London Hearts Supporters Club

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Csaba Laszlo <-auth Alan Pattullo auth-> Stuart Dougal
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Contented Stewart takes heart from a new feelgood factor at Tynecastle

Alan Pattullo

THE impression Hearts have given in the last few years is of a club preferring to operate behind walls of silence, which is regrettable given their long-standing commitment to community projects.

Yesterday's appointment of 27-year-old midfielder Michael Stewart as a first ambassador of the Hearts Education and Community Trust went some way to altering this, and maintains the current feel-good vibe at the club. It is one which contrasts sharply with the mood at Rangers, the club's opponents on Saturday.

Stewart will assist HEACT in furthering its aims of increasing public participation in sport, while also creating opportunities for community development and education. Stewart himself recalled the club's community coaching courses when a youngster growing up in Corstorphine, and has pledged to give both his time and effort over the next 12 months.

He is not the type to do anything in a half-hearted manner, and if there is one criticism of Stewart it is that he can perhaps care too much. His red card during a 4-1 defeat by Dundee United last season was a sign of his frustration with the disintegration around him. Now, however, he is a satisfied man, eager to accept responsibility both off the field and on it, and glad of the support team he has around him.

Saturday's 3-2 win against Motherwell, where Stewart contributed one of the goals, reflected not just his own contentment, but also that of his team-mates. The Tynecastle side have been supplied with a sense of direction since the appointment of manager Csaba Laszlo, below, last month. Stewart knows how to spot a manager having worked under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and also Tony Mowbray at Hibs, and he is confident Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov has recruited wisely on this occasion.

"Since the manager came in the transformation in the place has been phenomenal," said Stewart. "And when you start to pick up results, the belief grows. The manager came in and made an instant impression with the players. Football players can quickly suss people out. When a manager walks into a changing room you can make an instant judgment on the person, and he made an instant impact."

"The manager has experienced a lot in his life," continued Stewart. "He comes from an Eastern European background but he spent a lot of time in Germany, where there was obviously a western mentality. Then he went away to Africa, which is a completely different mentality as well. I will be honest, when you hear that someone is coming from football in Uganda, you do think who are we getting? But within the first five minutes of him coming in to the changing room everyone to a man was very impressed with what he had to say.

"The fact is there is a positive atmosphere around the place just now, and that can only be good for the club as a whole. Here we are sitting talking about the Community Trust. If the club's doing well and the atmosphere is great, it filters right through beyond the offices, and into the Gorgie community and Hearts supporters as a whole. Everyone knows that if you go to work on a Monday with your team having done well it makes you feel a million times better."

It is at present different at Rangers, the club Stewart might once have joined. The Tynecastle side make their way to Ibrox on Saturday hoping to deepen Rangers' misery, although Stewart is aware that the apparent crisis at the club could contain fortifying properties. Walter Smith's side are perhaps never so dangerous as when written off, while an agitated crowd need not need necessarily lead to inhibited players. Some in the Rangers side might be motivated to excel in the current climate, where criticism has rained down. Stewart himself has known such conditions at Hearts, and does accept it can sometimes hinder performance.

"Individual players are different in how they react to negativity," said Stewart. "For some players it has a minimal affect and for other players it is quite substantial. It doesn't matter what industry you are in, if you are in an office where there is a bad atmosphere around then you are never going to be able to fulfil as much work as you might wish. You may well think you are working as hard as you can, but as soon as you get the good atmosphere back you are able to go beyond what you perceived to be your limits before.

"We have to concentrate on ourselves, regardless of what Rangers are doing and what's happening in the stands. We may well go there and the support is fully behind the team, so there's no point gambling on things that we can't control. (But] We'll go there full of confidence and be fully aware we are capable of getting something."

Taken from the Scotsman

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