Hearts skipper Alim Ozturk urges fans to stick with them

Hearts players, from left, John Souttar, Igor Rossi, Alim Ozturk, Faycal Rherras and Arnaud Djoum pose in the new Hearts away kit alongside the Rosebery Cup. Pic: Ian Georgeson

Hearts players, from left, John Souttar, Igor Rossi, Alim Ozturk, Faycal Rherras and Arnaud Djoum pose in the new Hearts away kit alongside the Rosebery Cup. Pic: Ian Georgeson

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Alim Ozturk wants Hearts supporters to roar their team to domestic success after last week’s surprise European defeat by the tiny Maltese club Birkirkara.

The Tynecastle captain said he understands fans’ 
frustrations but implored them to keep the faith ahead of the new league campaign, which begins against Celtic a week on 
Sunday.

Thursday night’s 2-1 defeat saw Hearts eliminated from the Europa League at the second qualifying stage despite being seeded against Birkirkara.

Ozturk admitted he has taken time to digest the disappointment and expressed empathy with the fans.

Nonetheless, he urged the Tynecastle faithful to stick 
behind him and his team-mates because their backing is crucial in the forthcoming season.

“I understand the fans. I’m a fan too. They expect a lot because Hearts is a big club,” said Ozturk. “I hope they stay behind us as they have 
always done because we have a young group and we need them. When teams come to 
Tynecastle they know it’s a hard venue with the fans. They give us an extra boost and we need that against Celtic. They have a big part to play.

“We will all be up for the Celtic game but it wouldn’t matter who our first opponents were. If you want to finish high in this league then you need to beat most of the teams – Celtic is just the first game.

“It would give the fans 
something back if we could win this game. That’s what we want. I hope we can do it and I have confidence that we can.”

The Dutch-born defender added that he has never felt lower than he did last Thursday night. “I was thinking about the game and I’m still disappointed about it. I’m always the guy who comes into the club laughing, but not for the last two or three days.

“That is the lowest I’ve felt after a defeat. I was really 
angry and disappointed after the match. It was also my first match in Europe so that played a part in it.

“You want to go through and it’s hard to take. These are the most beautiful games for players and it’s over after just four matches in the Europa League.

“The smile is coming back a bit. I have to because others look to me. Disappointment is a good thing but not for too long. The manager has already started trying to pick us up.

“I’ve never experienced a 
defeat like that and I can understand the reaction because everyone expects you to go through against a team from Malta.

“We were the better team in Malta, they got three chances. If we had scored early then they would have been forced to come out and open the game and we could have won 3-0 or 4-0.

“That is why everyone is talking about it but it’s a good learning experience for us for the next time. We have to be ready for the next game because that’s football.”

Ozturk is suspended for the Celtic match after a booking in the final game of last season saw him reach the SFA’s 
disciplinary threshold of six cautions.

He is adamant, however, that his colleagues will be fully motivated to face the Premiership champions. “You can be disappointed one week and the next week you must be ready,” he continued.

“I miss the first game against Celtic but the others will be ready. I’m confident of that. We will play friendly games now and we will be ready.”

Speaking at the official launch of Hearts’ new away kit at Dalmeny House on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Ozturk outlined his pride at the history attached to the strip.

It features the Rosebery 
colours to maintain Hearts’ links with the past. The Fifth Earl of Rosebery, a keen racehorse owner and patron of 
football, became Prime Minister in 1894 and was also 
president of the SFA and honorary president of Hearts.

His racing colours of primrose yellow and rose pink were worn by the Scottish national team on nine occasions between 1881 and 1951.

“Hearts are a club with a big history and it’s important to recognise that. These colours have played a part in the history, so it’s nice to bring them back,” said Ozturk.

“The colours are unusual but sometimes you have to do something a little bit crazy. I like it. It’s historic and fun as well. The home jersey is always maroon and it’s better if you don’t play with it.”