Andy Halliday: Why Hearts midfielder should not be lampooned for Open Goal appearances

Si Ferry’s Open Goal has become a staple of Scottish football culture with nearly 300 episodes since May 2017. Such is its popularity it has become a prominent alternative to the mainstream.

Friday, 4th December 2020, 10:25 am
Andy Halliday has been a popular addition to Open Goal's Keeping the ball on the Ground show. Picture: SNS

Few – if any – Scottish football fans will not be aware of it. It has gained recognition and a huge following for Ferry’s candid interviews with current and former stars of the Scottish game. The relaxed nature of a current professional footballer interviewing a peer, allowing the player to speak openly in a relaxed environment, has challenged common held views about footballers, changed the perception of them in general and individuals such as Tony Watt, Leigh Griffiths and Andy Halliday.

The Hearts star is a somewhat maligned figure amongst certain fan bases due to his connection with Rangers, playing for his boyhood club more than 150 times. Yet his popularity has risen due to his interview with Ferry and the subsequent welcome addition to the Keeping the ball on the Ground show – alongside the Peterhead midfielder, ex-Tynecastle ace Kevin Kyle and Paul Slane – when he was without a club this summer.

Halliday, who has continued on the show since moving to Tynecastle, was in the headlines this week due to comments made about Celtic fans protesting and a comparison with Rangers. They arrived only a few days after the midfielder played in Hearts’ dismal 1-0 defeat to Alloa Athletic in the Betfred Cup.

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Halliday faced criticism for his appearance on the show after defeat to Alloa in the Betfred Cup. Picture: SNS

Fan angst

What has followed, especially on social media, is some Hearts fans questioning his appearance on the show and a debate as to whether he should be on it at all.

It is easy to understand supporters’ angst, concern or annoyance regarding Halliday’s Open Goal appearances during a period when the team have been underperforming with defeats to Alloa in the cup and Dunfermline Athletic in the league where the 29-year-old was one of many who failed to reach the standards expected from fans.

The optics of it aren’t the best. Halliday laughing and joking, talking about the Old Firm and putting himself in a position where headlines can be attached to what he said and in part attached to Hearts. All the while fans are still livid from exiting the cup. The same fans who probably don’t want to hear their players talking about other teams. At the same time, they are probably right to note that there is little chance he would be on the show if he was still at Ibrox.

However, other than suggesting Hearts could have defeated Alloa 6-1 on another day, Halliday has done little wrong.

Do nothing until training

Football players are allowed to have lives away from training, pursue different avenues. Some footballers, for some reason, enjoy knocking around a golf course, others will have a keen interest in music or video games, while there are those who are big into fashion, including former Hearts loanee Demetri Mitchell who has his own clothing line.

It just so happens, a hobby of Halliday’s is to discuss Scottish football with a couple of pals. Whether he is doing it because he simply enjoys it and/or as a way of making that transition from player to pundit when his career is finished in a number of years’ time, who really cares?

As football fans we can be irrational and easily miffed – and we probably wouldn’t have it any other way. Such are the emotional ties, we want players to give over everything for the club. That is totally normal. If players are seen to not be taking the football club seriously enough, disrespecting it or not giving their all, they are going to face the wrath of fans.

But equally, there can be a degree of realism. When players are done training, done with any extra sessions and recovery, they can’t exactly be expected to simply go home and do nothing until training comes around again.

There is a different expectation on footballers, they are seen to be in a privileged position and put on a pedestal but it is still their job after all. They, like us, are allowed to do things which don’t revolve around their job on a day off or when they finish.

Business on the park

Halliday not appearing on Open Goal last week wasn’t going to change the Alloa result. It isn’t going to be detrimental to his performances on the pitch for Hearts in the way some hobbies could. As long as he does so with the full blessing of manager Robbie Neilson and the club and it doesn’t impact on training, then surely it shouldn’t matter?

Of course, his mere presence on the show will likely rub fans up the wrong way and it is probably something that he was prepared for, especially when the team hit a rocky spell and performances, individually and collectively, are being questioned. Such questions were not and would not be asked if the team wins and performs well.

And that’s it, if Halliday is doing the business on the pitch no one is going to bat an eyelid. He could be doing drive time shows, phone-ins, interviews, writing columns the lot, as long as Hearts are picking up three points fans probably couldn’t care less.

It is when performances fall below a standard, both collectively and individually, where he will have to face supporter suspicion. But if that is the case, it won't be because he is appearing on a show and talking about the Old Firm.

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