IF Hearts players are suffering hardship without their overdue wages, they may wish to spare a moment’s thought for a former colleague. Larry Kingston recently returned to his native Ghana merely glad to be alive after four months spent avoiding bombs and missiles in Israel.
Kingston’s tales of regular aerial attacks, rockets and explosions put the financial crisis at Tynecastle firmly into perspective. Life at Hapoel Be’er Sheva, the club he joined in July, was rather unsettled. No, make that utterly terrifying.
With a population just under 200,000, the city of Be’er Sheva sits around 20 miles east of Israel’s notorious Gaza Strip and finds itself an easy target for hostile militants. The fragile ceasefire with militant groups was breached in October, sparking chaos across the region and forcing Kingston to move his wife and children back to Accra, the Ghanaian capital, to ensure their safety.
The player previously dodged bullets whilst playing for Terek Grozny in war-term Chechnya.
“I signed a two-year deal but it was just not safe there (in Israel). We had bombs and rockets and everything going off because it’s close to the Gaza strip.
“It was very dangerous for me and my family so I told them to cancel the contract and I came back to Accra.
“Every few days there were rockets from Gaza landing in the city I was staying in. It was so dangerous for me and my family so I decided to move. I came back to Ghana two weeks ago and I’m waiting to move to Europe again. That’s where I want to play.
“Compared to all the places I played in, like Russia and Scotland, the Israeli league is of a different standard. The other leagues are far ahead of the Israeli league. Right from the beginning I wasn’t too happy but what could I do? I had a contract for two years so I tried to be professional. But compared to Russia and Scotland, the level of football was not the same.
“My performances weren’t a problem. I played all the time and I got man-of-the-match in almost every game. If you aren’t happy where you are, though, it is better that you move on.
“I wasn’t happy and my family weren’t happy – every week there was some kind of alarm or a missile or something. I found it really difficult. I moved my wife and my children back to Ghana immediately when it all started. I stayed alone for three months and that was hard. I was frightened about my own safety and I just wasn’t comfortable. And it wasn’t just me. We had a Portuguese right-back (Luis Torres) and a Polish goalkeeper (Marcin Cabaj) who also left because of all these problems.
“Even training was difficult. We had to leave the city to go to Tel Aviv to train because it wasn’t safe. The whole place was not stable, it is dangerous for everybody. The local players are used to all these problems so they are fine, but the foreigners find it difficult to stay. Almost all the foreigners who joined Hapoel this season have left.
“At first they didn’t want me to go. But later they agreed it was the best thing for me to leave. They realised that I wasn’t happy or comfortable there so it was best to let me go.
“I’ve not been happy at all. Hearts was the place I felt at home and, throughout my career, that is the place I enjoyed most. Since I left, things have not been okay. It’s always in my memory, what it was like playing for Hearts.
“I don’t really know what happened or why I left. It seemed everything was going along well. I was happy there and I wanted to stay for a long time. At the end of the season, Jim Jefferies called me and said they were happy with me. He told me to go on holiday and he would get back to me, but he never got back in touch. I don’t know what happened after I left for holiday.”
Kingston joined Vitesse Arnhem after leaving Tynecastle, but he can’t forget Hearts. “It’s a club I always wanted to come back and play for before finishing my career. It’s not about the money any more, it’s about a feeling of being at home. My family was happy in Scotland.
“In Holland, the coach did not give me enough playing time. I wanted to be active but I wasn’t getting to play too much. I’ve spoken to a couple of clubs since I came home. People realise I am a free player now and these days every club wants a free player. I’ve had two or three teams talking to me so I’m waiting for the transfer window to open and then I will see where I’m to play.
“I would definitely like to come back to Scotland. If I had the chance to play in Scotland again, I would be so happy. But, at the moment, there is no interest from Scotland. I have offers from Turkey, Greece and Cyprus. There is also a club in Dubai interested.
“I really like Scottish football and I was happy there. My family was happy because they felt at home. I still have my house in Scotland so it’s a place I want to come back to. If I have an offer from any club there I would be happy. But Hearts is my club, I love the club so much.”