Robbie Neilson: Hearts fans’ plane stunt was good thing for me

The banner flown above Tynecastle during the match against Partick in March 2016. Pic: John Devlin
The banner flown above Tynecastle during the match against Partick in March 2016. Pic: John Devlin
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Robbie Neilson admits Hearts fans who flew a plane over Tynecastle to try and force him out actually did him a favour.

The Dundee United manager says he now fears nothing in football after seeing people go to extremes to have him sacked as he led Hearts into Europe.

An aircraft carrying a banner with the words, ‘no style, no bottle, Neilson out’ appeared in the Gorgie sky in March 2016 during Hearts’ 1-0 win over Partick Thistle. The following month, the Edinburgh club secured a Europa League qualifying place despite being a newly-promoted club in that season’s Scottish Premiership.

Only a small section of the support were responsible as the majority were behind Neilson at the time. He feels the incident steeled him for the rigours of management in what was only his second season in charge of Hearts.

“At the time I didn’t know anything about it. One of the staff told me about it after the game. It wasn’t great,” he told the Evening News.

“You ignore it by winning the next week. That’s football management. You simply have to win. You have to prepare your team properly, get your players right, your environment right and win on a Saturday. Nobody is interested in anything else. That’s just the way it is.

“When something like the plane incident happens, it’s probably a bit of a compliment that somebody has gone to all that expense. Looking back on it, it has helped me. Anything that’s going to happen now - whether somebody puts something on the internet or does something inside a stadium - I’ll think: ‘That’s not really anything to fret about until they start flying a plane to get you out.’ Once it gets to that level, then it’s decent.

“Seriously, it was actually a good thing for a young manager to have to deal with something like that. We won the game 1-0. If we’d lost, the questions and the intensity afterwards would have been different. It’s just the fickle nature of football.

“I didn’t think too much about it. It’s just background stuff. I was the same as a player. When you’re getting stick off the fans, you can either crumble or dig it out. I’ve always been like that.

“It’s the same now at Dundee United. We’ve had a great start but there will be a wee sticky patch. There always is.

“We’ll lose a game, maybe two or three. You can crumble or take it on the chin and move on to the next week. You can get over things very quickly in football.”