DON’T consign Hearts to history just yet. It appears there is sufficient fight, on and off the field, to preserve this club’s existence for quite some time.
John McGlynn and his players could easily have given up, buckled, folded and left the Highlands with nothing after a depressing week in which their club was threatened with closure. For much of the second half it seemed that nothing would be exactly what they took from this trip north, until persistence paid off in the dying seconds.
Marius Zaliukas’ last-gasp penalty equalised Owain Tudur-Jones’ spectacular 18th-minute opener for Inverness. More than that, it acted as a metaphor for the resilience Hearts need to stay alive. The visiting players camped in opposition territory throughout the second half and refused to give up in their search for a draw. Eventually, they were rewarded.
If the club hierarchy can tackle Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs with the same vigour, then there should be no chance of Hearts being wound up. HMRC may prove more awkward opponents than David Raven and Josh Meekings, two of the Inverness defenders who helped keep a clean sheet until Zaliukas’ 90th-minute penalty. The tax authorities are pursuing two separate bills of £450,000 and £1.75 million this month, which has prompted Hearts to ask fans for “emergency backing”. Already the response has been invigorating.
Match tickets and shares have flown out of Tynecastle in the last few days quicker than Callum Paterson chasing a through ball. Saturday’s home match with St Mirren is likely to sell out as supporters rally for the cause. The players they idolise did precisely that at the Caledonian Stadium, casting aside the fear of losing their jobs to earn a point which looked to be slipping away. It was a fitting way to begin Hearts’ fight for survival.
“It’s very difficult to get inside every single player’s head and know exactly what they’re thinking,” admitted manager John McGlynn. “They all have responsibilities to their families and financial commitments, so it’s very difficult. We tried to stay very positive about the football and go about our business professionally. You’ve got to say that the players dug in for the football club and dug in right to the end.”
With HMRC demanding the £450,000 bill – for unpaid PAYE and VAT – be paid by Friday, Hearts could be in for a harrowing and stressful week. “The fans have rallied round and put their hands in their pockets. We’re very grateful for that,” continued McGlynn. “Even some people who aren’t Hearts supporters have helped out. There has been a lot of money raised in a short period of time but we aren’t out of the woods yet. We need more. We appreciate it’s very difficult and not everyone can contribute because there’s a lot of hardship out there. We’re grateful to anyone who continues to support the club.
“Hopefully the game goes ahead next week and we move on and get bigger and stronger in this situation. Sergejus Fedotovas (club director) has spoken to the players, although I don’t think he said anything we didn’t already know. He’s met supporters’ groups and many other people. He told us there has been lots of goodwill from loads of different people, some of whom we didn’t even know existed, and the share issue is selling a lot better. So that was good to hear.”
Players are willing to agree to a wage deferral if necessary. Monthly salaries for the football department at Hearts are due to be processed this Friday. “At the end of the day you can’t ask the fans to come out and back us and then have the players sit there and say ‘no, we’re not doing it’,” said Ryan Stevenson, whose performance against Inverness was his finest since returning to Tynecastle. “If it comes to that (wage deferral), I’m sure the boys will be happy to do that.”
Stevenson was asked if Vladimir Romanov, the club’s majority shareholder, should also help out. “We’ll just keep doing our things on the pitch and, if the owner wants to step in and help, it would obviously be welcome. But that’s up to him. It’s our livelihoods so it’s a worry for everyone – fans, players and everyone involved in the club. Hopefully things get sorted out because we want to just get on with football. We can’t speak highly enough of the people trying to help like fans donating money to keep the club afloat. The board have been truthful and said it’s not scaremongering. The facts are the facts and the fact is the club is on its knees and we need help.
“It’s been a scary week and it’ll probably be another scary week to see how we go ahead of Saturday. I’m positive things will sort themselves out. Sometimes these things can galvanise a club and I think we’ve seen that over the last few days. The St Mirren game is sold out, I think Celtic will be the same, we’ve got the cup tie against Hibs and a cup semi-final coming up. We have a massive couple of months ahead if we can get through this week.”
Stevenson, of course, walked out on Hearts last December because wages were not being paid on time. He said this situation is different because the board are communicating regularly with the playing staff. “I think a lot of people have made assumptions about what happened last year with me. I think the club has learned and we’ve learned from the situation. The club have come out and been frank and honest with everyone about the situation we are in. No-one wants to see this happen.”
As for the actual football, Hearts gave a good account of themselves against one of the SPL’s form teams. Inverness are the league’s top scorers but, marvellous goal aside, they threatened only occasionally. Tudur-Jones lashed the ball past MacDonald from 25 yards to capitalise on the hosts’ early superiority. The visitors finished the opening period strongly, with Stevenson having a string of shots at goal.
Hearts continued to control the game after the interval but toiled to create clear openings. Teenage midfielder Jason Holt, making his first senior start since March, was amongst their most impressive players along with Dylan McGowan, a half-time replacement for Mehdi Taouil. When Tudur-Jones tackled Paterson from behind in the dying seconds, Zaliukas confidently stroked the penalty home to restore parity.
“We came to get three points, but if you can’t get three then you get one,” said McGlynn. “We fought right to the death and I thought we deserved to score. At half-time you’re 1-0 down and in a little bit of a jam but we turned it around in the second half and played exceptionally well.
“We’ve got Jamie MacDonald to thank for a really good save at his near post (from Andrew Shinnie) in the second half, but I thought we denied Inverness opportunities. This is a team that is now ten games unbeaten and are top goalscorers in the SPL. It looked like the goal wasn’t going to come with the way Caley defended. We’re very grateful that the penalty came and Marius took responsibility to slot it away.”
McGlynn was bold with his substitutions at half-time as Taouil and Arvydas Novikovas were hauled off. John Sutton was introduced for the final stages and the pressing paid off with the equaliser. Unsurprisingly, the Inverness manager Terry Butcher was unhappy his players couldn’t see the game out.
“It’s frustrating. I’ve had a go at the players, wrecked some furniture and damaged my hand and we’re ten games unbeaten,” he said. “If we actually lose a game, there better be an ambulance on standby.”
Based on Saturday’s display of fight and resilience, there should be no need for emergency services to provide Hearts with life support.