Stephen Elliott has explained how the “warmth” of Hearts legend Jim Jefferies helped him acclimatise to life at the club under the unorthodox rule of Vladimir Romanov.
The Irish striker moved to Tynecastle in summer 2010, when the controversial Russian banker was still running the show. Elliott admits to being taken aback by an introduction to the club which resembled “a mafia movie”. It was only a first meeting with Jefferies, the manager at the time and former club skipper, which put his mind at ease after he feared he had made a big mistake in moving to Edinburgh.
“To say my time at Hearts was crazy would be an understatement,” Elliott explained as he detailed life under Romanov in his enlightening blog on the sportdec app. “To be fair, I saw the signs first hand on the day I put pen to paper. I remember it all so clearly, especially as I had to leave my heavily-pregnant wife back home in the northwest of England.
“At all my previous clubs, my contract was signed with just myself and the chief executive usually present. But, at Hearts, I found myself standing in a room alongside my agent at Tynecastle with four Eastern European guys all suited and booted and staring me up and down while speaking a foreign language to each other. I remember my agent turning to me saying that it was like something out of a Russian mafia movie. It turned out one of the guys who was there was Sergejus Fedotovas, Romanov’s right-hand man. He was also his translator, which I was to find out in time.
“I wasn’t too sure if I had made the right decision as Sergejus and Co had not been the most welcoming. But I just went with the flow as I needed to be back with my wife on the Tuesday when she was due to give birth to my little girl.
“The following weekend was the first time I met Jim Jefferies. I had spoken with him before signing but it was the first time I met him in person. It was at this moment that I realised I had come to work for a proper football man and a guy who was as passionate about a football club as I had ever met. Straight away I could feel his warmth and all my worries in signing for the club had disappeared.
“I would say my first season at Hearts was a pretty successful one. If anything, the work Jim did in getting us a third-place finish was totally disregarded and unappreciated by Romanov and the other directors. As a player who didn’t know much about the club before I arrived, he taught me the meaning of being a Hearts player very quickly. He was a great manager and was unfortunate that he had to work under people that didn’t really understand the meaning of the club the way he did.”
Elliott, who went on to win the Scottish Cup under Paulo Sergio in his second and final season at Hearts, recalls a bizarre dressing-down from Romanov shortly after a 4-0 thrashing away to Celtic had effectively ended their hopes of challenging for the title in 2011.
“The lads had informed me that it wasn’t unusual for Mr Romanov to arrive unannounced at the training ground, as he liked to have a personal chat with the players every now and again,” Elliott stated. “It was my first experience of one of these encounters and it was a real eye-opener. These meetings involved all the players sitting in the dressing-room awaiting the chairman and the rest of his ‘mob’ to come in. It was quite comical looking back at it. Mr Romanov would come in and shake everyone’s hand very vigorously before he went to the centre of the dressing-room and addressed us all in some sort of Russian-Lithuanian language while his pals stood behind him. It was here that Sergejus came into his own in becoming the ‘perfect’ translator.
“As Romanov was seemingly having a bit of a rant, Sergejus would speak after his every sentence saying that the chairman would like to say ‘how pleased he was with us and that if we continued competing with the top two we would be rewarded accordingly’.
“It sounded like he was delighted how things were going. That was until they had left the room and our captain Marius Zaliukas, who, being Lithuanian, could understand everything that was said, informed us that instead of saying all those nice things translated by Sergejus, Romanov told us that we were all a bunch of losers and had bottled it against Celtic. He also said that he would not be paying any of the win bonuses we were due as we were a disgrace to be beaten in the manner we were. It was baffling, but as my Hearts career went on, I realised that these outbursts weren’t unusual. Although the club was run in an unorthodox way, I am very grateful that Jim decided to give me the opportunity to play for Hearts.”
• Read Stephen Elliott’s blogs on the sportdec app.