Yo-yo club is not a phrase one might necessarily associate with Hearts but a league table has been doing the rounds this week which suggests this description is partly merited.
Not that merit is a word anyone would be advised to casually drop into a conversation down Gorgie way right now. Few fans of the Tynecastle club will have the stomach to study another league table at the end of a week where they have been formally relegated for having the misfortune to be bottom of the Premiership at the time a pandemic struck – or, more accurately, when the Scottish government decided to get serious about tackling a pandemic.
Had First Minister Nicola Sturgeon decided to take action on the morning of 4 March, for example, days after a Covid-19 outbreak following a Nike conference at an Edinburgh hotel, then Hearts would not be in their current predicament. A 3-1 win over Hibernian the previous evening saw Daniel Stendel’s side leapfrog Hamilton Accies into 11th place on goal difference.
But relegation is relegation even when it’s expulsion, as Tynecastle owner Ann Budge prefers to describe it. And that’s now five times Hearts have suffered this fate since reconstruction in 1975. Only Dundee – who in a sliding doors moment were relegated on goal difference from Dundee United in the Premier Division’s inaugural season – have endured a higher number. The Dens Park club fly high at the top of this ignominious table with a total of seven relegations, while Dunfermline share second spot with Hearts on five. Hibs are further down the table on three.
Even Partick Thistle, who might be many people’s choice if asked to identify a yo-yo club, sit behind Hearts and Dunfermline in joint fourth place on four. Somehow Hearts, who few would dispute are one of Scotland’s top five clubs and might have claim to be the largest after Celtic and Rangers, have managed to get themselves in a frightful mess more times than seems right. It’s certainly too often to permit anyone ascribing such a blotted track record to rotten luck.
There has been recurring mismanagement, including poor player recruitment. This is as true now as it was back in the late 1970s to early 80s period, when Hearts went down three times in five seasons.
Of course, some special circumstances must be acknowledged. It’s unlikely Hearts would have suffered the fate they did in 2013-14 had the club not gone bankrupt and then been handed a 15-point penalty. In the end, relegation was a sweet mercy, allowing the team to rebuild and come back much stronger. Or so it seemed was the case.
“If you dig into Hearts’ history, we’ve always had this problem – we set ourselves up as challengers to the Old Firm,” club historian David Speed told me. “But you can’t hope to rival a Glasgow club on Edinburgh attendances. It’s not going to work.”
Whatever the reason, or reasons, for under-achievement, it’s difficult to reconcile Hearts’ aspirations to be the third force in Scotland with such relatively regular struggles. They also flirted with the spectre of relegation three times in the 1990s – needing last-day results in ’93-94 and ’94-95.
Hearts fans might well reflect on all this and think that five relegations, if that’s what it turns out to be amid legal threats and renewed reconstruction plans, is an acceptable price to pay for three Scottish Cup wins in the same time frame, one of which was a 5-1 win over their local rivals. In fact, it seems almost certain that this will be their stance – and it’s understandable. Football’s the glory game after all.
But still, five goals in a cup final, whoever the opposition are, is one thing, five relegations in just over 40 years – however questionable the circumstances surrounding the last of them – quite another.
Most relegations since 1975
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