Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Hearts: End of the Affair as Fans Wake Up to Vlad?

On Friday Rangers and Hearts sat second and third in the SPL table. By Sunday evening Rangers had moved back into second and Hearts had fallen to fifth.

But has a game between two sides occupying such lofty status in the top division ever been overshadowed to the extent this one was?

Sure Rangers haven’t exactly been resting on a bed of roses this season but Paul Le Guen must at least be grateful that it’s David Murray that wields the axe at Ibrox and not Vladimir Romanov.

Last season as the Jambo’s won the cup and split the Old Firm in the league the Tynecastle faithful were on top of the world. The west coast media, they claimed, had done everything they could to pour cold water on the Romanov revolution. Now with the silverware locked up in the trophy room and the Champion’s League just around the corner Mad Vlad was exonerated.

Sure there were concerns over the number of loan deals, over the revolving doors to the manager’s office and Romanov’s constant tinkering. But so what? Why not just get on with it and see if Hearts could actually break the Glasgow duopoly on the title this year?

And what’s more the spine of the team, Gordon, Pressley and Hartley, were there to ensure continuity and Scottish passion. It was these three who would let the newcomers know what it meant to be Hearts players, would ensure the traditions of the club would be upheld.

And now? Hearts are to all intents and purposes managerless. The only remaining Scottish coach, John McGlynn, no doubt sprinted across the Forth Road Bridge as he escaped to Raith Rovers. And what of the big Scottish three?

Pressley has been dropped for the last two games for having the temerity to speak out at the Romanov grand plan. Hartley and Gordon, who sat next to their captain as he finally broke the united front on the Lithuanian takeover, are being tolerated in the side but look set to join Elvis on the transfer list in January.

So the fans have woken up. Dropping Pressley, the talisman, who has acted with nothing but dignity through the whole sorry saga, was the final straw for many of them.

The protests after the Rangers game only amounted to a couple of hundred disgruntled supporters. But at football clubs these thing snowball and there was many more than that booing the ineffectual Lithuanians who filled the team on Sunday.

That was nothing more than racism according to Sports Director Alex Koslovski, neatly sidestepping the reality of the growing unrest towards the regime he represents by accusing his own fans of bigotry.

It was nothing of the sort – it was a protest at inferior players. No doubt Vlad and Alex had a good laugh at their cleverness in attacking their own fans. Perhaps the SFA and UEFA would like to challenge that by slapping a fine on Hearts for racism, with their own Sporting Director as the chief prosecution witness and all right minded football people on the side of the defence.

The truth is Hearts are in turmoil. Expect Romanov to make some principled declaration about wanting only good men, honest and true, in the dressing room when he sells Pressley, Hartley and Gordon (probably along with Robbie Nielsen).

The truth is all three are a drain on resources and Hartley and Gordon can still command large transfer fees.

By speaking out, by acting with integrity, Pressely gave Romanov the chance to act. He’ll exercise his power by bringing in much needed revenue to offset his eccentric handling of the club’s finances.

Like George Burley and Graham Rix. Pressley and co have become pawns in the game that Vlad is playing. So from January young Scots will take to the field with a ragbag of Lithuanian loan signings. For the good of the club Romanov will say. Perhaps, but also the cheaper option.

Maybe Mr Romanov knows where this is going, maybe he doesn’t. Certainly nobody else at the moment is willing to predict a happy ending for Hearts, indeed, many are predicting the death of the club.

Only time will tell. In the meantime it is the fans who are suffering most at the hands of Mad, Bad Vlad. By treating an honourable man like Pressley the way he has, the submariner had torpedoed the hopes of the faithful.