Jim Jeffries: ‘Romanov era was disaster at Hearts’

THE fact there is silverware to be played for is not the only reason why Saturday’s fund-raising meeting between Dunfermline and Hearts will be more than just another friendly as far as Jim Jefferies is concerned. He has an emotional investment in both administration-hit clubs.

Dunfermline manager - and former boss at Hearts - Jim Jeffries. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Dunfermline manager - and former boss at Hearts - Jim Jeffries. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Dunfermline manager - and former boss at Hearts - Jim Jeffries. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

As one of the several managers employed and then dispensed with by the discredited owner Vladimir Romanov, Jefferies saw Hearts’ finances unstitch at close quarters. He now describes the Russian-born businessman’s tenure at Tynecastle as having been a “disaster” for the club.

Jefferies was re-appointed Hearts manager in January 2010 and then was sacked at the start of the following season, although he was offered a position as director of football. However, Jefferies decided to decline the offer and move on, having tired of Romanov’s autocratic ways. He returned to football in 2012 as manager at East End Park, where he has since become a popular figure. Supporters have even pledged money to the club’s survival cause on the proviso that he remains in charge.

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He is also still regarded with extreme fondness by Hearts supporters, after leading the Tynecastle side to Scottish Cup victory in 1998 in his first spell as manager. “It goes without saying the connections I have with Hearts, and I have always had a great reception there,” Jefferies said yesterday, as he reflected on the current state of the club. “It is sad what happened but I have always thought it was a possibility because I saw it from the inside.”

“There was a massive wage bill,” he recalled. “But that was the owner’s prerogative. Whether it was a success, only time was going to tell – and it has proved to be a disaster to be honest.”

It is a damning indictment from someone who no-one can doubt has always had Hearts’ best interests at the forefront of his thoughts – although this won’t be the case for 90 minutes, and perhaps longer, this weekend. Should the match still be level at full-time, Jefferies has reached agreement with Gary Locke that they should proceed straight to penalties.

While they might speak every second day on the phone, the first meeting of manager and mentor has been supplied with a competitive edge, as they battle it out for something that has been called the Supporters Direct Scotland Fans’ Cup.

What is becoming an annual fixture is now acting as fund-raiser for both financially imperilled clubs. Indeed, the meeting at East End Park – kick-off 2pm – has been billed as the “Administration derby”. However, there is nothing to be flippant about when the serious matter of these two clubs’ survival is at stake. Whether or not there is silverware up for grabs, Jefferies would always want to emerge victorious over Locke, who will of course be joined in the away dug-out by the Dunfermline manager’s long-time compadre, Billy Brown.

“Although it is a pre-season friendly, there will be an edge to it,” promised Jefferies. “The atmosphere will be there, if both sets of fans can respond again, and they have already done magnificently.

Organisers are hoping that as many as 5,000 fans can be attracted to East End Park, and Supporters Direct Scotland are aiming to raise as much as £8,000 to share between supporters’ groups Pars United and the Foundation of Hearts once both clubs have taken a share from the gate receipts.

“It is just across the bridge for the Hearts fans and the forecast is great, and I have already heard the Hearts travelling support should be a decent one, so if we can match that, then it should be a good atmosphere,” said Jefferies. “It will probably be a better crowd than when we played them in the league!”

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“The fans are getting to see two young teams,” added Jefferies. “There will be mistakes, but it is about the occasion, and the event. There might be a little extra spice now that a trophy has been put up by sponsors QTS. That’s what players are like – they are competitive. Even though it is a one-off game, it is funny how a trophy can change the tempo.”

While Locke, who Jefferies appointed skipper during his first spell in charge at Hearts, and Brown will be manning one dug-out, Jefferies will be joined by former Hearts winger and current Dunfermline coach Neil McCann in the other.

As for his close relationship with Locke, Jefferies said: “That won’t make any difference – we talk to each other every other day anyway. I want to win and he will want to win – nothing wrong in that. However, we won’t fall out about it that is for sure. We will have a bottle of beer after the game. If my team plays well, it is good for his team, and if his team play well, it is good for my team – it is all about fitness at this stage in the season. You want the team to make you work.”

It is very evident that Jefferies has found another home at Dunfermline. It is a feeling that he compares to the one he knew at Hearts – at least before he, too, became a casualty of the Romanov era.

“When a club goes into administration, it is because of bad decisions, and it’s happened here [at Dunfermline] – good people making bad decisions. This is one of the best jobs I have had in terms of no interference. People like [former owner] Gavin Masterton and [former chairman] John Yorkston have been fine with me.

“It saddens me to see two great clubs like this – but it would be worse if it was liquidation,” he added. “Administration is not nice, people lose jobs and certain steps have to be taken. But the main point is that they both survive.”