Hearts welcome Succession to Tynecastle as Robbie Neilson and players get into spirit of it

How often does Scottish football collide with Hollywood? Not very. There’s the former Dundee United player, Neil Paterson, who won an Oscar for the screenplay of Room At The Top, and there’s the Robert Duvall-Ally McCoist vehicle A Shot At Glory, the less said about the better.

Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 6:00 am
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson with the "new" sponsor.

There’s also American actress Grace Kelly turning up at Tannadice, home of the aforementioned Dundee United, to watch AS Monaco play a Uefa Cup tie in 1981.

And then, around 50 minutes into the penultimate episode of the last series of the multi award-winning show Succession, an eyebrow-raising conversation takes place.

It has already proved slightly discombobulating that a series previously shot in New York, the Hamptons and a superyacht in the Aegean Sea has relocated to Dundee. The equivalent would have been primetime 1980s soap series Dynasty suddenly upping sticks to Forfar for an episode.

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From left, Cammy Devlin, Beni Baningime and Stephen Kingsley wear the Succession-inspired shirts. Pic: Sandy Young/scottishphotographer.com

The characters drive past the Magdalen Yard bandstand overlooking the Tay en route to a private party at the V&A museum to celebrate Dundonian media tycoon Logan Roy’s half-century in the business.

His son Roman, played by Kieran Culkin, approaches him with news of a gift to mark the occasion.

Roman Roy: “I – we – bought you a present. We bought the Hearts.”

Logan Roy: “Hearts?”

The third series of Succession is on its way.

RR: “Uh-huh”

LR: “Hearts football club?”

RR: “Uh-huh”

LR: “Why?”

RR: “Because it’s the Hearts. It’s your team.”

LR: “I’m Hibs.”

RR: “You’re Hibs? Really?2

LR: “Yes.”

RR: “Are you sure? I thought you were Hearts, I am pretty sure, Dad...”

LR: “You know, maybe you’re right. How would I know which team I supported all my f*cking life? I mean, maybe I support Kilmarnock? Or f*cklechester Rangers. I mean, how can I possible f*cking know?”

The upshot is that as well as being the head of a bloated conglomerate including print media, theme parks and cruise liners, Logan Roy is the unwitting owner of a team riding high in the Scottish Premiership, which might be news to the current owners – several thousand Hearts supporters. But they and Ann Budge, the erstwhile owner and still current chairwoman, appear to be taking it in good spirit, having agreed to host an afternoon where the club really are in the hands of an egotistical, tyrannical landlord – sound familiar?

It’s generally assumed that Roy is loosely based on Rupert Murdoch rather than a former submariner called Vladimir Romanov, but the similarities are obvious, and perhaps the downfall might be as sudden and severe. Season Three of Succession had its premiere last night on streaming service Now. All will be revealed.

In the meantime, Hearts are enjoying – some would even say, milking – their brush with film celebrity, even if they appear to be the butt of a joke. After all, it’s rivals Hibs who Logan Roy supports, despite both the character and actor playing him, the incomparable Brian Cox, hailing from Dundee.

It seems that the writers, including Peep Show’s Jesse Armstrong, concluded that getting into Dundee/Dundee United territory was simply too confusing for a worldwide audience, hence the shift to Edinburgh’s more generic club names, which are then summarily mixed up to comic effect.

Hearts are big enough to see the funny side too, hence the event last week where players donned now highly desirable specially made Hearts shirts with Waystar Royco taking the place – for one afternoon only – of Motor Neurone disease charity MND Scotland, the slightly more heart-warming real-life sponsors.

Players milled around enjoying the novelty of being extras in a drama where the punchline doesn’t involve them getting relegated, unlike the BBC Scotland docuseries, Inside Hearts, which aired last year.

John Souttar, Ben Woodburn, Stephen Kingsley and Beni Baningime modelled the Succession-inspired shirts while the home dugout was also branded with the Waystar Royco logo. “This partnership stands out as a world-first – the first time ever that the front of a major professional football team’s shirt has been sponsored by a fictional company,” trills the press release.

Manager Robbie Neilson is a genuine fan of the series, although he could do with employing one of the vast stable of Succession scriptwriters. “Just like the Roy children in Succession, we’re a club battling for the one place at the very top,” he is reported as saying in the aforementioned press bumf. “Unlike the Roys though, we know we can only get there by working together.”

Australian midfielder Cameron Devlin has resolved to fully investigate the programme. Meanwhile, he reported no similar Hearts-Hibs confusion on the other side of the world, where he claims his family and relatives have no problem understanding the difference between the two teams.

“I think I have made it pretty clear that I am at Hearts, I’ve tried to explain to them!” he says.

“That’s something else that has caught me… just the actual seriousness of the rivalry. Obviously being involved on the bench for that (derby) game, a crowd like that is something else I have never seen. Unfortunately, he (Logan Roy) might be a Hibs fan, but no, everyone back home definitely knows I am a Hearts player.”

The exclusive Succession-inspired shirts which he and others were wearing are apparently being gifted to industry “influencers” as part of the promotional efforts for a new series that hardly needs much pushing given its hitherto critical acclaim. Fans can also enter a competition to win one of these exclusive tops via the club's official Twitter page to raise funds for MND Scotland.

Hearts won’t be wearing them in this weekend’s “Royco derby” when they host Dundee, the team Cox’s cousin Bobby skippered to the Scottish league title in 1962.

Hearts are currently looking to emulate an even more historic achievement – their last Scottish league title success was 1960.

After Saturday’s script-shredding last-minute equaliser at leaders Rangers, there’s no reason why such a dream cannot be entertained. For the time being, the club’s last major honour remains being featured in the storyline of a Hollywood blockbusting series.