Hearts fans' message is loud and clear - but what will be the response?

"I'm not going back until he's gone." It takes a lot to drive fans away from the club they support. They are stubborn and resilient, capricious and contradictory. And fickle. It can be both a positive and a burden. They can put up with poor football, increased ticket prices, questionable signings. They can go back every week, up and down the country, despite a general understanding that they aren't treated well.

Sunday, 15th September 2019, 1:16 pm
Hearts fans make their feelings known. Picture: SNS

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Watch as Hearts fans gather outside Tynecastle to demand Craig Levein's exit with chants of 'sack the board'

But a tipping point can arrive. One where they not only feel disrespected but, more pressingly, decisions are not being made with the club's best interests at heart.

For many, so many, that point has arrived at Heart of Midlothian.

Hearts fans make their feelings known. Picture: SNS

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Speaking to fans after Saturday's 3-2 defeat to Motherwell, some of whom have had a season ticket every year since the early 2000s, they have offered their brief to anyone who will take it as they vow to never return until manager Craig Levein has left his post.

It takes a lot to push fans to effectively give up on something which cost upwards of £300.

The current feeling among the support was made clear when a sizeable crowd - anywhere between 600 and 1000 - gathered outside the Main Stand.

Tynecastle is not unfamiliar with protests. Or the support being at odds with each other.

Hearts sit bottom of the Premiership. Picture: SNS

Three years ago a handful of fans hired a plane to fly over the ground calling for the sacking of Robbie Neilson. Hearts finished the day third, six points off second. It was rightly mocked at the time and just appears preposterous now.

During the Vladimir Romanov era the support was split for most of the Russian-born Lithuanian businessman's time at the club. At one point there were fans actually coming to blows over the running of the club. And of course there was the infamous picture of a one supporter kicking a bunch of Russian hats and prompted the incarnation of the two bands of Hearts supporters. You were either a 'Vlad sheep' or 'hat kicker'.

There were protests over the appointment of Graham Rix, but the most high-profile one was when Paul Hartley, Craig Gordon and Steven Pressley - the Riccarton Three - gathered at the training ground to issue concerns about the running of the club.

Hearts fans gather outside in Foundation Plaza. Picture: SNS

There was no such divide pre-Romanov. The support as one despised Chris Robinson and his suspicious eagerness to sell Tynecastle. Protests, before, during and after games, were a regular occurrence.

The passion of Hearts fans to defend their club cannot be underestimated. After all, in their thousands, they rallied to save the club with current owner Ann Budge playing a crucial role. So, the location of this protest was somewhat poetic, in Foundation Plaza.

There are those who feel alienated by the running of their club. Unable to understand how those in charge can look on and not see that change needs to happen, allowing Levein to stay in charge despite overseeing the club's regression to the bottom of the Scottish Premiership and no sign of improvement. The collective performance against the Steelmen was meek. Little creativity, little pace, few ideas, a general nothingness except for long balls, mistakes and an uneasiness.

It is now more than 18 hours of league football without a win. By the time next Sunday's Edinburgh derby comes around it will be 176 days and 12 games since defeating Aberdeen 2-1.

Craig Levein is under increasing pressure. Picture: SNS

The feeling that Levein's time is up is one shared by a huge percentage of the support, but within that there is an undercurrent of discontent and divide among the fans base, best summed up when a small group tried to force their way into the reception at the Main Stand after someone in hospitality gestured towards them. The doors were locked and the group held back by police and stewards.

There is an element which views Budge's leadership as trying to change the fabric of the club. A belief that she is wanting to sanitise the crowd, focusing on "clients" who pay for hospitality suites, turning the whole stadium into a family-friendly, passion-free haven. Whatever your view on this, the raucous nature which makes Tynecastle so special - a bear pit which opposition players, fans and managers, even referees, talk up as the best atmosphere in the country - is being eradicated. It is something which is beginning to be more myth than reality.

At the same time, Budge and the club should be commended for stamping down strongly on racist and sectarian behaviour, with two fans handed indefinite bans recently for such behaviour. It been a problem at Tynecastle for years - although nothing has been said of the fans accused of racism when Hearts last played Motherwell at Tynecastle. Even Saturday's protest brought some unsavoury, sectarian chanting. It was designed to antagonise, a "we can do what we want approach", those responsible unable to realise that not only does it not have a place at Tynecastle, but it is only harming their own protests and arguments.

In reality, the above point is a sideshow. On the pitch, it is no longer a case of 'things are coming to a head'. That day has arrived. Some have even taken to cancelling their Foundation of Hearts subscriptions. A move which is designed to send a message.

The ball is now in the court of those in charge at Tynecastle. What message will they send out ahead of the visit to Hibs in seven days time?