It is shaping up to be a historically woeful season for Hearts. They have won just twice in the league, are trailing safety by six points and all this with a budget we can estimate with some confidence is around third or fourth largest in Scotland.
What could make it worse? Actual relegation of course. And what could make that worse? Imagine they were filming the whole damn sh*tshow too.
Of course, we expect games to be recorded. That’s part of the deal for a football club – particularly those in the top-flight. But actually inviting or agreeing to let cameras in and allow them access to parts of the operation normally declared out of bounds, that’s something that requires thoughtful consideration on the part of the Hearts hierarchy. There’s bound to be some regret now, whatever the financial details of the deal struck.
There must have been an element of hubris involved in the original decision. Since discussions with, in this case, BBC Scotland and production company Two Rivers Media, apparently began in the summer, Hearts understandably expected an upbeat series hinged on the transferring of ownership from owner Ann Budge to the fans while the final, final finishing touches were being put on an expensive new main stand. On the pitch, with Hearts reckoned to have fared well in the transfer market, there was anticipation that the team might at least challenge for a top four place. Instead, it’s turning out to be the diary of a season in hell.
This fly-on-the-dressing-room wall treatment is nothing new. Clubs ranging from Manchester City to Mexican second-tier side Dorados de Sinaloa, interest heightened by Diego Maradona’s involvement as manager, have been profiled.
And then there’s Sunderland, and not just the recent Netflix series on the club. Indeed, they were the forerunners for this type of idea, as far back as the 1996-97 season, at the end of which Premier Passions aired. The title referenced one reason for interest in their story. It was Sunderland’s first season back in the Premiership. It was also their last ever at Roker Park.
As a new stadium – the second biggest club ground in England at the time – was taking shape, Sunderland’s campaign was collapsing to the extent they got relegated on the last day. This was despite an emotional 3-0 victory over Everton on the penultimate weekend in what was the last competitive game at their famous old stadium, with former Hearts winger Allan Johnston and Chris Waddle, fresh from a stint at Falkirk, among the scorers. Demotion wasn’t meant to be in the script. It left then owner Bob Murray fretting about filling a stadium that was meant to house fixtures against Manchester United and Liverpool. One scene shows Sunderland directors brainstorming with PR goons as they seek to come up with a suitable promotional slogan ahead of the move. “Here we go… ” is ruled out because of the connotations. “Here we go… down,” one director points out bleakly.
Still, the experience didn’t seem to put the club off. Jack Ross reflected on being filmed for the latest series of Sunderland ’Til I Die, due to be broadcast in the coming weeks, when he was unveiled as Hibs manager in November. Ross recalled trying to get on with his job as best he could while in the background – and not always the background – “they were trying to make a television programme”.
Someone queried what might have been his reaction had he learned, when being interviewed for the Easter Road vacancy, that Hibs were planning a similar programme. He laughed.
It’s reasonable to wonder whether knowledge of the Hearts documentary already in production put him off the Tynecastle post for which he was also a candidate. Meanwhile, the cameras were rolling in Gorgie. They were there at the Hearts v Rangers match in October so we have to presume they were also there to record events surrounding Craig Levein’s sacking, just a couple of weeks later. That’s presuming the camera men or women were still able to operate their equipment while at the same time rubbing their hands in glee. They haven’t been doing their job properly if there isn’t at least one long distance, slow-mo sequence of a gloomy Levein still walking the corridors at Riccarton months after his axing as manager while suitably elegiac music plays in the background. That’s not to say those working on the series are a particularly malevolent sort who revel in someone’s downfall. But they will crave what is referred to in journalism as human interest stories – and there’s been plenty of those at Hearts in recent months.
The Scottish director Ken McGill had to battle such conflicting emotions when making The Impossible Job, the seminal documentary charting England’s doomed attempt to qualify for the World Cup in 1994 under Graham Taylor.
He grew to like Taylor very much – he even invited him to his wedding, during the World Cup England should have been at – but of course, he had to include some excruciating dialogue from when Taylor and his coaching staff were mic’d up during the critical qualifier against the Netherlands in Rotterdam.
Whatever the Hearts series ends up being titled – it’s provisional moniker is Inside Tynecastle – it might lack the kind of candour that made The Impossible Job, which screened 26 years ago this month, such a fascinating watch.
And however bad it’s been at times, and however bad it gets, neither does it seem likely that Levein, his interim replacement Austin MacPhee or current incumbent Daniel Stendel will get close to challenging former Sunderland manager Peter Reid’s broadcasting record of 40 f-words in a single episode (which “bettered” Taylor’s previous record of 38).