George Foulkes fears Vladimir Romanov has pushed fans a step too far

GEORGE Foulkes was the Hearts chairman who ushered in the Romanov era - but now he fears that the sacking of manager Jim Jefferies could signal the end of it.

The shock decision to remove club legend Jefferies and his assistant, Billy Brown just three days before the return leg against Hungarians Paksi in the Europe League, had Tynecastle fans up in arms yesterday.

Foulkes, who helped Romanov to buy the club when he was chairman at Tynecastle in 2004, was stunned by the dismissals and reckons that the departure of club legend Jefferies might prove to be the last straw for long-suffering Gorgie regulars. "I was shocked at the decision and also the timing of it," he said. "However, in some ways we've come to expect the unexpected from Romanov.

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"Hearts fans have got used to this kind of thing. Many people say that we have the most loyal support in the country and you'd need to be loyal when Romanov is making these decisions.

"I'm sure they will turn out and back Gary Locke and the team on Thursday.

"He's appointed each of the managers from George Burley onwards - he made the ultimate decision on everyone right through to Jim Jefferies and he hasn't kept any of them for any length of time.

"This, though, is the sacking which will cause the most upset among the support and test their loyalty to Romanov. We all recall Jim's previous spell in charge with satisfaction so there will be a lot of emotion surrounding his departure.

"There are, strangely enough, still some supporters who back Romanov 100 per cent but, having brought him in, I'm more like 50-50.

"I give him credit for the fact that we remain a going concern and that we're still playing at Tynecastle but his unpredictability shocks me as much as it does anyone else."

With Hearts looking for yet another new manager, Foulkes can't understand the thinking behind Romanov's regular sackings.

"You do wonder exactly what he's looking for in a manager," he said. "Last season he was hardly there - he was at three games, if that - so this came out of the blue.

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"I don't know where he gets his information from about what's happening at Tynecastle but I suspect that even his closest confidantes here like Sergei Fedotovas weren't expecting this. There was no indication.

"Now if he can come up with an appointment who is widely acknowledged as a great manager Romanov will be a hero but we've said this before and it hasn't happened yet.

"Jim and Billy have had to swallow an awful lot from him over a period of time. I know they've had to bite their tongues regularly.""As for offering Jim a director of football role, that's just ridiculous. I chaired the memorial dinner for Willie Bauld recently. Jim, Billy and Gary Locke were all there and that showed the loyalty they have to Hearts. This is a very sad day."

Former Hearts defender Alan McLaren echoed the frustrations of supporters who turned up at Tynecastle searching for some answers from majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov and Hearts directors - only to be met with a wall of silence.

Talking to Sky Sports, McLaren said: "I don't think we can be surprised because it happens so often. Dismissing the manager and assistant manager three hours into a new season tops anything he (Romanov) has done in the past, I think.

"It's a media black-out again from Hearts. We are here to get answers and no one is willing to give us answers. The club aren't putting out any statement so it is all ifs, buts and maybes.''

McLaren dismissed any suggestion that Romanov was justified to wield the axe after Hearts' insipid end to last season. "Not at all, he had all summer to do that," he said. "We are three hours into the new season.

"You have a good result away to the champions in the first game (1-1), you had a disappointing result on Sunday (lost 1-0 to Dundee United) but there were lots of chances.

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"He has backed the manager with transfer targets in the summer then removes him after three hours - it is nonsense. I'm not going to second-guess the owner, I have no idea what he has in store but why wasn't it done in the summer?"

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