A divided support, a closed section and a cup final ahead. What’s all the fuss about in Gorgie?
‘League won in September’, cup final in May and a 20,000 seater stadium nearing capacity every other week – you’d be forgiven for thinking that Hearts fans are happy about their season so far.
Following another predictable performance at the weekend, Hearts fans would be happy to see the season end tomorrow. After such a promising start to the campaign, there seems to be a general apathy towards the club as they gear up for their final four games of the season. This can be illustrated by the fact the club are struggling to sell out their away allocation for the last Edinburgh derby of the season. The reason for that can’t be summarised in just a few sentences…
As many Jambos head to Easter Road on Sunday in a less than buoyant mood, plenty have decided against making the trip across the city in a worrying sign of the times.
As it stands, and has done for a while, there is a massive divide in the Hearts support. Whether it’s petty squabbles on Twitter, fights in the stands or songs against the board, things are reaching boiling point in Gorgie.
At the heart of the problem are doubts over manager Craig Levein, these have been consistent since his arrival in September 2017, but it’s fair to say that this has recently developed in to a genuine concern over his ability to progress the team any further beyond this season.
Often criticised for his style of play, Levein has come under serious pressure in recent months as the teams form has completely fallen away. Lacking ambition in games against the Old Firm and lacking ideas against the bottom six, things are unlikely to change before the end of the season.
After 26 points in their first 10 games, Hearts have picked up just 24 in their next 24. An appalling stat.
Combine that with a fourteen point swing from rivals Hibernian, there is a reason why some fans struggle to motivate themselves for this Sunday’s game.
It is no secret that the team have struggled to perform with injuries to key stars, namely Steven Naismith. However, with an investment in up to 20 players across the season, the manager has to shoulder the blame for his lack of ability to move forward without the 33-year old Scotland forward. Inconsistent team selections breeding inconsistent results has threatened the clubs season to go out with a whimper.
On top of the poor football, the club has hit the headlines for the wrong reasons more than once. Numerous incidents in the stands has lead to one of Tynecastle’s most popular sections closing for the final two home games of the season. Budge – not shy of a statement – had threatened misbehaving fans with action throughout the season. Clubs all over the league have suffered numerous well-documented issues with fans across the country.
Due to the nature of football, many have been punished for the action of the few and this hasn’t gone down particularly well at Hearts. Budge has decided to get her own house in order before the labouring SFA/SPFL even begin to knock heads over a solution to this ‘crisis’.
Anne Budge has been fantastic for Hearts since she came in to the role of chair, post-administration. She has invested in (an under-performing) team, whilst building a new main stand and laying a state-of-the-art surface. However, many believe she is out of touch with the fans, with Tynecastle no longer the intimidating fortress it once was. This where the division in the support lies.
On one side, you have a younger generation of Hearts fans who believe they shouldn’t be sanctioned for creating an atmosphere within the ground. Some of these fans believe Budge would rather a timid or ‘family’ atmosphere at Tynecastle. Often ridiculed through shouts of ‘the prawn-sandwich brigade’.
On the other hand, some fans want rid of the troublemakers in the support, believing the ‘loyalist’ element of a minority is tarnishing the clubs name. Some of these fans are shocked at the lack of belief in the team at the minute and even resorted to bragging rights over their loyalty to the team. Others have bizarrely claimed that there is some sort of fascism recruitment scheme occurring within the support. Yes, that really has been said.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. Football is meant to be fun and there’s no doubt Tynecastle is one of the best stadium’s in the country. Bring an atmosphere, make it intimidating and make it difficult for opposition players. However, at times the club is left with no choice but to take action, with pyrotechnics are damaging the new turf – more than once. Budge has never once said she doesn’t want a rowdy Tynecastle, but she could do a better job of engaging with the fans.
These supporters shouldn’t be crucified for supporting their team, but there has to be a line drawn. Moreover, if supporters don’t want to renew season tickets then that’s their prerogative. It’s a commitment of hundreds of pounds and Hearts wouldn’t be the first team to suffer a drop in sales.
There is no hiding Levein’s football has been poor and Hearts now face their third consecutive mid-table finish. Tell a Hearts fan they’re a mid table team and they’d judder, but currently it’s the harsh truth. The club should always be challenging for a top four finish, given both the stature and the investment in the squad.
Yet, it has been ever so predictable. After originally offering so much, Hearts have declined back in to a state-of-flux where dropping points to Hamilton, Dundee and St Mirren hasn’t even become surprising for supporters.
The manager is in a peculiar position, where he sits both on the board and in the dug out, but a Scottish Cup final loss would put serious question marks over his future.
With Levein in limbo, many Hearts fans struggle to think of a promising replacement. The current model commits to promoting from within, but that wouldn’t go down well with an already broken support. McPhee, Daly or Fox would be under fire from minute one if they got the gig, with questions over Levein’s influence inevitable from the media and fans alike.
The club definitely needs a fresh change of direction, with a mundane and inconsistent side letting down the support too often over the past three seasons. You only need to look across the city to see how a swift change of coach can turn your fortunes.
Football is a fickle business. A Hearts win on Sunday would galvanise the support ahead of a massive day on May 25th. However, regardless of result, there seems to be a mutual trail of thought that the club needs freed from the shackles of Levein to move forward. Despite being a club legend, the board need to react to the situation before more fans lose interest.