Why Hearts fans have reached breaking point with drastic decisions being made
The first defeat to a non league team for Hearts since 1900 when RS McColl scored for Queen’s Park.
It’s so absurd the magnitude of it didn’t quite register in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat to Highland League side Brora Rangers.
It has now. Supporters have reached breaking point.
The result will go down as one of the biggest shocks in 148 years of Scottish Cup history.
In a statement on Thursday, Ann Budge said: “We can only echo the comments made by Robbie Neilson after the game. He was stunned and embarrassed, as were we all.”
Those last four words aren’t quite accurate. From a fans perspective, the most shocking aspect of the shock was the fact it wasn’t all that shocking. You only have to read Christophe Berra’s comments.
“It's been coming, let's be honest,” he said. “It's probably a multitude of things adding up.”
Years in the making
Remarkable, galling but the truth. A team with one of the biggest budgets, recently so close to Scottish Cup success, heading towards this most infamous of results.
Berra talked about this result being on the horizon for weeks. This, to many, has been years in the making.
The disgruntlement has been on an upward trajectory since 9.36pm on Tuesday.
There will be those who look at the division between club and supporters as bewildering, owing to Hearts’ 16-point lead at the top of the Championship.
This is something which runs deeper.
Withholding the pledge
The Evening News has seen a number of emails from fans sent to the Foundation of Hearts reluctantly asking for their subscriptions to be cancelled or suspended just when the organisation are on the cusp of taking control of the club and with nearly £11.7million raised.
Those supporters have talked about not having a voice, “the astonishing lack of reaction” and a “disconnect between the board and the fans”.
Stuart Wallace, Foundation of Hearts chairman, responded to the current feeling.
"We’ve had a good number of fans get in touch to express their anger and in some cases to withhold their pledge,” he told the Evening News.
"We are all fans and I absolutely understand the frustration and the desire to vent. What I would say is – is withholding a pledge the best option right now, in the middle of a global pandemic and when we hope to be challenging in the Premiership next season?
"I do think that it’s important that we don’t let the excruciating disappointment of Tuesday harm the short and even long term health of the club in this way.
"Our fans are the best in the land; we’ve seen that again and again. It's very tough right now, but I’m hopeful that they will stay with us and keep laying the foundations for something much better than what we've had to endure this last week.”
The feeling of angst has been building for longer and many now feel it is their only choice to make a stand.
Fundamental problem for supporters
The decision which saw Hearts demoted to the Championship shifted attention away from those running the club to the SPFL and Scottish FA. Anyone tuning into that St Mirren game a year ago now would have witnessed a club heading in one direction. A fundamental problem for supporters.
To her credit, Ann Budge has often spoken about the club’s ambition to be amongst the top four and continuously challenge for European football. But talk has not been married with action.
In the five Premiership seasons between the club’s spells in the second tier, the team won 61 of 182 league matches. Losses? 70.
Fans feel those lofty ambitions and standards have fallen, drastically, horrendous defeats accepted, as so called smaller teams have made a mockery of Hearts’ predicament with their own on-field success on much smaller budgets.
Since 2016, the team have failed to beat Maltese opposition, lost to Peterhead, drawn with East Fife, scudded 5-0 by Livingston, lost to part-time Alloa Athletic in the Betfred Cup and now the Brora Rangers debacle.
As part of the statement which rightly reminded fans that we are still living in a pandemic regarding talk of Tynecastle protests on Saturday, Budge spoke of success.
She wrote: "This year was about winning the Championship and getting back to where we belong. We are on the cusp of achieving that objective. Let’s not risk success now by allowing frustration and anger to knock us off course.”
Winning this Championship is a success in the same way remembering to brush your teeth is a success.
These aren’t massive demands. These ‘achievements’ are the very, very least of what’s expected.
Reopening old wounds
One of the fans’ biggest bugbears is the communication. In the past 24 hours there has been comment from the club, the Foundation of Hearts and Robbie Neilson, some of which has not sat well with supporters.
There is a feeling amongst fans that the club haven’t so much read the room as not even realised there is a room to begin with.
It has reopened old wounds, specifically, the ‘club don’t listen to us' wound, with flashbacks to Craig Levein.
In the aftermath of supporter protest against the management of Levein, Budge told fans: “What we do not do is over-react, throw all of our plans out of the window and start again!”
Again, she should be commended for backing managers, both with patience and finances. But there comes a time when inaction proves fatal as it did last season.
Already there is talk of another rebuild this summer, supporters fearful of another slew of more than adequate players suffering some sort of block when pulling on the maroon jersey.
Now, feeling that they are without a voice, many are doing the unthinkable and considering withholding money from the club and the Foundation, fed up with hitting rock bottom only for the ground to open up once more for another fall.