HE may no longer be the Hearts manager but he’s still a Hearts fan. And, over the past few weeks, Jim Jefferies has shared the concern of his fellow supporters over the soap opera that is daily life at Tynecastle.
From wages being paid late to talk of a so-called fire sale. From the possibility of the club moving to a new stadium to being put up for sale for £50 million by Vladimir Romanov. Jefferies has sat at home in Lauder and watched every latest development with interest.
Despite being dumped by Romanov just two weeks into the new season, Jefferies has retained his integrity and has no real desire to spill the beans on the Lithuanian, who brought the 1998 Scottish Cup-winning manager back to the Gorgie club for a second spell after he’d got rid of Csaba Lazlo. But, as a dyed-in-the-wool Jambo, it’s only natural that he has an opinion on some of the recent goings-on, which have left players fearing for their livelihoods and supporters worrying about the future of their beloved club.
Jefferies certainly followed the recent wages saga, which saw first-team players have to wait a full 18 days after they were supposed to be paid before finally getting their salaries.
The fed-up players were close to making an official complaint to their Union, PFA Scotland but decided against taking such action after assurances from manager Paulo Sergio that they’d get their money. And now first-team players are yet to receive their November wages with no indication as to when their money will arrive in their bank accounts.
In the middle of it all, it was reported that Romanov was ready to get rid of a lot of the club’s star players in a January clear-out as well as the owner declaring he wanted out.
“I’m not about to say anything derogatory about the club because I’ve kept my integrity and will continue to do so,” Jefferies told the Evening News in an exclusive interview. “But, as a fan looking at the recent pay situation, it was sad it got to that stage. I don’t know if there is any hidden agenda and wouldn’t want to comment on that. What I will say is that type of thing can be quite normal abroad. It’s sometimes months before players are paid. In countries like Cyprus, Turkey and Greece, it’s almost a common thing, I believe.
“I also can’t comment on whether or not this happened at Hearts due to a lack of funds because I don’t know that. Even when I was manager, I didn’t know how the system worked. We knew when it was pay-day and, during my time there, it was perhaps only a couple of days late. My main concern was the stance the players were thinking about taking [with PFA Scotland]. I think Paulo Sergio was right by encouraging them against taking such action. You can understand why they were contemplating something like that but, at the same time, you have to look at the bigger picture in a situation like that.”
Wearing his Hearts scarf, Jefferies said he had been particularly concerned to hear talk of players being sold, revealing he had been worried about the psychological effect that would have on individuals who were neither being paid or felt wanted by their club. “There was talk of them being made available through a so-called fire sale and that was a concern as a supporter,” he added. “I’m not saying a player wouldn’t go out and try but, subconsciously, someone would go out and protect themselves in a situation like that. If you’re not being paid, you get injured and then can’t go to a club as a result of that after you’ve been put up for sale, you are stuck between rock and a hard place.”
Jefferies has only been back to Tynecastle once since he was axed by Romanov. Even then, it was to help Alan Rae, the club’s former physiotherapist, launch his new book.
“I know people have been saying that I’ve not been to a game but I’ve actually not been available when the home games have been on,” he said. “For instance, I’ve been working for ESPN a couple of times in the London studio when they’ve covered Hearts games. I will go, but I don’t think it is right to go back too quickly. I think it’s right to take a break and let things settle down. I will go back, hopefully before the end of the year but, if not, definitely early in the new year, as a spectator.”
A £30,000 report jointly commissioned by Hearts and the city council concluded that redeveloping Tynecastle is not an option and urged the council to take “an active role” in developing a multi-purpose, community stadium in west Edinburgh.
Having first trooped along to Tynecastle as a fan before leading Hearts out there as captain then standing in the dugout as the manager, Jefferies admits he’d have a tear in his eye if the day ever arrived when the club moved to pastures new. At the same time, however, he’s been to plenty of new grounds around Europe to see for himself that football clubs need to provide much more than a match every second weekend to survive in the modern world.
“I’m like a lot of fans as Hearts have a great tradition and many players and managers who’ve come to Tynecastle over the years have said that it is a great place to play due to atmosphere,” he said. “The downside is that there’s not any room for expansion. If it could get a new Main Stand, I think Tynecastle would be fine as it is as there’s nothing wrong with the stands behind the goals and the other side [from the Main Stand]. It’s a great viewing stadium.
“But I think the game has moved on. Clubs need to bring additional money in so other avenues need to be explored to achieve that. I went down to Arsenal for a game not long ago as a guest of [SPL chairman] Ralph Topping and The Emirates is fantastic. When the game finished, bars and nightclubs open up. They’re still making money and that’s what it’s all about. It is hard to say what is going to happen with Tynecastle, but I can see why there is the need to move away. As long as it’s in the right place, it’s got to keep that Gorgie feel and not be too far away from that, then it’s something that should be looked at.
“If they can develop a miniature Tynecastle, without the Main Stand somewhere, I’m sure fans would like it. I can understand what the traditionalists are saying because I’m one myself but, if needs must, then you have to accept the fact.”