Often, when bold remarks from an organization become public, they answer more questions than they raise. When a statement comes across as the one released by Scottish Premier League club Heart of Midlothian over the weekend, including references to blackmail, the mafia, and paedophiles, one must query not only just what exactly that statement is speaking to but also the wisdom of presenting such an announcement as an official club statement. Initially considered to have been posted either on a false website or else a cruel joke on the part of a hacker, time demonstrated that Hearts’ statement blaming sports agents, the SFA, the media, and criminal elements, among others, for their problems was indeed what the club intended to release on its official website for the world to know. Here is the statement in all its bewildering glory, unchanged from its release date of 24/6/11. While many of us continue to digest this and attempt to divine meaning behind it, one question must be considered paramount to the remaining ones.
Who’s the staff worker unfortunately charged with having had to put that on the site, after turning to majority owner Vladimir Romanov and asking, “Are you sure you want me to post this?”
Because that or some other type of similar scenario surely happened at some point, given the rather odd and rambling statement that was published on Friday evening, and one can only imagine it was forcibly done in a moment of high emotion that disallowed cooler heads to prevail. Rather uncomfortably, there remains no edits, no follow-up clarification, nor possibly a renouncement of this official club statement after the bit of chaos it has since unraveled upon Hearts, save for an announcement suspending player Craig Thomson with immediate effect. For it is likely with the issues surrounding Thomson that brought about the emotional response resolved in Friday’s words. It is also with Thomson’s plight that the comparison of mafia elements troubling the club to paedophiles sounds the screwiest of all the sentences in the original text of the 24th.
The story, by now, has been run through the mill, but just to set the stage for the madness that has ensued since, it bears repeating. Ten days ago the 20 yr old Hearts player pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent behaviour via online contact with underage girls, receiving a £4,000 fine and having his name placed on the sex offenders’ registry. Management of the Edinburgh club chose to support the player rather than immediately dismissing him as national media seemed to demand, referencing the decision as a contrast to Hearts’ reputation as a family club.
In this context, then, the strange beginning of the statement of 24 June, where the club points out that it has been been trying to protect its players from “crooks, criminals, and thieves” but that “facts have been omitted by the media” makes a bit more sense. Having found itself once again in the unenviable position of having one of its players run afoul of the law, Hearts directors chose to stand by that player and perhaps felt slightly aggrieved its position had been criticised. Seeing that the media failed to flesh out all the details, refusing to see that Thomson’s fall from grace, along with that of his other teammates on the wrong end of the law, was indeed an organized attempt to derail the club, this statement had to be released. Having been barred from this crucial information, then, football fans would be made to see that the Jambos are actually remaining true to their family club reputation, protecting young players like Thomson, who have possibly been coerced into bad behavior at the “hands of criminals.”
Bear in mind, this is not meant to justify Hearts’ stance nor lend credence to Mr. Romanov’s argument. Rather, it is a groping effort to glean some sense of rationale behind the club’s statement. Without some sense of perspective, the 24 June communiqué appears even more obtuse and frankly, a little crazier than at first glance. Couching it in this way, however, one can see the links between the accusation leveled at sports agent Gary Mackay, the allusion to the Andy Webster transfer soap opera as a purposeful effort to block Hearts’ efforts at challenging the Old Firm for SPL supremacy, and the numerous fines levied against Romanov’s club for indiscipline during his tenure. The elements seeking to spurn Hearts have done their work well, making their efforts appear completely random and coincidental occurrences when, per Romanov, they are slick, coordinated, and designed to inflict maximum damage to the club. Discovering the plot, Romanov and the board chose to be the stern father to an apologetic Thomson rather than banishing him to the world, and management is stunned no one else has yet to see what’s happened.
Romanov now faces a inquiry before the SFA compliance board for the online ranting, and any chances his appeal of the club’s most recent £100,000 fine for indiscpline likely died once someone at Tynecastle was forced to hit “post.” Further, with respect to the money, the withdrawal of it, perhaps more than any other response to the club’s initial support of Thomson, has resulted now in Hearts’ about-face on the player. While Mr Romanov might have flinched slightly hearing CEO Anne Houston of Children 1st, a leading children’s charity, call for Thomson’s removal from the club, he probably started sweating profusely once news came round that £5,000 a year beverage sponsor MacB was ending its association with the club over the affair, and that plumbing company Paragon Trade Services was considering the same–also a £5,000 per year sponsor of the club. As the offices at Tynecastle rang off the hook with local schools cancelling visits to watch the players train, citing concerns of their young children being in close proximity to a registered sex offender, thousands of pounds in sponsorships looked to be flying out the doors by the hour. The club obviously decided to reverse course, lest the bigger sponsors also get a case of cold feet.
So, while Hearts appear to have finally distanced themselves from Thomson, the end of this saga might not be near. The Edinburgh side has a bit of reputation rehab assignment ahead of it with its supporters and sponsors, and Mr. Romanov has a future day with the SFA regarding the online rant that speaks louder and longer than the Thomson rescission that was posted a couple days later without comment. Perhaps for the remainder of the summer, that will be how Hearts management will respond to any other incident.