18 May 2013

Hearts FC: the end (Friday favourite 108)

It's pretty clear one of the world's oldest football clubs - Heart of Midlothian - is about to be liquidated as their Romanov empire collapses around them.

Now as a Hibs fan it would be easy to gloat - and there would be plenty of songs that I could choose for a Friday favourite that would reflect that.  But it isn't that simple.

Hearts, like Hibs, have mainly been rubbish for most of their existence - dominated by the pseudo religious and deeply sectarian (but money making) institutions of the 'old firm'. 

For most of their existences Hearts and Hibs have been city rivals with keenly fought derby games and local bragging of the kind that many similar teams share.

But in 1989 something changed.  Hearts chairman (and major Scottish Tory player) Wallace Mercer launched a hostile takeover bid of then floundering Hibs aimed at creating a 'third force' in Scottish football to take on the old firm.  Hibs fans organised a major campaign against the takeover and fought off Mercer with the last minute intervention of Leith businessman Tom Farmer (owner of Kwik Fit).

But the 'third force' mantra unfortunately stuck with Hearts and for the last 25+ years Hearts have been operating under delusions of grandeur.  They have consistently spent more than they took in in trying to prove Mercer's boast.  By 2003/4 they were £25 million in debt and were about to sell their Tynecastle ground to property developers when a red knight hoved into view - one Vladimir Romanov - a Russian born ex-KGB spiv operating out of Lithuania - who ratched up the third force delusions using Soviet style propaganda. 

As a result the arrogance of many Hearts fans increased and the already unneccesarily bitter relations increased further as did Hearts debts and spending on players they couldn't afford - culminating in last year's Scottish cup final thrashing of Hibs.

Well all Hearts' chickens have come home to roost and their chances of surviving the summer look very grim indeed.  And unsurprisingly many Hibs fans are rubbing it in for all it's worth.

The 'new Hearts' are about to get all they deserve - but this Friday's favourite is about the old Hearts - in the time when Edinburgh football fans were just as likely to go to Easter Road one week and Tynecastle the next.

In 1916 Hearts were top of the league and questions were being asked why professional football was continuing while young men were dying on the western front.  So George McCrae recruited a 'sporting battalion' which included 16 Hearts players along with many others from in and around Edinburgh (including Hibs).  Needless to say they were mown down on the Somme.

Hearts will survive their insolvency - but it will be hard work and they'll need to rediscover their old spirit and friendly rivals.  So as a reminder here is Craig Herbertson - the brother of a mate of mine with 'Hearts of Glory' about McCrae's battalion.

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