BLOOD may not show on a maroon jersey but a lot can be distilled from the strips worn by the Hearts players.
Not so long ago, someone sold those shirts. Like someone pawning a family heirloom to finance their fix, Vladimir Romanov hawked another chunk of the club’s dignity to fund his ego boost and try to prolong an unsustainable adrenaline rush.
‘Budge has worked to build bridges in a community scarred by Romanov’s broken promises and crazy disregard for others’
The highs had been high but when he swapped shirt sponsor Ukio Bankas for Wonga and their astronomical interest rates the club hit another embarrassing low.
It was, perhaps, a fitting sponsor at a time when the people in charge were over-reaching and spending money they did not have.
The times have changed, though, and the decision to cut ties with the loan firm early in her tenure suggested that, under Ann Budge, values had changed as well. The away top bore the Foundation of Hearts logo as a “thank you” to the people who had shown the kind of fight that the club’s “Iron Man” and most decorated player John Cumming himself would have been proud of in his heyday.
It was Cumming who uttered the words about blood not being visible on a maroon jersey as he was led bleeding from the field during the 1956 Scottish Cup final.
Cumming’s courage chimed with the club’s values, forged by the players who enlisted for the First World War as part of McCrae’s Battalion.
Budge recognised the 100th anniversary of the hostilities by leaving the Hearts home shirt free from sponsors and restoring the club badge from that era. It was a fine way to set about mending broken hearts. It is now about salvaging a soul that was blackened under the previous regime.
That stage of the journey will again be illustrated on the chests of the players when they return to the Premiership next term. On Wednesday, the club broke new ground, announcing a partnership with Save the Children by which the team will take to the pitch with the logo of the world-renowned charity on the strip. It is no less than people are coming to expect from a club which has shown it has its priorities heading in the right direction once again.
While the previous regime racked up enemies and debts – footballing and non-footballing – and regularly paid staff late, with little concern or compassion, Budge ensured that during her reign the Gorgie club would be the first in Scotland to pay a living wage to all employees. Applying the same values she longed for as a fan and the same sound business sense that propelled her to success and helped her amass the fortunes that have helped drag the club from the gutter, she has worked to build bridges in a community scarred by Romanov’s broken promises and crazy disregard for others as the club hurtled towards administration.
Instead of crossing swords with the footballing authorities, the tax man, government bodies, the media, large businesses and local businesses, her own managers and players, Budge is a team builder.
Yes, there have been some harsh, possibly even brutal, decisions made as the club was remoulded into an entity she recognised. But when she first stepped out in front of the massed media she insisted she wasn’t there to interfere in football matters. That wasn’t her field of expertise, she said. But given her strengths as a man manager, she certainly has values which those in charge of the players can draw on and her business acumen and ability to pinpoint the right people for the right job have, on current evidence, been flawless.
She sets targets but they are attainable. Gone are the days of wild proclamations about Champions League glory. Next year the ambition is a top-six finish, this year it was simply the desire to bounce straight back to the top flight. The hope they could fulfil that and do it as champions was always there but she was never going to wager everything on black, in the full knowledge that it could have come up red. Unlike predecessors, the books were not precariously balanced like a giant Jenga tower, where one wrong move would bring the whole thing crashing down.
In a relatively short time she has brought the smile back to the face, the pride back to the jerseys and the contrast with the past owner could not be more stark. There have been no submariners’ uniforms, no wacky publicity seeking. While her predecessor’s regular jibberings came to resemble the crackling of static, noisy and irritating but ultimately offering no clear or sensible message, even when she has shown an edge, hitting out at vandals, sectarianism and bad behaviour, few of sound judgment could argue.
But as the announcement of the Save the Children link proved, things at Hearts are fuelled by positivity rather than negativity these days as the owner and those she surrounds herself with seek to strengthen the spirit of togetherness she has worked hard to foster this term as she went about her business quietly but effectively.
While Romanov becomes a dimmer and dimmer memory, the smile on her face last weekend as she thanked the supporters who have bought into what she is trying to do suggest the restoration of Hearts’ core values is meeting with approval both on and off the pitch.
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