SO the medical supplies you ordered are due for delivery. The bell goes and you open the door. The driver standing on your doorstep offering a friendly “bonjour” is none other than Julien Brellier. As absurd as it sounds, this is reality for many disabled people in France.
The former Hearts midfielder now revels in a new life away from football. He sells medical equipment for disabled men and women and drives up and down the country with deliveries. He is on a lunch break en route to the south of France when he returns a call from the Evening News.
Ten years ago today, Brellier – nicknamed “Le Juge” – was running around Hampden Park in a fit of euphoria as Hearts won the Scottish Cup. A penalty-shootout victory over Gretna was an aptly tense finale to a chaotic and draining campaign. Season 2005/06 will always live long in the memory: Hummel strips, Ukio Bankas and the infamous Riccarton fax machine. Brellier remembers it all well. He was the subject of many a fax himself. Vladimir Romanov famously didn’t rate the Frenchman signed by former Tynecastle manager George Burley. Indeed, the then-club owner interviewed Claudio Ranieri for the job after sacking Burley and, through an interpreter, made a point of asking the Italian what he intended to do about Brellier.
Hearts fans adored the midfielder, though, and awarded him cult-hero status during his two years in Edinburgh. He also played at Inter Milan, Venezia, Salernitana, Norwich City and FC Sion. Nowhere was he more content than in Scotland. He is only too happy to interrupt his break and recall the best moment of his career a decade on.
“It was a great moment in my life, probably the best one after the birth of my daughter,” he says. “I played football to win trophies. When I was at Hearts, it was the best time. It was my best moment as a footballer, for atmosphere and with the fans. That’s why I loved these two years at Hearts. Everything was great. Even the city, I loved Edinburgh. It was perfect for two years. Even my relationship with Romanov....”
He giggles like a naughty child. “I never knew what Romanov was saying about me. I just read the paper and found out what he was meant to have said. I didn’t really care about what people said, I just wanted to play. The managers Hearts had just let me play and that was enough for me. I didn’t want to go and argue with Romanov, I didn’t want that. I wanted to be focused on football and the results on the pitch. I think we did a great job.”
The season started with Burley as manager. He guided Hearts to the top of the league but was sacked in October. His eventual replacement was Graham Rix rather than Ranieri or Bobby Robson, who Hearts also coveted. By the time they reached the latter stages of the Scottish Cup, the Lithuanian coach Valdas Ivanauskas was in charge. Romanov interfered in team selection (via fax), demanded certain players be frozen out, employed medical staff with golden sticks and signed countless Lithuanian players on loan. Despite the turmoil, Hearts still lifted the cup and finished second to reach the Champions League qualifying rounds.
“George Burley did a very good job as a manager,” continues Brellier. “After him, we could have had any manager because the dressing room was very strong. Even a bad manager could have won something with us because we had a great team. The Scottish players were very strong.
“The most important thing was the start of the season with George Burley. I loved the time with Graham Rix, he was very good to me. I think that team was strong enough to compete with anyone. It didn’t matter who was the manager because of the job George Burley did. We thought we were the best players in the world when he was with us. Graham Rix did the same job. Those two guys were really something for me.
“The other managers, well....” He giggles again. “I don’t want to say something bad about the other managers, but I just didn’t have a relationship with them. I don’t want to say something bad about Valdas because I think he is a good man. As a manager, he was just under pressure from Romanov.
“I asked for a meeting with Valdas when I was not in the team. He said to me that he thought I was not good enough to play. That was fine but I don’t think he was being very honest. If it was his point of view, then fine. I was just a player. I said if he needed me to play, no problem.”
Brellier’s second season saw him play even less as Romanov exerted greater influence. He eventually departed in May 2007, his exit soured after a late tackle on team-mate Bruno Aguiar in training which sidelined the Portuguese for 18 months. His life now is a far cry from how Hearts fans remember him – charging around in the No.28 shirt, wading into tackles, winning the ball and then stroking it around with that inimitable swagger.
Brellier retired early from football aged 28 in 2010 after another club president, Sion’s Christian Constantin, forced him out of the game. “He was very strange. You have Romanov but he [Constantin] was a very strange person. He didn’t want me any more because I was earning too much money. We couldn’t arrange a transfer so he decided I would not play any more. When the January transfer window finished, he released me then so I couldn’t join another club for six months.
“After that, I was finished with football. I’d had enough, I didn’t want to go anywhere else. I just wanted to start a new life. I had ten good years in football with very high moments and some low moments. The high feelings were the most important ones, like the cup parade in Edinburgh the day after the final. I never saw anything like that before or since. I just felt it was a good time for me to stop.
“Now I am very happy with my new life. I sell stuff for disabled people, medical stuff. I’m in the east of France just now, driving from north to south. I’m still travelling, like I did in football. This was not my plan when I gave up football. I had a restaurant in the south of France for two years so this was not my plan, but I’m quite happy. I can help people and I get to travel as well. It’s quite a good job and I’m happy with it.
“Football was over for me so I have no regrets. I’m happy with what I’m doing just now, although the sensational feelings are not quite the same. I live in Grenoble. I moved to Montpellier for four years but I came back last year to start my new job. It’s not my own business, I work for a company. But my president is a good guy...”
The last comment prompts a full fit of laughter, rather than a mere giggle. Ten years ago today, he had a pretty big smile on his face as well.