There will no doubt be some Hearts fans still affronted at losing 7-0 to Celtic, but anyone viewing Sunday’s result as the end of the world would do well to give themselves a pinch and ponder where their club would be if it wasn’t for the remarkable efforts of Foundation of Hearts.
The answer is wound up. Finished. Kaput. Or, in a best-case scenario, flirting dangerously with the possibility of falling into the hands of another charlatan owner who doesn’t have the club’s interests at heart.
If a 7-0 defeat by Celtic is as bad as it gets over the next few years, then Hearts fans should be absolutely delighted. The likelihood is that, even in light of Friday’s momentous CVA approval, the Tynecastle club face a long and difficult period of rehabilitation. For a club which has been accustomed to challenging for a top-three place and competing in glamour European ties and cup finals, the prospect of possibly spending at least a few seasons in the Championship will present a serious test of faith and patience for even the most ardent Hearts supporter.
Most will say they are braced for the difficulties that lie ahead. But as it first became apparent that Hearts were on the slide, when they outlined a desire to place their faith in homegrown youth after the 2012 Scottish Cup victory, most fans said they would downgrade expectations and accept that there would be difficult times ahead which they would have to tolerate. Yet, pretty much as soon as the team started to struggle under John McGlynn last season, the knives came out and the manager was run out of town within weeks of reaching a cup final.
Similarly, Gary Locke is now finding that, although the vast majority of supporters understand the magnitude of his task, there is a small bunch of deluded dissenters who bizarrely feel Hearts, in their current flimsy guise, are capable of doing better than they are. In terms of proven first-team players, it is widely acknowledged by anyone who understands what is required to cut the mustard in Scotland’s top flight that Hearts have, by far and away, the most ill-equipped squad in the Scottish Premiership. Yet, through sheer will and determination to punch above their weight, Locke’s limited team have already collected more points than two of their rivals, allowing them the tiniest glimmer of hope that they might somehow stay in the top flight. In addition, they have another League Cup semi-final to look forward to early next year.
The problem at a big club like Hearts, however, is that, even though the club is on its knees, any positive development still serves to raise expectations. On the back of Friday’s good news, fans were on a high and savouring the prospect of brighter days ahead. However, Sunday’s crushing defeat provided a timely reminder of how long the road back to the top is likely to be for Hearts. It was notable when Ian Murray, the Foundation chairman, emerged to talk to the press after the CVA was approved that there was no sense of celebration, simply relief that the club had survived to fight another day. On a day when the club could so easily have been plunged towards liquidation, it made you realise just how indebted every Hearts supporter should be to everyone who has played a part in bringing the Foundation to the brink of club ownership.
The Foundation has had its difficulties along the way, but, on the whole, has barely put a foot wrong. They have good people on board. After Alex Mackie’s diligent work behind the scenes to lay the foundations for this momentous fan-led movement, Murray has proved to be an excellent and dignified figurehead for the group. Crucially, there are no grand boasts about how they are going to sign top players and make Hearts a force. Their main objective is to ensure the club survives long term and starts to grow gradually again within its means. They are a group of realists, not fantasists, as evidenced by their budgeting for relegation.
The problem, as McGlynn and Locke have found, is that, regardless of circumstances, there are always high expectations at Hearts. For all that the Foundation are flavour of the month just now, and deservedly so, it will be hard to retain that popularity if the team are languishing mid-table in the Championship in two years’ time. Make no mistake, that is a real possibility. The Foundation are not a quick fix. They are in it for the long haul and know that it could take years to get Hearts back on their feet. For all the effort they have put in to save Hearts from oblivion, the very least they deserve is widespread and unwavering tolerance from the fanbase as they get to grips with the daunting task of trying to revive this ailing giant of Scottish football.