Why Behind The Scenes Drama Leaves Hearts Facing An Uncertain Future


Ever since Vladimir Romanov became the owner of Hearts in 2005, controversy has never been far away.  Known for meddling in first-team affairs, and running up a lengthy list of ex-managers, Romanov has also been outspoken in the press, accusing the Old Firm of bribing referees, and Scottish football authorities of having agendas against Hearts.

But this season has been the most turbulent yet.  Even before the season began, Hearts were hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons.  In June, defender Craig Thomson was found guilty of indecent behaviour and placed on the sex offenders’ register.  Initially the club chose to keep Thomson, but after a media backlash, he was suspended, and subsequently sent on loan to FBK Kaunas.  This matter, and a £100,000 fine from the SFA for disciplinary problems, resulted in Hearts issuing a statement on their official website, which accused a ‘mafia’ of attempting to disrupt Hearts.

In August, manager Jim Jeffries was replaced with former Sporting Lisbon manager Paulo Sergio.  Under Sergio, their form has been erratic, but they have beaten Celtic at Tynecastle, and produced a credible performance at White Hart Lane against Spurs in the Europa League, drawing 0-0 (although they had lost the first leg 5-0).  The club are currently 5th in the SPL table, but events in recent weeks have begun to threaten the clubs future.

In September, Ayr United knocked Hearts out of the League Cup after a penalty shoot out.  Sergio was, of course, unhappy after the match, but criticised referee Iain Brines for disallowing a Hearts goal, and later claimed that Brines had changed his reasons for ruling the goal out.  He was angered by the appointment of Brines as fourth official when Hearts faced Dunfermline a few weeks later, and his comments have resulted in an SFA hearing, where Sergio was censured for his comments.  While this has been on-going, Sergio was again critical of a referee, this time Alan Muir, following Hearts home defeat to Kilmarnock last Saturday.  Midfielder Ian Black was sent off in the first half, following an ugly lunge on Dean Shiels.  Sergio was then sent to the stands after protesting, as Hearts lost 1-0.

But the manager’s problems have become a minor concern for Hearts fans.  It has emerged that Hearts players have yet to receive their most recent wages, which were due to have been paid on October 16th.  That alone would be a problem, but Romanov’s latest rant has cast doubt over the club’s future.  In a statement issued on the club’s website, he said:

“Entrepreneurs and various large businesses have turned their backs on that sort of football and left this national heritage to the mercy of its own fate. No one is interested in what’s going on. This is why there is no point in spending millions to watch someone else’s show. 

>There are practically no high-quality Scottish players left, Scottish clubs don’t play in Europe and the national team doesn’t get into finals. The soap opera, or to give it a more apt name, showbusiness, is the whole of Scottish football.

The game against Kilmarnock was another show. Following on from the SFA investigation of Sergio for legitimate comments he has made, it simply shows how the media is running, or ruining, Scottish football.”

While there is some truth in some of his comments, Hearts fans will be concerned that Romanov is losing interest in Hearts.  With finance in Scottish football being a major problem, it would not be easy for Hearts to find a new owner if Romanov decided to sell.  Hearts in particular have a significant debt, one which Romanov controls, having transferred it to a Lithuanian bank following his purchase of the club.

And with players not being paid, the PFA is ready to step in, and Hearts could face losing their best players for nothing if they are found to be in breach of contract.  The SPL may be forced to divert commercial monies meant for Hearts to the players, who have apparently been told that top earners will be allowed to leave in January. 

Off field problems are threatening to de-rail Hearts season, and if their problems are not resolved, one of Scotland’s biggest teams could find themselves in a crisis they cannot escape.

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