Gary Locke left reeling by loss of Billy Brown

Billy Brown, left, will assist Gary Locke for the final time today
Billy Brown, left, will assist Gary Locke for the final time today
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Gary Locke today revealed his dismay at Hearts’ decision to remove Billy Brown and leave him without an assistant manager.

Brown will be in the dugout for the last time against St Johnstone this afternoon before severing ties with the Edinburgh club, and Locke is unhappy at being left without a right-hand man.

Under-20 coach Robbie Neilson and goalkeeping coach Alan Combe will assist the manager in Brown’s absence, with John Robertson continuing to coach at Riccarton on a part-time basis. Brown had a contract running until January 31 but was told earlier this week by Hearts’ administrators BDO that it would not be renewed.

“It’s a decision that I obviously wasn’t overly enamoured with,” admitted Locke. “But I understand the situation the club is in as well, so we have to move on. They spoke to me about the decision, told me it was obviously for financial reasons. That’s what the club have said so we get on with it.

“Billy has been doing the normal. He was through at the under-20 game with me on Tuesday night. All Billy wants is Hearts to get three points today, and that sums the man up. Obviously I’m really disappointed but, you know, the club have made a statement and we’ve just got to get on with it. I’ll miss him badly because he’s a great help. He has been fantastic for me, personally, over the years, so it’s a big blow to lose him.

“He has been there to support me. That’s why you appoint an assistant, somebody to bounce ideas off, work very closely with. So it’s a big disappointment but, Billy being Billy, he told me the main thing is to get the team organised for the St Johnstone game. That sort of sums him up.

“This makes my job more difficult, yes. I can lean on Alan Combe and Robbie Neilson, obviously. But it’s a huge blow. He is on the training ground with me every day, like most assistants are, and you discuss things day in, day out, about the team. He’s a great set of eyes to have on the training ground, with the experience he’s had and everything he’s done in the game. Certainly for me, he was a great help.”

Asked if Brown’s removal weakens his own position as manager, Locke replied: “I don’t really look at it like that. The club has made a statement and made a decision. I’ve just got to get on with it now until the end of the season. It’s been a long season so far, with everything going on off the pitch. The most important thing, as I’ve always said, for Heart of Midlothian is that we survive and try to get this CVA pushed through.”

There is no question Brown’s exit is another hammer blow to Locke during a season in which he is already punch-drunk. Hearts’ lapse into administration has had a devastating effect on those left at the club but the manager reiterated that he has no intention of quitting.

“No, definitely not. Not at all. I’ve got a job to do here,” he said. “It’s a difficult job, no doubt about it, and I’ve faced a lot in my short time as a manager. As I’ve said all along, hopefully it stands me in good stead for the future. I will still speak to Billy all the time. I’ve done that even when he left Bradford and I wasn’t working with him. He’s a very close friend, as well as an assistant.”

When Hearts finally emerge from administration, Locke hopes to appoint a new assistant. His own long-term future remains uncertain, however, as he is out of contract this summer. By then, there could be new owners at Tynecastle.

Asked if he will still be in charge, he said: “I hope so. That’s not a decision I can make. That’s a decision for the new owners when they come in. But everybody knows what the club means to me. I hope I’ve got a future here, but it’s not a decision for me to make.”

Hearts captain Danny Wilson, who is back after illness for today’s match, explained his thoughts on Brown’s departure. “It has been a tough week. There is very little the players can do about it,” said the defender. “This might be seen as another disruption for us but we’ve had disruptions in the past and managed to just get on with it. I think we’ll have to do that again.

“We will miss Billy. He’s a good character and a good guy. He’s always somebody you could go to if you had a problem. He’s just a really nice man and it’s disappointing that he’s losing his job but that’s a decision which has nothing to do with us. We wish him all the best for the future and thank him for everything he’s done for us.

“Billy has been in the game a long time and I’m sure any time the manager had a problem he would go and bounce ideas off Billy. That’s the whole point of having your assistant. We started the season without an assistant manager and Billy came in and offered his services. That was great for everyone at the club. He’s going now and it’s not an ideal situation. You don’t want to see anybody lose their job but we’re going to need to move on and accept the 
decision that’s been made.”