24th February 2011: Stuart Bathgate.
Our guest speaker in February was Stuart Bathgate, Chief Sports Writer of the Scotsman Newspaper.
Stuart is well known to us as a well respected, football reporter, but he has many more strings to his bow. He has reported on the Commonwealth Games as well as World Championship Athletics and every year he reports on the Wimbledon Tennis Championship. He is also an acknowledged writer on such topics as finance in sport and drug taking in sport.
As ever, a good number of topics were covered during his question and answer session.
A number of questions concerned league reconstruction and the number of teams that should be in the SPL. While many of the fans believe a fourteen team league would be best it would appear that Neil Doncaster and the SPL are much keener on a ten team league and many feel that the fans’ viewpoint was not being considered. Stuart feels that as it takes an 11-1 vote to make changes it is very difficult to see teams like St Mirren and Inverness CT voting for a smaller league. A reserve league is also high on the fans’ agenda to allow over age players to keep match fitness as well as for injured players to attain fitness. A fairer deal for the smaller clubs in money distribution as well as TV rights money. It is difficult to come to a considered decision without knowing all the financial details.
A question was asked about the very poor crowds for the Scottish Cup games. Stuart replied that as teams are looking to qualify for Europe the Scottish Cup has been left behind. While in the past the Scottish Cup was a very important trophy, a different attitude has always been taken in Europe where the big teams will often play their second string in their cup competitions.
On the subject of football agents Stuart had mixed views. While as in all walks of life some are good and others bad. He believed that they can encourage footballers to move clubs only to enhance their own income. This is not good for the clubs and can often damage a footballer’s career.
Stuart believes that one of the reasons that Hearts are having a good season is that Mr Romanov and Jim Jefferies get on well. In the past the owner/management relationship has not worked so well to the detriment of the team. He believes that the signing of Andy Webster was a very astute signing particularly for next season as Bouzid may go at the end of his contract and it is possible that an acceptable bid could come in from another club for Zaliukas.
Finally, Stuart was asked why the Old Firm receive more media coverage compared to other clubs. Stuart answered that this was simply because the Old Firm had vastly more fans and therefore news on Celtic and Rangers sold more newspapers.
We have to thank Stuart for an extremely informative and entertaining evening and judging from the feedback it was very much enjoyed by all who attended.
28th October 2010: Hearts Supporting MSPs.
We were graced with the presence of three senior Scottish Politicians for our Dinner meeting in November. George Foulkes (Baron Foulkes of Cumnock), David McLetchie and Mike Pringle, all Members of the Scottish Parliament, were our guest speakers and they entertained us royally with their opinions and memories of their long standing love of the Hearts. They are all season ticket holders at Tynecastle.
The first question put by the audience concerned the press report that David Murray was building a new stadium, to be shared by Hearts and Edinburgh Rugby, holding 25000 on green belt land in the west of Edinburgh. It has been reported that Hearts would look at this proposal but considered staying in Gorgie as their favoured option. The guest panel were together in their view that the club must remain in Gorgie and indeed a quick straw poll amongst the audience showed that, to a man, they were of the same view.
All three also agreed that it was important that the old stand was replaced with a new stand with appropriate corporate facilities in keeping with Hearts standing in Scottish football. They all felt that this would show real commitment from Mr Romanov.
None believed that league reconstruction would make a major contribution to an improvement in the standards of Scottish football, indeed considered changing the numbers of clubs in the SPL would make little difference, David McLetchie believes that Scottish football standards have always had their peaks and troughs.
As always at our meetings the standard of referees came up, particularly after the recent controversies. Our MSP’s agreed that Scottish refereeing standards are poor at the moment and consider that Hearts have been treated harshly by referees in the past few years due to adverse comment about them from the Club. However, this was no excuse for the players’ bad disciplinary record over recent seasons which has cost Hearts financially as well as effected success on the park.
George Foulkes gave us a very interesting insight into his time as Chairman of Hearts, when of course, George Burley had us at the top of the league until the roof fell in and Burley was sacked and Phil Anderton followed shortly after. George, at that point tendered his own resignation in protest.
Our evening with the politicians was a most interesting and enjoyable event. It was perhaps unique in that we had three politicians, who spend their day in the Parliament at loggerheads, all agreeing with each other on practically everything, especially their love of the Hearts.
29th April 2010: Richard Gordon.
For our April meeting, the Association was very fortunate to have Richard Gordon, BBC sports broadcaster, as our guest speaker.
After our usual excellent dinner the questions came thick and fast from our members who did not let us down with a number of questions on a broad range of subjects and Richard did not disappoint with his answers and views firmly expressed.
On the subject of our own club, Richard reminded us that we are a big club in Scotland and therefore very newsworthy. He was very excited at the start of the Romanov era and genuinely believed that with George Burley at the helm there was every possibility that the Old Firm had finally got a genuine challenge to their domination of Scottish football. He was, consequently, very sad when Burley was dismissed and the revolution never took off. He is delighted that Jim Jefferies is back with the club and believes the club will now move in the right direction.
On reconstruction of the Scottish Leagues, he concedes that with the ruling that 11 out of the 12 members have to vote on Premier League change , restructuring is going to be very difficult to achieve. He likes John Robertson’s idea of a 14 team Premier League with the top and bottom splitting after playing each other twice. Campbell Ogilvie’s idea of splitting after playing each other twice and then bringing in the top teams in the First Division also has merit. Incidentally, he believes that Hearts are extremely fortunate to have Campbell Ogilvy, probably the best administrator in Scottish football, as their Chief Executive.
Richard is an Aberdeen supporter, coming from these parts, and is very disappointed with their progress this season. He agreed that Mark McGhee has not taken the club forward and perhaps replacing Jimmy Calderwood with him was not a good idea but at the time the Board at Aberdeen felt that it was time for a new face.. He has, however, many happy memories of games at Pittodrie but thinks that Aberdeen will be forced to move away from Pittodrie for financial reasons.
Refereeing naturally came up in the questions, and Richard did not hold back. Our best referee he thinks is Willie Collum, with Craig Thomson and Charlie Richmond getting pass marks. Ian Brines was our worst . Hugh Dallas came in for praise but Richard agreed that there is a lot of work to be done to improve standards.
His favourite goal was scored by Zinadine Zidane in the Champions League final at Hamden which is difficult to argue with and he is very very impressed with Craig Levein as Scotland manager.. We know all about Craig at Tynecastle. Richard believes Celtic would like to appoint him as their next manager.
Finally, Richard thanked us for coming along this evening and giving up the opportunity to watch the General Election debate. From the applause and thanks he received it was obvious that the members and guests present felt that they had made the right decision.
25th March 2010: Jim Jeffries, Billy Brown and Michael Stewart.
The Player of the Year, with JJ and BB.
Over 240 members and guests, still basking in the afterglow of a convincing victory against Hibs the previous Saturday, attended the Annual Player of the Year dinner at the end of the March. The feel good factor was enlivened even further by the large mixture of schadenfreude directed towards our city neighbours after their mid-week demise at Dingwall and all attendees were in great form.In a break with tradition the dinner was held slightly earlier in the season and the Association was also delighted to welcome back Jim Jeffries and Billy Brown after an absence of over ten years.
Michael Stewart was the unanimous winner of the annual award with Lee Wallace runner up. Michael accepted his award from chairman, Alex Gowans and spoke in glowing terms of his pride at being captain of the club and being recognised by our members for his efforts on the field. Unfortunately Michael had to leave shortly afterwards, on medical advice, but kindly signed autographs and posed for photographs with a very appreciative group of members and guests.
Jim Jeffries and Billy Brown were then welcomed on to the stage by a now ebullient audience fortified, in a number of instances, by a few small glasses of sherry. To many in the audience it had been only a matter of time before the cup winning management team returned to their spiritual home, and the ten year wait was now over!
Jim’s first task was to accept a presentation cheque for £4,000 made out to Hearts’ Youth Development to fund the purchase of heart monitoring equipment. On behalf of John Murray, director of the youth academy, Jim thanked members for their donation and praised the Association for its fund raising activities which were very much appreciated by everyone at the Club.
The double act quickly sprung into gear. Jim indicated that he always believed that one day he would return to Hearts. Billy had been less sure but then again JJ had “always been a lucky so-and-so and here they were”. Whilst at Kilmarnock, Jim and Billy had always received a very warm reception when they returned to Tynecastle and never took any great personal satisfaction if they went away with the points. Not that that happened very often! Surprisingly the team always had a significantly better record against Hibs and that did give JJ and BB a much higher level of satisfaction.
Clearly that record had continued into the previous Saturday’s fixture against Hibs. Prior to the game John Hughes had contacted Jim asking what his team would be and enquired if Billy would be playing in mid-field. The reply included the team from 98 starting with Rousset. Yogi countered with “if that’s the case we’re not turning up” and, as one wag in the audience commented, - “they didn’t!”
Jim was delighted that Gary Locke had joined the coaching team, not only because he has maroon blood but, through the potential he has to become a top coach in Scotland. Being Hearts daft will not be a hindrance and Jim thought he would have to replace his car on the drive back from a mid-week match when the Ross County winner went in. The car seemed to take on a life of its own as Gary, in the passenger seat, celebrated as if Hearts had won the cup themselves! On a more serious note Gary is a great link between the coaching staff and the dressing room and he makes sure, on a daily basis. that all the players are fully aware of their responsibilities once they pull on a maroon shirt and run out onto the field.
Obviously JJ and BB have had to hit the ground running and are still on a very steep learning curve as they learn about the strengths and weaknesses on the individual players and how that impacts on the team as a whole. The large number of injuries has not helped and at one stage over 18 players were unavailable due to various problems and knocks. There appears to have been a deep rooted problem at the club which has had an impact on fitness levels. During training the sessions have not been conducted at a high tempo whereas on match days the players have been asked to perform at a greater level and their bodies have not been able to cope with the added stress. That is gradually being changed but the full benefits of the new training programme will only become noticeable after a more vigorous pre-season training schedule. We were left with the impression that the team will start next season much fitter than they were when JJ and BB arrived at Tynecastle.
Jim indicated that when everyone is fit he is fairly satisfied with the goalkeeper, defence and mid-field but still has issues up front. He is trying to address that and is hopeful that developments can take place in the close season. Despite the financial constraints Hearts are still regarded as one of the top payers in Scotland and the club remains an attractive proposition to other players wishing to further their careers. Jim is pleased that Darren Barr will be joining in the summer and he fits the profile of a good young player who has experience of playing at the top level in the domestic league.
On behalf of the Association we would like to thank Jim and Billy for coming along to the Player of the Year Dinner and wish them all the best at Hearts. We would also like to wish Michael Stewart a speedy recovery.
31st March 2011: Craig Levein.
A magnificent attendance of 235 turned up to hear Hearts Legend and Scottish International Team Manager Craig Levein. They were not disappointed.
Much of the Q and A session centred round the Scottish Team but Craig had much to say about Hearts and his time there. Asked who was the best player that he signed for the club he immediately answered Paul Hartley. Although he took time to settle including a torrid derby match at Easter Road, Paul went on to have a great career at Hearts before moving on to Celtic as well as gaining several International caps. Talking about his own time as a player he could not split David Macpherson and Alan McLaren as the greatest defenders with whom he played . Alan’s early retirement from the game due to injury was a tragedy for himself and Scottish football. On the present day Hearts team he believes that Lee Wallace, Andrew Driver and David Templeton have a future as Scottish Internationals. Barring injuries Wallace and Driver would have been in the Scottish pool for the Brazil game.
On the friendly last week against Brazil, Craig considers the experience of playing world class opponents as very important, he was disappointed with the players’ performance. He does however now believe that he has now got a much improved pool of players than he started with and considers qualification in the European Championships as a real possibility. Regarding not playing a forward against the Czechs he still does not consider the decision as an error believing that a draw in that match with the players he had available would have been a good result. Furthermore he thinks that in the future Managers will do the same, citing that since the 1950’s the number of forwards used in a game has reduced from five to in many cases only one. Barcelona, regarded by many to be the best team in the world, only play with one forward.
Naturally many of the questions directed at Craig concerned his current job as boss of the National Team. Firstly he described the differences between club management and his job now. He found it strange not to have a squad together on a daily basis and believes the recent get together they had in Spain as very important as are meaningful friendly matches. Within a bureaucratic organisation like the SFA, full of committees, it is very difficult to change things quickly.
Craig is clearly passionate about Youth Development. He would love to see boys playing football every day as he did as a boy as well as much more organised training and development under a schools and youth team structure. He feels that the SFA should have a much better knowledge of players of good potential even down to an age of eleven or twelve. Obligatory physical training and football training at schools, particularly for players of potential is must if Scottish football is to develop and improve.
He is adamant the the SPL should be reduced to a ten team league. His main reasons for this are the lack of money in the game and therefore there will be more money for each team. And he rejects the idea that Managers will blood youngsters in a larger league. Most managers will not play younger players and will always go with experience.
To sum up, the Association was extremely fortunate that Craig found the time to spend with us and share his memories and views of the way forward for Scottish Football.
It is clear that the National Team is in very good hands and that when the time comes he will leave the Scottish Football Association in a much better place at all levels.
Thank you Craig.