Locke is holding Hearts together, insists Brown

Gary Locke is keeping spirits high at Tynecastle. Pic: SNS
Gary Locke is keeping spirits high at Tynecastle. Pic: SNS
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HEARTS assistant Billy Brown has rounded on critics of manager Gary Locke and stressed that no-one could hold the Tynecastle club together better than him. Brown is unhappy with people questioning Locke and today hit out at those denouncing his reign with a firm endorsement of his management skills.

Sunday’s 1-1 draw at St Mirren ended a run of five successive defeats during which Locke endured harsh criticism from certain quarters. Hearts remain 13 points adrift at the bottom of the league ahead of Thursday evening’s New Year Edinburgh derby with Hibs at Easter Road, but Brown is adamant no-one should be pointing fingers at Locke in his first job as manager.

The 38-year-old was promoted from first-team coach to replace John McGlynn as Hearts manager in March. His first nine months in charge have coincided with turmoil on an unprecedented scale as the Edinburgh club lapsed into administration, suffered a 15-point deduction and were banned from signing any players. They are not expected to exit administration until next spring.

Locke has coped admirably with the turbulence and bravely tried to rally what is a drastically young and inexperienced squad. He enlisted Brown as his assistant in June and has received staunch backing from his No.2 in the face of fans’ complaints during matches. Brown explained that morale inside Riccarton could not be better and attributed much of that to Locke’s galvanising efforts.

“If our results in the future depend on morale, there would be no worries,” said Brown, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “The morale inside this place and inside the team is as high as it possibly can be. There is no doom and gloom. The backroom staff are positive and the manager is doing an absolutely outstanding job at this club. There is nobody who could hold this club together like he is doing, so there’s no problem with morale here.”

With a chuckle, Brown added: “Gary will come out of this a better manager. He might have no hair left and had a nervous breakdown by that time, but he’ll be a better manager for it.”

The sanctions imposed on Hearts by the Scottish Professional Football League have severely hindered Locke – a point not lost on Brown. Punishments have hit the club hard and left them filling their first-team squad with teenagers from their youth academy. Locke has openly admitted that many of the youngsters are far from ready to play at senior level. Results have, inevitably, suffered.

Brown admitted he has never known such a “ludicrous” situation in over 40 years in football. “I don’t think this has happened very often to very many teams, but it’s what everybody wanted, wasn’t it? They wanted Hearts punished, you’ve got to be punished, and we’re getting punished. Is there anybody benefiting from our punishment? No. Nobody is benefiting from it.

“Fifteen points and a signing ban, it’s just ludicrous. Nobody is looking at the bigger picture in Scottish football. There shouldn’t have been a signing ban put in place with a fifteen-point deduction. It should have been either or.”

Hearts would be allowed to sign under-21 players during the January transfer window if they were out of administration. As of February 1, they are able to sign players of any age, but, again, only once they can exit administration. “To all intents and purposes we would have been out of administration by January and then able to sign under-21 players,” continued Brown. “Come February, we would sign any free agents that were available. However, until we come out of administration, all bets are off. There’s nothing we can do about it, but the situation is becoming ridiculous.”

Locke has refused to complain about Hearts’ predicament and instead tried to work on despite the restrictions placed upon him. His learning curve at Hearts has been steeper than any of his predecessors yet, as a supporter of the club since childhood, he still feels he is in a privileged position.

The New Year is approaching with promise of a brighter future at Tynecastle if the Foundation of Hearts – the fans umbrella group seeking to complete a takeover – can gain control.

Locke believes that is cause for much encouragement, although he remains focused on the more immediate task of trying to steer his team clear of relegation.

“I’ve certainly learned a few things here. Hopefully it will stand me in good stead for the future,” he said. “The biggest thing I have learned? Probably that you don’t get much sleep. It’s a little bit of everything really. There is so much going on at the club, but it is important you keep focused. You have days when you are down, but no-one will pick you up – you need to do it yourself. You need to come in every day with a smile on your face.

“I hope 2014 is a far better one for the football club – 2013 is one we all want to forget. Hopefully things get sorted off the pitch. It will take a long time rebuilding, but the main thing is we are still here still fighting and, when we get things sorted off the pitch, hopefully you will see a far better Heart of Midlothian in the future.”