully they can all be positive.
“Not at all,” Locke continued when asked if it had ever crossed his mind to quit.
“I love my job and I love working for Heart of Midlothian, and that will never change. It’s certainly been difficult, but for me it’s been a great learning curve.
“I’m always a positive person. This was never going to be easy with the current predicament of the club, but for me this is all about making sure the club comes through a difficult period so in the next couple of years we can get back to where we want to be.”
He added that, even if getting back to the upper reaches of the Premiership entails a detour via the Championship, he will stick with the club. “Yeah, of course. As I say, I love it here.
“For everyone associated with the club – myself, the players, the staff, the fans – it’s been a difficult season. But we’ve all got to remember that the most important thing is the club’s still here and the club survives. And if we do that, that’s an achievement in itself. Then we can look to rebuild.”
The only thing on which Locke would not give a clear commitment was whether he would want to be part of a new, expanded coaching set-up under a different manager next season. His own contract expires in May, and if the Foundation of Hearts have completed their takeover of the club by then, they will have the funds to sign new coaching staff.
Locke knows that in normal circumstances he would not be head of the club at this stage of his career, and may well have to contemplate a return to coaching if he wants to stay with Hearts. So far, however, he has had little or no time to mull over such possibilities.
“The club is still in administration, and there’s nothing that can be done off the pitch in terms of new owners coming in. At the moment the players are in the same situation – we have a lot out of contract in the summer and they’re getting to the stage where they want to know about their future. Unfortunately, with the predicament we’re in, we can’t really sort any of that out.
“It’s not really something I’ve thought about, to be honest,” he said when asked if he would be willing to work under a new manager. “At the moment I’m the manager of Hearts, and I’m trying my best to get us results on the pitch. Because at the end of the day, that’s all that supporters are really bothered about. It is difficult because of the circumstances at the football club, but it’s something you’ve just got to get on with.”
Jackson is due to have talks with the SPFL next week in a renewed bid to have Hearts’ transfer embargo, but Locke does not have high hopes of success. “We’ve got to try, but I’m not so sure it would get us anywhere. I’ll leave it to the administrators. As I’ve said all along, we’re in this predicament because of ourselves, no-one else. And you need to take our punishment on the chin. But we’re certainly suffering for it. If we were able to bring anyone in, experienced players would help. If you look at Motherwell, they’re doing brilliantly this year with a team full of experience, allied with one or two youngsters. You see the difference that makes on the pitch. It’s not an excuse for us, it’s a fact. I came into a Hearts team as a kid with the likes of John Robertson, Gary Mackay, Craig Levein, Dave McPherson and Alan McLaren, and it made me a better player. That’s what I’d love to do with our players. Some of them have fantastic potential, but they need a helping hand on the pitch.”
Jamie Hamill returns from suspension for tomorrow’s home game against Motherwell, but Scott Robinson is now banned. Kevin McHattie is a doubt, Callum Tapping is ill, and Danny Wilson has yet to regain full strength after missing the last two games with tonsillitis.
“It’s not so much injuries as illness this week – that’s what causing us a huge problem,” Locke explained. “We’re very close to using boys who haven’t featured at all this season. We will give the boys who are ill 48 hours and hope a couple of them make it, but they’re very doubtful at the moment. There is always a risk when players are ill.
“If you throw them in, sure as anything they’ll get injured. Danny has lost about seven pounds in weight. He’s been hit very heavily with tonsillitis.
“You don’t want to put him back in the team and he pulls a hamstring – that would be him out for six or seven weeks.”