The previous regime under Vladimir Romanov had spiralled out of control. The Russian-born Lithuanian had got drunk on his own success and spread himself too thinly, having fingers in various sporting pies, while not keeping a closer eye on the money his empire had been hæmorrhaging. Unfortunately for Heart of Midlothian, Romanov’s fast and loose approach to prudency nearly destroyed the club for good. A ‘newco’ might have risen from the ashes but the memory of what was once there would have hung heavy for a long time.
Indeed, given the hystrionics that broke out over social media and phone-ins following the events of May 12th, 2014 when Budge stepped into Tynecastle and blew away the cobwebs and dead wood, you would have been mistaken that this was a woman sent in to finish off Romanov’s dirty work. Far from it. Yes it was sad to see players like Ryan Stevenson and Jamie MacDonald being told to find another club but given the books needed to be balanced – and fast – contracts given to those players by the past regime which offered money that Hearts didn’t have were no longer going to be part of the fabric at Tynecastle as far as Budge was concerned. Some youngsters like Dylan McGowan and Mark Ridgers were let go but every May, a group of young lads will be called in and be told the news that every footballer dreads: “Son, it’s no’ happening for you here”. And some like Jamie Hamill had become a liability even if finances had been in a healthier state.
The biggest outcry was for last season’s manager, Gary Locke. A Hearts supporter from birth, a solid if unspectacular right-back for the club in his playing days had found himself, by accident of being cheap, in the hotseat itself. He had conducted himself with dignity during the turmoil of the previous campaign but that alone was not enough. His contract was not renewed (Locke wasn’t sacked as some inaccurately had said) purely for football reasons. As former Hearts captain, Michael Stewart, pointed out on Radio Scotland earlier this year, mistakes that were made in the opening month of the season were still be made by the same players five months later. The coaching to drive out these bad habits was not working. What effectively sealed Locke’s fate would undoubtedly have been the tactics employed to combat Inverness Caley Thistle in the League Cup semi-final when the Highlanders went down to nine men. Locke’s cautious approach instead of telling the team to go for the jugular signed his own death warrant regardless of what might transpire on the pitch following Hearts’ defeat that day.
Fast forward to December and so far Budge has been vindicated - even if those who railed against her after ‘the lunchtime of the long knives’ back in May still appear to be reticent in not appreciating the fact that tough choices had to be made back then. After all, this was nothing new for Hearts. When Wallace Mercer stepped in to save the club from financial trouble, he would later remark that he “had to look at the club as being a cancer patient and having to be brutal in knowing where to stick the knife in” when it came to making tough financial decisions to try and get the club going in the right direction again. Budge has done just that with the results on and off the pitch justifying the means.
While not wanting to tempt fate, Hearts look to be on course for promotion and assuming an almighty collapse doesn’t happen, should they find themselves back in the top flight next season, we will probably get a better gauge of how well the new regime both and boardroom and dugout level are doing in the face of playing much stronger opposition than they have been this season. The last time Hearts won promotion to the Premier league, their first season back in Scotland’s big time ended up in the club qualifying for Europe. A repeat scenario does seem far away given said promotion needs to be sealed first. But it wouldn’t be at all surprising if both supporter and new owner alike, are not casting an eye towards it.