Relegation injustice driving Hearts and Craig Gordon to prove Scottish football wrong
The simmering anger inside Tynecastle Park has probably generated enough energy to power Hearts’ team bus all season. An enforced relegation by Scottish Professional Football League clubs left Ann Budge and her staff seething, hence legal action through Edinburgh’s Court of Session.
None of this was missed by Craig Gordon upon returning to the ground where he grew up. Six trophy-splattered years at Celtic gave way to a homecoming for the popular goalkeeper, who knows he is walking directly into the eye of a storm.
Season 2019/20 was stopped by coronavirus in March with Hearts four points adrift at the foot of the Premiership. They had eight games and 24 points still to play for, yet a vote by more than 80 per cent of SPFL clubs to end the campaign based on average points per game condemned them to a drop into the Championship.
Unless their joint civil case with fellow demoted club Partick Thistle is successful, they will play in Scotland’s second tier next season. Gordon fully expects the fury to linger, perhaps even for years to come, although he is convinced Hearts can use it to their advantage.
He won a sixth successive title medal as a result of the vote as Celtic were crowned champions. However, he has now moved from one end of the spectrum to the other by rejoining Hearts.
Clubs who voted to relegate and then refused to entertain league reconstruction plans which would have remedied the situation can expect the feel the full force of Hearts’ indignation on the field.
The motivation seems clear: Win the Championship, if that is where they are told to play, in ruthless fashion. Then keep fighting until they are back in the upper echelons of the Premiership.
“The motivation from last season will be to go and have a good season and prove everybody wrong,” said Gordon after signing a two-year contract at Tynecastle.
“There is going to be quite a big fall-out from this. It’s going to last for quite some time, maybe even years, in terms of rivalries and people feeling wronged by other clubs. That’s going to last because of how everything worked out and the injustice felt by a number of teams.
“There is going to be that added little spice to things because of that and Hearts are going to have the greatest burden of that after being put in a position where they feel unjustly relegated.
“Now we are going to get together as a group of players and I can’t wait to get into that dressing room to help to try and pull things together and move forward.”
He believes there is empathy to be found but that does not quell the sense of outrage in Gorgie, or Maryhill for that matter.
“I think everybody in the sporting world has a great deal of sympathy for Hearts. It’s a difficult thing the club is having to deal with at the moment,” continued Gordon.
“It’s a feeling of injustice for the fans and the players. As a player you can only feel sorry for the guys who didn’t get the chance to put things right on the pitch.
“They still had eight games to go and yet they had that chance taken away from them. From a sporting point of view, as a fellow player, I think that’s pretty hard to take.
“They’ll be hurting from not getting that opportunity, as will the fans who were also denied that opportunity to see out the season and get behind the club and the team, to achieve the results that would have got them out of trouble.
“There are a lot of things which are going to make Hearts fans, players and everyone else associated with the club very angry, and quite rightly so.
“I think if any club or any player was in that same situation then they’d feel the same way.”
New manager Robbie Neilson will harness any siege mentality for the purpose of achieving results when the club finally resume matches. Gordon admitted that was a factor in his decision to return to Hearts.
“There are a whole host of things that were involved in making the decision but, yes, it was something that came into my mind. This has happened and who knows what may happen in the coming weeks?
“There is obviously still a lot of discussion to be had in that area, so I don’t want to say too much about it. But, yeah, for me to come back and help fight for Hearts to get back to where they want to be is something I wanted to do.”
He also wants the simple pleasure of playing football regularly after falling out of the team at Celtic. The Championship season is not scheduled to begin until October 17, however.
“If that’s what it is then that’s what it is. I don’t have any control over that,” said the 37-year-old. “The football authorities and the other chairmen had the control and that’s what they’ve decided.
“They have decided to put the relegations in place and that’s when the clubs should start playing. I will play whenever. I have been training really hard and well over the last few months just personally to get myself ready to play football and I’m ready now for when we can move on.
“It’s out of my hands and I made a decision that it wasn’t something that wasn’t going to change my mind about where I wanted to be in the long term.”
The delayed kick-off would certainly hinder his ambitions of a Scotland recall for the Nations League and European Championship play-offs. Gordon, though, is confident playing in the Championship does not preclude him from the thoughts of national coach Steve Clarke.
“It’s about playing games and playing well and if I can do that there the I still give myself the chance to be able to do that. There have been players called up in the last few years from the Championship who have played in the international team.
“The precedent is there for that to happen and I see no reason why that can’t be the case for myself. I have to make sure that I play well and give myself that opportunity.”
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