Levein, Budge, Naismith and more - being a fly on wall during Hearts' loss to Queen of the South
There were times during Hearts’ dramatic 3-2 defeat by Queen of the South that those inside Tynecastle Park would have felt like a fly on the wall.
You don’t get dull moments in Gorgie. Being 13 points clear, on course to win the league and obtain promotion back to Scotland’s top table is more often than not enough to appease a fanbase. Not here.
You can understand the sheer frustration of the Jambos faithful. Many have bought season tickets, many pledge to the Foundation of Hearts. You won’t find many more mobilised supports, passionate and desperate for success after season after season of decline. The Scottish Cup defeat at the hands of part-time Highland League outfit Brora Rangers was the worst result in the club’s history. Tuesday’s loss heaped pressure on manager Robbie Neilson, particularly because the fast start to the league campaign and beating Hibs at Hampden have been eclipsed by mundane, plodding performances and sub-standard results.
Before kick-off at Tynecastle, a group of mainly 100 or so young fans congregated outside Foundation Plaza to protest. “Budge and Levein stole our club,” their banner read.
Both of them were inside the ground, Budge watching on from her seat in the director’s box, while Levein was on BBC Scotland duty. The former manager and director of football, fingered by so many for the rot at Hearts, stood the whole match as he summarised events on the radio, a reminder that the past is still very much present.
There was so much drama on the pitch as Queens seized upon their feckless foes, but eyes were drawn all around the stadium. Three former managers were here, watching over the potential demise of the current one. As well as Levein, club ambassador Gary Locke sat on his own in the Main Stand, mainly with his head in his hands, clearly vexed by the team he loves struggling so badly. Twenty or so rows up, Hearts legend Jim Jefferies was stony-faced, with Budge a few seats across, also pained for the most of the match and looking at her phone for most of the second half.
Sporting director Joe Savage was on tenterhooks, waiting for a goal. He brought players such as Armand Gnanduillet and Aaron McEneff to the club, and will not want to watch them struggle.
Injured duo John Souttar and Steven Naismith sat together towards the Roseburn Stand, kicking every ball. Naismith was almost like an assistant coach, cajoling and sometimes cursing his team-mates. My goodness, he cares, but could only watch on helplessly.
When Hearts equalised, Neilson let out a primal scream, looked to the director’s box and embraced fellow backroom staff Lee McCulloch and Gordon Forrest. He wore the expression of a relieved man, who is acutely aware of the pressure he is under even despite a healthy lead at the top of the Championship. That solace was emphatically popped when Andy Irving inexplicably netted into his own net, a microcosm of Hearts’ calamitous week.
At full-time, Budge and some of her fellow directors paused for a conversation, ashen-faced. One suspects it won’t be the last time they talk this weekend to mull over another desperate landmark in Hearts’ history as Queens celebrated winning at Tynecastle for the first time in 58 years.