London Hearts Supporters Club

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Shining knight to dark night

NEIL DRYSDALE November 01 2005

Less than a year after Chris Robinson was regularly being protected by police escort as he marked his departure from Tynecastle, one or two of his detractors may be starting to recall the traditional admonition: "Be careful what you wish for..."

Following last night's apparent sacking by Vladimir Romanov of his chief executive, Phil Anderton, followed by the resignation of chairman, George Foulkes, the club's bemused fans could surely be forgiven for wondering what their new owner has planned for Guy Fawkes Night.

It may, of course, be the case that Romanov, the former submariner and now self-made millionaire, is in possession of some grand plan, involving the demolition of Tynecastle, which will assist the Edinburgh organisation en route to the Champions League in 2006. It might even be argued that his son, Roman, has already proved himself an astute negotiator around the environs of Tynecastle.

But the effect of Romanov's arrival in Scotland has resembled an explosion in a fireworks factory: it's one thing to cite "irreconcilable differences" with a manager, George Burley, over alleged interference in team selection. Quite another to get rid of a businessman with Anderton's savvy and enterprise, both of which have been instrumental in increasing Hearts' home attendances this season to the stage where even the cynics were starting to eat their words.

Yet what are we to make of these latest machinations? Until Burley's abrupt departure, Romanov was generally depicted as a shining knight, the man who had averted the sale of Tynecastle for housing by transferring the club's £19.6m debt to his bank at a lower rate of interest, and preventing the sale of such players as Paul Hartley, Craig Gordon and Andy Webster to the Old Firm. So what if he proclaimed John Robertson as an inspirational leader one day, then hung him out to dry the next?In the short term, this mattered little, especially while Hearts were compiling a lengthy unbeaten record.

But his treatment of Anderton is a different matter. When I interviewed the former SRU chief executive in April, he had inherited a raft of problems, whereby Hearts and their supporters had been accused of perjuring the SFA's linesmen, throwing a coin at a referee and ignoring the SFA's instructions for a minute's silence to respect the death of the Pope.

The 40-year-old restored a semblance of calm, introduced some radical ticket initiatives, delivered on his promises, and now finds himself out the door. Granted, nobody is indispensable, and the Romanovs have emerged from a football culture where teams change their officials the way Caprice does her boyfriends, but there is only so long one can spoil for a fight before the suspicion rises that Romanov is less flash financier than Flashman.

Certainly, he has courted George Foulkes and finessed the former Labour minister superbly, right up to the moment where he no longer needs him.

So, too, Romanov appears determined not to settle for anything less than wholesale control of his business. But his recent statements have hinted at a restlessness and frustration, which appears completely unwarranted, given the fashion in which his charges have fared.

For example: "A good start is often a cause for caution because there is a danger that it can lead to complacency." Or, as he said only on Sunday: "When I feel there is a good relationship in place and things are going well, then I take a very hands-off role."

In these circumstances, one shudders to reflect on what might transpire if Hearts' SPL campaign hits the buffers.

How on earth Romanov will persuade any manager with a grain of individual ambition to replace Burley, considering the hapless Anderton spent last week interviewing the likes of Claudio Ranieri, Sir Bobby Robson and – ye gods! – Kevin Keegan, and has now himself been deemed dispensable.

There may be method in his madness. Hearts may still prosper from a Roman empire, overseen by Vlad the impaler. But if I was Foulkes or Anderton, there would be only word for how I would be feeling this morning.


Taken from the Herald

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