Indeed, the Tyncastle club have already done so. Shortly before Neilson was born. George Burley’s situation in the first scenario was of course unique in that he was working for an owner who considered hiring and firing as perks of the job. Burley was bulleted after ten undefeated league games, including a 4-0 thumping of Hibs.
There were no complaints about style of football then. Neilson’s situation is more comparable to the one Willie Ormond found himself in in January 1980. Like now, Hearts were top of the second tier, albeit joint top with Dumbarton. They had not lost for eight games but had won only three times in this run, all by a single-goal margin. They were on track for promotion but, as now, it was proving a bit of a grind.
Ormond did not pull any punches as he gave his last interview from his office at Tynecastle. He was appointed manager at Hibs within months. “He (chairman Bobby Parker) told me he wanted me out of the club before Saturday,” Ormond said. “I wanted to tell my players and my family first and asked if the announcement could be held for Thursday morning.
“But the first thing I knew that the news had been released was when my daughter heard it on the radio and came running in to tell me: ‘Dad, you’ve been sacked!’”
Ormond’s reputation as manager of an unbeaten Scotland side at the 1974 World Cup counted for little. Of more relevance, perhaps, was his long spell as one fifth of Hibs’ most distinguished-ever forward line. Ormond was not granted much clemency from the stands. The surprise is that Neilson, a Hearts stalwart, is being criticised with such venom from some quarters.
Comments on forums that accuse him of not even caring seem well wide of the mark. He cared enough when making a last-ditch, goal-saving challenge in the Scottish Cup final against Gretna. He cared enough to ditch Dundee United to return to Hearts in the summer.
Part of Ormond’s complaint was that it was not being made worth his while to endure the stick he received. “Much has been said about the wages I am earning at Tynecastle,” he said. “Well I can tell you I have been on £9000 a year. I’ve been working for sweeties!" Neilson is working for more than sweeties. His players are too. It’s one reason why the midweek embarrassment at Brora Rangers has been deemed so unacceptable. Already under heavy scrutiny from fans, it has prompted more lively debate about his position.
Few appear to be defending him. Now Neilson has caused more irritation with comments implying that if Hearts fans want to see a team winning every week, they should follow Man City or Man Utd. It wasn’t exactly what he was trying to say but then there is little time for nuance when there are pitchforks to be grabbed.
Ormond was sacked after a home draw with Clydebank. Anything less than a handsome victory against Queen of the South today could prove problematic for Neilson.