It is a statement of intent by a club aspiring to challenge the Glasgow duopoly on a consistent basis. The theory is obvious: The more home fans inside Hearts’ spiritual home, the greater the team’s advantage.
Tynecastle officials decided to reserve fewer tickets for those from Parkhead and Ibrox this season compared to previous years. In a world where Celtic and Rangers never take kindly to not getting their way, it was a bold move. But nonetheless a justified one.
More Hearts followers want to watch their team gaining momentum for a European charge after returning to the Scottish Premiership. Almost 9,000 donate their hard-earned monthly cash to the club through Foundation of Hearts, which amounts to £1.5million in extra annual funding. They are therefore entitled to expect some priority over away fans.
Other top-flight chairmen would happily follow the lead if their club’s fanbase was similarly sized. For now, Hearts are on their own. The ‘Jambos first’ approach is well received by locals and, breaking down the figures, neither Celtic nor Rangers have much grounds for complaint.
Celtic travel to Gorgie this Wednesday evening with 1,289 seats given to their fans. Previously they filled the Roseburn Stand, Tynecastle’s traditional away end holding 3,396 people. So that’s a reduction of 62 per cent. The new allocation equates to 6.5 per cent of Tynecastle’s overall 19,852 capacity.
However, at Celtic Park last month Hearts were given only 752 tickets for the away section. That’s just over 1.2 per cent of the venue’s 60,411 seats, not to mention the restricted view away fans encounter due to steelwork in that corner of the ground.
The Edinburgh club are keen to treat both Celtic and Rangers equally. Rangers got the same 1,289 ticket allocation when they visited Tynecastle last month despite publicly expressing disappointment at the decision. They, too, used to fill the Roseburn end.
Rangers gave Hearts 916 tickets for Ibrox back in October. That’s 1.8 per cent of the stadium’s 50,817 seats. So, even with a smaller allocation in Gorgie, both Glasgow clubs still enjoy a far larger proportion of Hearts’ ground than they give of their own.
The Tynecastle board can clearly only continue giving home supporters precedence whilst demand exists. Many will remember reduced away allocations back in 2006/07 after Hearts secured a place in the Champions League qualifying rounds the previous year. Rangers and Celtic got the full Roseburn end again the following season.
An agreement with city rivals Hibs is not likely to change, thankfully. Both clubs are content to hand the other an entire stand for Edinburgh derbies, thus aiding the raucous atmospheres in that fixture.
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson wants his superiors to ensure this season’s arrangements for Celtic and Rangers matches are made permanent. The extra tickets for Wednesday’s game are selling well and, regardless of whether a complete sellout is achieved, he naturally wants as many people roaring his team on as possible.
“Yes, 100 per cent. If we can sell out the rest of the stadium to Hearts fans then we do it. It’s something I’d like the club to continue to do,” he stated.
“If you can sell out the rest of the allocation then 100 per cent do it. Other teams don’t have the capability to do that so they have to give a bigger support to the away team. If we can get 19,000 Hearts fans there, then I would take 19,000 all day.”
Celtic lost 2-1 his season’s opening league game 2-1 in Edinburgh with manager Ange Postecoglou still adjusting to his new job. That was in front of a reduced crowd and no travelling supporters at all due to Covid restrictions at the time.
“We had a brilliant result against Celtic at the start of the season and ran them close at Parkhead. The aim for us is to try and go through to Glasgow and win games,” said Neilson.
“At Tynecastle we feel we have a great chance of taking three points. This is another opportunity for us, though Celtic are a good team even with a few players on international duty. We will have to bring our best if we are to take anything out of the game.”
Celtic’s 19-match unbeaten domestic run goes on the line under the Tynecastle floodlights. They are a team building genuine momentum of their own in an attempt to catch Premiership leaders Rangers.
Asked how far his team are from Celtic at the moment, Neilson offered a realistic assessment. “Nine points but hopefully it will be down to six come Wednesday night,” he smirked.
“They have a huge squad and resources where they can buy players for £4million and £5million. We have to try and find gems in the market and then try to keep them together.
“We are trying to keep continuity within the group and we have managed to get the majority of our out-of-contract players signed up. We have one or two more who we want to keep as well. We are getting closer but there is still a long way to go.
“Celtic probably have 30 top players. We run with a squad of about 16. If we have a number of injuries it makes it difficult but Celtic can bring in a number of good players.
“If [Liel] Abada goes out, [James] Forrest comes in and they don’t change formation. We just work towards that and deal with whoever turns up on the night.”