London Hearts Supporters Club

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How did it come to this Mr Romanov?


ON June 30 this year, George Foulkes and Phil Anderton paraded with profuse pride the culmination of their dogged and demanding efforts on Vladimir Romanov's behalf - the new Hearts manager, George Burley. Four months later all three have left Tynecastle for good after the most freakish Hallowe'en the old stadium has ever known in its 119-year existence. Only Romanov, and his mafia, remain.

How did it all come to this? As news of Anderton's sacking and Foulkes' resignation broke last night, supporters logging on to the home page of their club's official website for the latest news were greeted by a cheery looking picture of their majority shareholder advertising the opportunity for them to download the "Romanov Ringtone" to their mobile phones. That proposition ironically has the marketing brain of Anderton stamped all over it, and if the number of subscribers to the ringtone idea has been diluted slightly since George Burley's sacking ten days ago, then those previously wary fans will now be bent over baulking at the very sight of Romanov's smug grin.

There has never been any doubt over who is in charge at Tynecastle. The removal of Anderton and initiation of a knock-on effect which saw Foulkes walk with him in protest to be replaced by Romanov's 29-year-old son merely denotes the majority shareholder, in the eyes of supporters, as a power-crazy dictator-type desperate to have his own men dancing to his every tune.

Perhaps of more concern, it depicts Hearts as a laughing stock. After protestations of league titles and the even more heavenly prospect of Champions League campaigns, Romanov will now find it excruciatingly difficult to deliver a championship at a club where he has created so much turmoil.

Romanov claims Anderton and Foulkes had to go, for they had been too long in their positions without delivering. "They've had over one year and not been able to do the things I've wanted to do for Hearts," said the Lithuanian. Firstly, that is inaccurate as Anderton had only been an employee of Hearts since March.

"They've had all the funds and all my energy but I've not had the response I wanted." Secondly, if bringing in a reputable manager who takes the club to the top of the league during a 12-game unbeaten run, watching the team flourish on the back of weekly stadium sell-outs and innovative commercial ideas as detailed above is not delivering then each and every chief executive in Scotland should be living in fear tonight.

And whilst we're at it, who else will now be biting their fingernails to the cuticle in the stadium offices at Tynecastle? There can be little room for debate in suspecting that other high-profile figures at Hearts like finance director Stewart Fraser, communications director David Southern or commercial and marketing director Alasdair Russell will have pondered their own fate once or twice in the last 24 hours as the ruthlessness of Romanov bares itself.

Clearly, being a recent recruit, like Southern or Russell, does not safeguard your future in Gorgie as Burley found out. Foulkes said: "All weekend we have had the Lithuanians trying to twist my arm into going along with the sacking of Phil Anderton. I just don't want to be part of that. I just find the ruthlessness unacceptable." Few can blame him.

Romanov states that he has "no intention of walking away from Hearts at this time", and then promptly bounces on to a plane and heads for London to dodge the multitude of questions that supporters are left demanding answers to. "Temporarily, another member of the board will be put in charge," he said. "At the moment I don't think there will be anybody better in protecting the interests of the club than Roman. Later we will see what happens. It's going to be a busy few days."

That much is true, but it didn't need to be. This can all be traced to the sacking of Burley, an act of folly at which Anderton was left somewhat apoplectic after virtually moving heaven and earth to get the former Ipswich and Derby manager to Tynecastle. The chief executive's diligence appeared vindicated by Burley's gathering of the most capable-looking side seen by Gorgie regulars since the 1950s championship-winning era of Dave Mackay.

Then Burley is emptied, supposedly for refusing to bow to Romanov's demands on team selection, an issue on which Anderton remained defiantly silent.

As Foulkes was forced to defend the actions of the majority shareholder and the players displayed T-shirts backing their erstwhile boss, Anderton, notably, remained in the background .

There has been speculation that a heated exchange took place between Anderton and Romanov in the directors' suite during half-time at Easter Road on Saturday, and the Lithuanian's almost instant return to his seat in the VIP area before most fans had filed down to the concourse area for their interval pies would seem to provide evidence of something untoward.

It is also believed that Romanov and Anderton clashed over the club's wage structure during discussions concerning the possible appointment of Claudio Ranieri. Foulkes told this newspaper only last week that he had assurances from Romanov that whatever money was required to recruit the necessary candidate would be made available. Maybe it's just that Ranieri was not that candidate in Romanov's eyes.

As we are being made increasingly aware, when differences of opinion occur and Romanov is involved then only one winner will ensue.

Ten days ago Hearts had everything. Now what? With Romanov in charge, we are more clueless as to the answer than Alicia Silverstone.

Anderton leaves with his reputation enhanced from his time at Hearts. As a result of the upsurge in the club's fortune during his chairmanship, so too does Foulkes, in spite of rash statements concerning two-horse championship races.

When the day comes, will Vladimir Romanov be able to exit Tynecastle with the same distinction?

Taken from the Scotsman

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