FOR his last act at the club, it was one for Danny Wilson to savour.
Lifting the Championship trophy as Hearts club captain, he can now leave with his head held high.
In front of a jubilant support, who have waited since the end of March to see the champions lift the trophy, the 23-year-old emerged last from the tunnel and hoisted aloft the silverware to the pop of confetti cannons and cheers.
To avoid embarrassment, the Hearts captain had been warned that there was a knack to lifting the Championship trophy. “It was just a great feeling. I was desperate to be out there soaking it all in. I’d been told that if I lifted it too quickly, the lid would come off, so I was making sure my thumbs were in the right place when I took it.”
He may not have lifted it quickly but the haste with which he and his team-mates won it meant their challengers were left red-faced.
Pre-season favourites Rangers had already exited the stadium and were probably halfway along the M8 by the time the Gorgie side had completed their lap of honour, and Wilson will soon follow them out of the door. Having chosen to activate a get-out clause in his contract, he is free to move on to a new challenge. He will do it with memories worth treasuring, though.
“It was a big decision, but it’s not a decision I regret just because of the celebrations today. I’ll always have fond memories of playing here, just as I have memories which aren’t great. It was a decision I took for the betterment of my career and it’s something I stand by.
“I didn’t want to give it too much thought while we were chasing down a title because I wanted to have my full focus on that. But once it was won, I spoke to my family and my girlfriend. Hearts will move on without me. I don’t know what’s in the pipeline. I think there are opportunities abroad, but we’ll wait and see what’s what. I’m not going to jump into anything.”
As for the link with Celtic, Wilson refused to rule it in or out. “I don’t choose to comment on that – if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. If it’s not, it’s not. We’ll just wait and see. I wanted to show Hearts the respect they’ve given me. I don’t think it would be right if I was coming in here saying I’ve signed for X, Y or Z. I said a while ago I’d leave it until the end of the season and that’s what I’ve done.”
But, while he does not envy yesterday’s opponents Rangers their task of now having to negotiate six play-off matches if they are to join Hearts in the Premiership, Wilson believes that the club he is leaving behind will continue to thrive.
“This team will be fine. They’ve got a good manager and good people around the club as well as good players. It’s been a joy to be part of this team this year. But I think I can leave with my head held high being a championship-winning captain. It’s the way I wanted to leave.”
For Rangers, they now have an extra play-off tie against Queen of the South to negotiate, with the Doonhamers hosting next Saturday’s quarter-final first leg before the return at Ibrox the following Sunday.
The SPFL warned yesterday that clubs must “stick to the rules” on charging for play-off matches. Rangers and Motherwell want to allow season ticket holders free entry in defiance of SPFL rules, as Hibs did last season. However, it is understood that the SPFL board believes Hibs’ case was different as they were selling their 2013-14 season tickets before the play-offs were even introduced and that fans were therefore arguably entitled to expect that all league games were covered, including the play-offs.
The SPFL issued a statement which “underlined that respect for democracy and sticking to the rules agreed by all of its clubs is essential if the game in Scotland is to thrive”.
SPFL chairman Ralph Topping said: “Our rule book is not a pick and mix. Clubs who play in the league have a clear and vital duty to abide by the rules and not to disregard them when it suits.