Just 16 months ago, Danny Wilson was with Liverpool, the club currently edging towards a first title in nearly a quarter of a century. Now he is set to lead Hearts into the Championship as the Tynecastle side prepare to sample second-tier football for the first time since the early 1980s.
The 22 year-old is entirely at ease with this prospect, despite growing speculation surrounding his future. With a year left of the contract he signed last summer, just days before the club went into administration, there was bound to be some doubt about whether the defender, once considered to be one of Scottish football’s brightest prospects, would remain in situ.
Wilson earned admiration when declining to implement a loophole that would have allowed him to become a free agent following Hearts’ lurch into administration. Instead, he remained at the club and has exhibited a number of impressive qualities as a young skipper during a turbulent season. There was really only one choice to help launch the club’s new home kit, which takes its inspiration from and is dedicated to the Hearts team of 1914-15 . This side are now popularly remembered as the club’s greatest ever team since the players all left to fight in the First World War with McCrae’s Battalion while sitting at the top of the league.
A unique badge replaces the traditional Heart of Midlothian crest, a change that required the approval of the SPFL as well as the SFA. Just as significant is the absence of a sponsor on the front of the shirt. The current deal with Wonga is due to expire at the end of this season but the payday loans firm is expected to hold talks to extend its association with the club. Whatever happens it will not affect the decision to keep the front of the shirt blank.
“Given the significance of the anniversary, Wonga.com were fully in tune with our views and we would like to thank them for their understanding and their co-operation underlines the excellent working relationship we have enjoyed over the past three seasons,” said a Hearts spokesman yesterday.
Wilson played a significant part in the ceremony conducted last year to unveil the plaque commemorating the Hearts team from 1914 erected at the back of the Tynecastle main stand. Seven of the Hearts players featured on the bronze did not come home. “The finest men I ever knew had gone,” lamented John McCartney, the then Hearts manager, when the players left Waverley station, bound for the western front.
“Obviously it is the 100th anniversary of the team who signed up for the war,” said Wilson, when asked to comment yesterday on the jersey. “Now the club has turned the corner off the field and are looking towards the future it is also important that you remember the past. It is important that they play a big part in our history. Everyone knows what happened,” he added. “It is nice that the club don’t have the sponsor on it for next season and that is right because back then there was no sponsor on the shirt. And the badge, too, is a touch of class. It is a nice shirt and I am sure the boys will take inspiration from it.”
Wilson is comfortable with the thought of leading Hearts into the Championship while wearing such a sensitively designed shirt. Indeed, he sounded as if he relished this prospect yesterday.
“Many times people have asked me what my preference would be – I am really happy here,” he said. “I have said loads of times that I could have left last season when the club had the problem with administration, but I was more than happy to stay here. Nothing has changed in my head since then. I am happy here.
“I have been to other places and not got the game time,” he added, with reference to his spell with Liverpool. “I do enjoy at 3pm on Saturday stepping over that white line and playing. Hearts have given me the opportunity to do that. It’s something I am very grateful for.”
Wilson described the “great relief” surrounding the club following news last week that the club’s largest creditor, Ukio Bankas, had agreed to transfer its shares to prospective owner Ann Budge’s Bidco company. The skipper has been suspended for the last two league matches but returns in time for the small matter of an Edinburgh derby this weekend. He sensed the hope as he arrived to watch last Saturday’s clash with Ross County.
“Obviously I came to the game a bit later than normal,” he said. “Driving down Gorgie Road, you could see everyone was going to the game with a smile on their faces. That’s all you want from a football club. There’s been a lot of this season when there has not been much to cheer about but it seems to be at a stage where people are a lot more optimistic about next season.”
There is still much to be achieved this season, although Wilson is careful not to give Hibernian some extra motivation ahead of Sunday’s clash at Easter Road, as Hearts seek derby win No 4 of the season. Remarkably, a victory would also see Hearts equal their rivals’ total of 34 points. Of course, this is before their 15-point deduction is factored in.
“I understand the fans would love us to drag Hibs into more trouble, but that’s not something our dressing room is focused on,” said Wilson. “We will just do our job as professionally as possible and we can only do that by going there and winning. Yes, that will pull them further down, but that is not our priority. It’s not for me to say something to fuel their fire and give Terry Butcher something to put up on their dressing-room wall.”