Tom English: Everyone a loser as Vlad botches Thomson affair

IT'S doubtful that we will ever hear Vladimir Romanov admitting that he made a disgraceful botch of the Craig Thomson affair, but let's look at how it's turned out for Romanov and his cause celebre - until he suspended him yesterday, that is - after his defence of the player last Friday.

Romanov's statement brought embarrassment and opprobrium down on top of his club, it angered the families of the two young girls that were subjected to Thomson's disgusting behaviour, it outraged various child protection groups, it made international headlines and succeeded only in making Hearts appear tolerant of child sex offenders. It made one of the club's sponsors terminate their contract, it saw an Edinburgh school cancel a visit to a Hearts training session, it possibly libelled a club legend in Gary Mackay and it alienated many, many fans.

That's not exactly a contender for marketing campaign of the year, is it? Oh, and did it help Thomson? It actually made things worse for him because Romanov's crassness in his statement, his apparent indifference to the feelings of the two girls and their families and his delusional ranting about the media's supposed role in Thomson's fall just inflamed the situation when he should have been trying to calm it. By trying to implicate the press - the "crooks", the "criminals", the "thieves", the "swindlers" and "gangsters" and "maniacs" - he was getting involved in something that was wholly unnecessary and completely stupid.

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If Romanov wanted to keep Thomson then a level of shrewdness was required. He would have called a press conference last Friday and at the top table he would have had Thomson, Jim Jefferies and David Southern, the club's managing director. Thomson could have apologised in the full glare of the cameras. We could have seen him up close. These things are important. Situations as explosive as this are always best handled face-to-face rather than through the cold medium of unattributed statements on the internet.

Jefferies and Southern could have spoken about their sympathy for the girls and how appalled the club was, and is, at Thomson's behaviour before announcing his immediate and indefinite suspension. They could have stopped short of sacking him (if they wanted to) pending a long period of counselling. That wouldn't have satisfied everybody, but it would have been infinitely better than what Romanov came up with, which was a piece of self-serving garbage. All it did was to allow Romanov to mouth-off at his old enemies in the media. It didn't do the victims any good, didn't do the club any good, didn't even do Thomson any good. It was just a Vlad rant and everybody else at his club was left, as always, to deal with the fallout.

And now that he's had his rant and his headlines, Thomson has been suspended.So, on Friday, he had Romanov's support and on Saturday he had the support of Sergejus Fedotovas, the Hearts non-executive director. And now that support has evaporated.

Has Romanov suddenly seen the light? Well, if he has then he hasn't said it. The statement announcing Thomson's suspension was two sentences long, one of which said that there would be no further comment. So, on Friday they support him in a statement that is a Gettysburg Address of self-justification and on Tuesday they suspend him and there's no explanation at all.

Could Romanov not bring himself to admit that the crooks and criminals and thieves of his imagination were correct? Could he not say that the club's supporters and the public in general were right to react the way they did and he, in fact, was wrong.

This could be a commercial play on the part of Romanov and his board of directors, a reaction to a sponsor deserting them on Monday and a pre-emptive strike in the hope that no others follow suit. It could be a response to Jefferies and his straight-talking, his broad hints that as long as he is manager at Hearts then Thomson has no future. It could be that when Pentland Primary School in Edinburgh cancelled a visit to Hearts' training ground the penny finally dropped with Romanov about the calamitous damage that was being done to the reputation of his club?

Whatever drove Romanov into this U-turn, it was too late. The damage has been done. Everybody loses.