ANY complaint submitted by the Hearts squad to the Scottish Premier League should be signed by every player to prevent Vladimir Romanov freezing anyone out of the team. A unanimous protest over non-payment of wages would make it impossible for the club’s majority shareholder to punish individuals.
Otherwise, those who sign a complaint could subsequently find themselves sitting in the stand, while those who don’t continue playing.
There is a split within the Riccarton dressing-room over whether or not to take action. Some players are keen to lodge a complaint with the SPL as they await salaries dating back to November 16. They doubt whether December’s wages, due on Friday, will arrive and there has been no indication from club officials as to when money will be processed. Others are more laid back and unwilling to commit to a formal protest because of possible retribution from above. Second-guessing how Romanov will react to mutiny is paramount, if extremely difficult.
“It needs to be everybody,” said Allan Preston, who endured similar tension as coach of Livingston when the West Lothian club were forced into administration in 2004. “It can’t be a quarter of the squad, or two thirds, it has to be absolutely everybody behind the complaint. The last thing the players need is some people agreeing to the complaint and others not. That will create factions within the group. They need to do it to a man. Last time it was the three lads who famously became known as the Riccarton Three [Steven Pressley, Paul Hartley and Craig Gordon]. Those lads put themselves forward and got into a bit of trouble. This time it needs to be everybody in that dressing-room.
“If they are putting in a complaint, it needs to be now. Do it quick but make sure everybody signs it. Hearts need to fulfil fixtures and you don’t want players who don’t sign the complaint playing every Saturday whilst the ones who did sign are left out. Vladimir Romanov could leave out the ones who sign it and play those who don’t. That would cause unbelievable unrest, complete madness, and it’s the last thing Hearts need at this time.
“We went into administration at Livingston the night before the semi-final of the League Cup against Dundee at Easter Road. Everybody was very low, as you can imagine. Quino had gone, Cherif Toure Maman had gone, Juan Jose Camacho had gone. They all lost their jobs because the club was going into administration and it was a sad time for everybody. You didn’t know if you would have a job or not but it certainly seemed to galvanise us. There was a siege mentality because everybody was against us. The ones left wanted to pull together through difficult times. You need that unity.”
Hearts players are angry at the lack of intervention from the SPL and the Scottish Football Association on their behalf. The SPL claim they cannot investigate missing wages without an official signed complaint from at least one player at the club. League officials are due to convene on Monday at an SPL board meeting and would be obliged to discuss the matter provided a written complaint arrives by 5pm this Friday.
The SFA refuse to get involved at this stage because procedures dictate that they would hear any subsequent appeal. Whether those procedures need reviewing is an argument all on its own.
Indeed, the wall of silence from a host of official bodies is deafening. Hearts imposed a media ban back in October which still stands, so they will not comment. FIFA could become involved next month if players at Tynecastle request to invoke article 14 of their statutes to terminate their contracts. Yet world football’s governing body have little to say, other than to clarify their rules. Sooner or later someone must intervene, but just who is going to help the unpaid Hearts players?
Phonecalls to the club’s parent company, Ukio Bankas Investment Group, lead up a dead end. “Can I speak with the press officer please?” After the phone is muffled, the call is placed on hold. Moments later, the Lithuanian accent on the other end returns. “He is not available right now. He will call you later.” “What is his name?” is the next question. “It is Mr Sergey Fedotovas,” comes the reply. It seems Fedotovas fulfils the role of UBIG press officer as well as being a director of Hearts and Vladimir Romanov’s right-hand man. He is unobtainable on his mobile phone.
Some have questioned whether the players’ union, PFA Scotland, could do more for their frantic members at Riccarton. But behind the scenes Fraser Wishart and his associates are working tirelessly. They cannot complain on behalf of the Hearts squad, hence the need for official documents and signatures from players.
“Gordon Taylor, the PFA chief executive in England, said recently that the SFA and the SPL need to do more. I agree with that,” continued Preston, who played for Hearts during the 1993/94 season. “There is an argument that both organisations have holes in their legislations but we need to prevent things like this happening. Hearts are one of the oldest and biggest clubs in Scotland and they need help. It would also set down some rules and regulations going forward for Scottish football in general.
“In England, the union would step in and try to help but the union is powerful down there. We need to sort the legislation out so that what is happening at Hearts doesn’t happen again.
“This media ban imposed by Hearts isn’t helping. If they aren’t going to speak to the media, at least talk to the players and let them know what’s happening. Every Hearts player will be getting asked 100 questions by everyone they meet in the street. Friends and family, all their pals, they will all be saying, ‘what’s happening, have you been paid yet?’ But they don’t know. They have no idea when they’re going to get their wages.
“The guys on the bigger money will be fine financially. They shouldn’t have to go without their wages but they will cope better. It’s the lads at the lower end of the scale who don’t earn a lot that you feel sorry for.
“They can’t go elsewhere because they don’t know anything else. They’re footballers and they’re tied to Hearts. They can’t walk out and do the same job elsewhere in their industry. If you are a plumber, a joiner, a painter or whatever, you can leave to join another company if you aren’t getting paid. In football, you can’t do that.”
For now, the only option appears to be lodging a complaint with the SPL. The Hearts squad, to a man, must stand up and be counted.