SURROUNDED by remnants of Hearts’ past, Jamie Hamill offers a refreshingly honest assessment of his and his club’s future.
Jerseys from players who achieved international honours adorn the walls of Tynecastle’s Executive Suite and the defender knows he would have been consigned to the cub’s history too, had he refused a wage cut with Hearts now in administration. It was a case of Hobson’s Choice.
Hamill has joined Jamie MacDonald, Ryan Stevenson and Kevin McHattie in accepting a salary reduction of up to 50 per cent. It is a major sacrifice for players who were never amongst Hearts’ higher earners until last month’s first-team squad cull. Even that clearout could not prevent the descent into administration.
Hamill stresses he bears no bitterness towards the Lithuanian regime which presided over the club’s financial collapse. He took several days to mull over the wage cut, discussed it with his wife and concluded that there was only one answer. Sitting in the Executive Suite discussing his thought process, he was simply relieved still to be employed.
“It took me a wee while to get my head round it,” he admitted. “It wasn’t a decision I could just have taken off the cuff. I took a few days to discuss things with my missus while the gaffer tried to pound my head. He was keeping me up to date with the situation but, at the end of the day, it was an easy decision. I had to think about my missus and the kids because I still have bills to pay. But there was only going to be one answer, I knew that at the time, although I had to speak to my missus and to make sure it was right for all the family. After doing that I agreed to sign. It is a big cut we have taken. It is not as if it has been a little cut, it is a significant one. It probably will be about half but it is to help the club out. I have made my decision and I am happy with it.”
Loyalty was certainly a factor. Hearts helped Hamill recover from a cruciate knee ligament injury which robbed him of 12 months of football. He only returned to first-team duty at the end of March, so the episode remains fresh in his mind. The player now has the opportunity to nurse his club back to better health by helping them overcome the defecit of 15 points with which they will start the new league season.
“I’ve got unfinished business here,” he continued. “I was out for a year with my knee injury and I missed two cup finals where the boys did so well. It was difficult to sit back and watch that and that’s why I’m looking forward to getting us out of the position we’re in at the moment. Everyone gets injured at some point in their career and I was just unfortunate with the timing but I’m moving on now.
“We all nearly lost our jobs. If we didn’t accept pay cuts then basically we were out the door so it’s been difficult for everyone involved with the club. There were people at Tynecastle we’d usually have a conversation with in the morning and when I arrived they were no longer there.
“You sometimes have to count yourself lucky. When the administrator was appointed you think of your own situation because you’re going into the unknown. You hear 14 people are made redundant and you hope it doesn’t happen to you. I’ve managed to come through it and keep my job and hopefully come the next few days the fans, who have been amazing so far, can continue to do their good work.
“It’s my job at the end of the day and I’ve got to take it in my stride. I’m not bitter about those who came in and spent ‘X’ amount of money because I put myself into the situation and knew what I was getting into.”
A phone call from manager Gary Locke last Monday confirmed Hamill’s worst fears. “The manager phoned me last week and asked if I would take a cut. I told him I needed a few days to consider everything. I just wanted time to myself without being bombarded by the press and fans.
“It was the gaffer who dealt with everything because I think he had had discussions with the administrators. He knows and has played the game and what people can and cannot afford. He didn’t beg me. He phoned and said he really wants me but the ball was in my court. He told me he wasn’t going to stand in my way of anything. That was great because he never forced the issue and it made my decision a little easier.”
It is possible Hamill, MacDonald, Stevenson and McHattie could have their terms increased again once Hearts exit administration. However, that cannot be counted upon. The entire staff at Tynecastle remain a month behind in wages with no indication yet of when they will be paid. “There are no guarantees in this situation,” said Hamill. “I have signed this deal and I still don’t know when we are going to get our next salary or wages. We are still due ‘X’ amount of money and things are not any clearer on that front. We will speak to the administrators on Thursday and we can discuss these things with them then and hopefully things will be okay.
“Not everyone (in football) is earning £15,000 to £20,000 a week. I am taking a hit and I also have a lot of travelling costs and everything needs to be set in place. I have come to an agreement and I am looking forward to getting going again. I have enjoyed my time at Tynecastle. There have been ups and downs. More downs than ups but I am here to put that right. I have a big season ahead. It is going to be a difficult one but I wouldn’t have signed if I didn’t think we would do okay.
“A lot of people spoke negatively about the financial situation at Hearts and predicted this might happen before I came here in 2011. At the end of the day, it was the right decision for me to come here and play my football at the time. I didn’t think it would come to this.
“If I did then I probably wouldn’t have come because it’s not a good situation to find yourself in and I wouldn’t like anyone to experience it. But I didn’t and that’s why I would have made the same decision if put in that position again.”
The response of supporters in raising much needed funds to keep Hearts alive were also central to Hamill’s decision. Administrators BDO said last Thursday that 3000 season tickets had to be sold inside 14 days to provide essential cashflow. “You look at the fans and the fact we could have been 14 days away from closure. We really need the fans rallying round,” he said. “They have sold near enough 1500 season tickets already and it is just wee things like that. You are also playing at Tynecastle every second week and all these little things helped me make my decision.
“From what the fans have shown already it’s looking positive. I think the fans will do their bit and hopefully that will be enough to get us over the line and kick-start the season. The fans have been brilliant since I’ve been here and have done everything asked of them and it’s back to them.
“Hopefully we can get our point across that we just need a wee bit more to sell as many season books as possible.
“Getting to the start of the season will be hard but the way the administrators, the gaffer and everyone at the club is talking everyone is rallying around to get us there.
“After that it is up to us to start picking up points and get us up the league. The club is still in a bad situation but hopefully with the administrators being in they can tick the boxes of what needs done and we can move on.”