Gary Locke is learning all about Hearts’ daily operations through his commercial work and ambassador role at Tynecastle. However, coaching pangs remain strong.
At 42, he still harbours a desire to return to the training pitch.
Four jobs in four years provided a tumultuous start to Locke’s managerial career. He began at Hearts in 2013, bravely guiding the team through administration, then came posts at Kilmarnock, Raith Rovers and Cowdenbeath.
He left Central Park last July after a phonecall from Hearts owner Ann Budge persuaded him to return to his childhood club. He now works behind the scenes in the commercial department and sits in the directors’ box on matchdays as a club ambassador.
The knowledge being gleaned is vast but, at the back of his mind, there is a hankering for bibs, cones and tactics boards. Locke spent years on coaching courses across Europe gaining all the necessary licences to work at the top level. He holds a UEFA Pro Licence and, perhaps understandably, is determined that the time should not be misspent.
“I don’t think you can rule anything out. I’m happy with this role and the stability,” he told the Evening News. “There isn’t a lot of stability in football now but I spent six or seven years of my life getting all the coaching badges. I don’t want that to go to waste.
“Right now, I’m really enjoying the role I’ve got with Hearts. If I get back into the coaching side one day, then great. I want to give this job my best shot because I’ve got that much to do and I’m really busy. I certainly wouldn’t rule out getting back involved in coaching because it’s something I love. Football is what I’ve done all my days.”
He played for Hearts, Bradford City and Kilmarnock and earned a reputation as a wholeheartedly committed midfielder. Working nine to five in an office wearing a suit every day probably took some getting used to. Locke has a growth mindset, though.
He was told he was no longer wanted as Hearts manager the day Budge took charge at Tynecastle in 2014. He still didn’t hesitate to come back and work for the Edinburgh businesswoman due to the progress made in Gorgie under her stewardship. “Ann has been fantastic. She phoned me and asked me to come back,” explained Locke. “To see the way she runs the place is phenomenal, especially as a Hearts fan. There is no better person to be in charge of the club. What she has done here is remarkable considering where we were.
“When I left Hearts, I left in the right manner. I’m well aware of what football is like. You see some of the guys who have lost managerial jobs recently. It’s a thankless task these days. When I left here I had to get on with my life. I was very fortunate to get the job at Kilmarnock, which was great, but I felt I left here the correct way and just kept my head down.
“I knew Ann and Craig Levein [appointed director of football by Budge] had decisions to make and they made them. In the first couple of seasons they were proved to be right because the club came back up from the Championship. I was just as happy as every other Hearts fan to see them back in the Premiership.
“The club is now going from strength to strength. From what I’m seeing behind the scenes, we’re in a fantastic position. The new stand is there and the last few games on the pitch have been looking good.”
Locke’s current role is far more understated than when he was the Hearts manager and public face of the club. He is enjoying the new pressures.
“I’m seeing a lot of different things which you don’t see when you’re managing and playing,” he said. “The hard work preparing for a game, the operations meetings and all that stuff, you aren’t really aware of it when you’re on the football side. The staff are the unsung heroes with the work they do Monday to Friday to make sure everything goes according to plan on a Saturday. It’s great to see.
“You’re looking to try and bring money into the club through sponsorship, then you’re involved in hospitality on a Saturday meeting fellow Jambos. It’s been really enjoyable so far.
“When I came in I watched a couple of the academy games but I prefer to be watching Hearts’ first team. I travel with the directors to the game and sit in the directors’ box home and away.
“I liaise with the academy and try to get up there once a week. You still get to see all the players and I’m delighted they’ve turned the corner with results in the last few weeks. It’s given everybody at the club a lift.”
Being an ambassador for the team he has supported all his life is something Locke takes extremely seriously. He joined more than 8,000 people, including several Hearts directors, sleeping rough last month at Edinburgh’s Sleep in the Park charity event held in Princes Street Gardens. More than £4million was raised to help homelessness through a particularly gruelling experience.
“I’ve never been so cold in all my life,” admitted Locke. “We were well prepared because the army lads gave us sleeping bags and other stuff. When I woke up, the sleeping bag was solid and all my clothes were soaked through.
“Homeless folk are sleeping in cardboard boxes so you really feel for them. I only got about an hour sleep. You couldn’t sleep, it was brutal. The temperature was about minus six.
“It was great to raise money for such a good cause and I was delighted to be part of it. Myself, Stuart Wallace, Kevin Windram, Jonathan Tink, Jacqui Duncan and Dylan Kelly all did it and it was really humbling.
“It showed you how lucky you are. We all have problems in life and sometimes you feel a bit sorry for yourself, then you look at what these people go through. I have a roof over my head but these people are sleeping in the streets.”
Locke is also keen to see more recognition for the work done by Hearts’ community operation, Big Hearts.
“They don’t get credit for what they do.
“If one of us misbehaves up the town, you read about it. Some of the stuff we do to help the local community goes unnoticed,” he said.
“Things like helping underprivileged people, having Syrian refugees in our community training camps, none of that gets documented in the media. Hearts do a fantastic job in that sense and I wish Hearts fans and a lot of others could see it. They would see the club in a different light, as I have these last few months.”