Hearts' Bjorn Johnsen takes road closure in his stride

The stop-start nature of this season and the scattergun approach of fixture scheduling has left some pining for greater consistency and a bit of momentum, but Bjorn Johnsen believes everything is relative.
Motorway closure is nothing compared to disruption Johnsen suffered in Bulgaria. Picture: Rob Casey/SNSMotorway closure is nothing compared to disruption Johnsen suffered in Bulgaria. Picture: Rob Casey/SNS
Motorway closure is nothing compared to disruption Johnsen suffered in Bulgaria. Picture: Rob Casey/SNS

The nuisance of never quite knowing which day you will be playing pales when compared with the uncertainty of not knowing what league you will be competing in from one week to the next or what the club will be called once mergers and restructuring is complete. It is also small beer when considered alongside the 25-year-old’s frustrating start to this season, as representatives tried to untangle the red tape that resulted from that chaos to determine which club could lay claim to him and when he could kick-start his career.

Hearts will face Hamilton tomorrow night, a postponement necessitated by a major Lanarkshire road closure, and on the back of the disruption caused by international breaks, the latest date switch means that the team will have played just nine of their opening 18 games of the season on the traditional Saturday.

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But while it is not ideal, Johnsen knows that things could be worse. Just under a year ago, he was sitting in a dressing room in Bulgaria as his Litex team-mates all traipsed in. The big American thought it was the interval. Instead it was just the start of a prolonged period of turmoil.

The striker had been sent off earlier in the match against Leviski for shoving an opponent and a second red card for his team, Litex, followed by an on-pitch melee and a penalty awarded against them, had prompted the club’s sporting manager Stoycho Stoilov to order his players off the field.

It ignited furious repercussions and led to the team being banished from the league they had been leading, denied their run at the Champions League and forced to see out the season in the second tier.

“It is so funny because if this game was played in Scotland then it wouldn’t have been a red card. It would have been a talking to, a ‘don’t do that again’. We had an altercation and I pushed him and he pushed me so I pushed him again and that ended up being a red card. You learn from those and I’m glad it happened because it meant I could learn from it.

“It was just hectic and it was a derby game so the blood was flowing. People really wanted to win that game. We were first in the league at that moment and we were not supposed to win it. Ludogorets is supposed to win the league every year. But we were happy to be there and we were trying to stay there and keep the consistency and even after I went off we were still playing really well and we were winning 1-0. Then they gave another red card, so we were down two players and it was a penalty and I guess that’s when my boss decided he’d had enough.

“I was in the dressing room and they all came in and I thought they had come in for half-time and I was asking what was happening and everybody was saying: ‘He took us off the field’ and they were trying to explain all this stuff about the game but the game was finished and Bulgarians were really angry because that was a TV game. It was one of the biggest games of the year. Litex against Levski is a big game.”

Initially suspended from the league, the calls for disciplinary action were vociferous but despite all the calls to boot them out, no-one at the club saw that coming.

“I was thinking: ‘Are we going to play in the league? Are we not?’ It was just weird for us, we didn’t really expect all this stuff to happen.

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“In Bulgaria you have a break in the winter time, so we went to play in Spain and Greece and we were doing what we were supposed to be doing. They were going to put us back in the league… we thought. That’s what we were told. So obviously we were on a high thinking we were going to get back into the league. But we didn’t. They put us into the Second Division. We still played in the cup, so we still had to play the semi-final of the cup. But we were playing in the Second Division which was weird because the competition wasn’t that good.”

That was last December and merger talks later in the campaign and the renaming of teams all added to the mayhem and led to a complete shambles when he opted to leave Bulgaria for Tynecastle. But having sorted out who exactly owned his registration papers and with matters finally smoothed over, Johnsen is now just relieved to have the opportunity to imbue his career with a degree of equilibrium and regain the level of consistency that he says he enjoyed in Portugal, before heading to Bulgaria.

“It was more frustrating waiting to be under contract and all that stuff. I have been ready for this for a while. Consistency is my real goal for this year and we will see how it goes after that.”

Missing out on the European games due to the contract turmoil, he has had to be patient, feeding largely off substitute appearances, until the end of last month. But two starts in the last two games has been welcomed. “I’m just trying to get rhythm and it’s really hard when you are trying to work your way into the team and you don’t know when you are going to start or not start and we are stopping and starting, playing inside and outside, on artificial pitches and on normal grass but I just have to get used to it.”

The past year has taught him that things could be worse, though.