Scottish football ‘damaged’ by Hearts’ plight

Lewis Stevenson, left, is flattened by Jordan McGhee. Picture: PA
Lewis Stevenson, left, is flattened by Jordan McGhee. Picture: PA
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Assistant manager Brown insists signing embargo is unfairly punishing the squad

THE credibility of Scottish football is suffering because of Hearts’ continued plight, according to Billy Brown. Speaking in the aftermath of another game in which Hearts were again unable to list a full complement of substitutes, the club’s assistant manager warned yesterday that a run of injuries and suspensions allied to the ban on signing new players could soon mean they had to name 15- or 16-year-olds in their squad.

Brown accepts that the authorities were correct to punish the club for going into administration, and he holds out little hope of a change of rules to allow new signings at present. But he argued that to continue to penalise Hearts was doing no good for the game as a whole.

“Of course the credibility of Scottish football is at stake,” he said. “If we get relegated, we’ve lost the Edinburgh derby, we’ve lost the Old Firm game.

“But we’ve still got our sporting integrity, because we’ve made all the right decisions,” he continued ironically. “We’re imploding in this country because of the decisions we’re making.

“We know we had to be punished – but the punishment should come to an end now. We’re going to get to the stage at this club where Scottish football’s credibility is going to be put into question, because if we get another three injuries or three suspensions an we’re going to be fielding 15- and 16-year-olds at this club.

“If you tell me that’s for the betterment of anybody… The punishment has happened and it should be stopped now. We should be allowed to sign players now. We can’t field enough players to put on the bench. It’s not a bluff, this. We have got about 14 outfield players to pick from at this club.”

Brown accepted that he was unsure how the rules on insolvency events should be changed to allow for what he would regard as fairer treatment. But he argued it was unjust to penalise the Hearts squad and their fans because of the misdemeanours of Vladimir Romanov, who had a controlling interest in Ubig, the former parent company whose collapse last year forced Hearts into administration.

“I agree that clubs cannot go on handling the affairs like Hearts handled theirs. That can’t go on,” he added. “But the man that did that isn’t here any longer. It’s the people who are here, and the supporters of this club, who are getting punished.

“Now, I don’t know what should have happened at the time. Those were the rules, we didn’t go into administration until a certain point…I don’t know. I just feel that this club shouldn’t be put in this position.

“The rules are in place. It’s up to the people that run Scottish football to start making decisions that are correct. We’ve had our punishment. And it should be stopped now.”

Hearts had six players on the bench at Easter Road on Thursday night, when a 2-1 defeat by Hibernian left them stuck on a total of minus two points. They named only five substitutes for one game late last year, and could also be short-handed for tomorrow’s match against Partick Thistle, as Jamie Hamill is suspended and Danny Wilson, who missed the Edinburgh derby through illness, remains a doubt.

“Danny has tonsillitis, as it turns out,” Brown added. “That was a hammer blow to us ahead of the Hibs game, because he’s our captain, our veteran at the back. He was 22 last week.

“Scott Robinson is coming up for suspension: he misses either the St Johnstone or Motherwell game. Jamie Walker is on five bookings, and so is Kevin McHattie, so they’re both one away from a suspension as well.

“Okay, people say you shouldn’t get booked. But we got a player [Walker] booked for diving last night – and it was a penalty kick. There was enough contact there for that to be a penalty kick. He got booked for diving at Dundee United when it was never a dive.”

While the plight of his club continues to frustrate Brown, he was able to take pride in the way his team played on Thursday against opponents who have improved significantly since Terry Butcher took over as manager. “I thought the Hearts players were absolutely magnificent,” he said.

“We faced a very big, strong, powerful Hibs team – a much more powerful team than we were. They bombarded us aerially, which was quite right, that’s their assets, they play that way, and Terry’s got them playing to their strengths.

“But I thought we handled it admirably and we defended corners as well as any team in the country could. At 1-1, I thought the least we would have got was a draw.

“We’re all gutted to have lost in the manner we did. I didn’t think at the time it was a penalty,” he said of the offence by Jordan McGhee that brought about the winning goal, scored from the spot by Hibs captain Liam Craig. “I’ve seen it since, and I’ve seen that happening 100 times and 99 times the referee wouldn’t have given it. But he gave it, he made a decision and, looking at it, you could say he made probably the right decision. But I don’t know.

“Whatever we are, we are still Heart of Midlothian. And going to Easter Road in a derby there is enough knowledge of the situation for the players to know the importance of the game.

“And I don’t think they let anyone down. I know for long spells we were bombarded, but we handled that and came back at them.

“I just hope we can get a wee break here or there because we haven’t had many. It’s our turn.”