Someone recently commented on the lack of The Word On The Street that is Chief Grouser (a misnomer: it's actually an acmefied version of three people's opinions rolled into one, a joint effort which blows the Simpsons scriptwriting posse out of the water). Well, very gratifying, I must say, to have been missed so. I've not been so flattered since one of the regular Kickback correspondents criticised my suggestion that Jim Jefferies should leave Hearts, ever-so-constructively proposed on the eve of the Hibs game last May. Jings, does he really think anyone of any importance reads this? Does he think team morale was dealt a mortal blow because it was suggested the manager should be replaced by anyone who could play the trombone at half-time and at least cheer them up? If so, it worked a treat, and by winning they threw it back in my face! That's me shown!
Kickback does seem to be populated by various people who think that anyone gives a toss what they say. A few even had the self-importance to suggest that the Hearts Politburo had closed down Kickback the day after Jefferies' departure because - well, I can't begin to imagine why they thought anyone, let alone the Hearts board, should give an arsehole about the opinions of twenty or thirty people who apparently can't find anyone in their local boozer to listen to their Deep Thoughts. As though shutting Kickback down for just 24 hours would quell debate and discussion! Yeah, right! Listen, I thought it was a disaster the night Malkie Robertson relegated us for the first time in our history. It wasn't. I even forgave him when he came to play for us. Now, if you were there watching us getting beat off East Stirlingshire in 1981 in front of 155 paying spectators, standing between Max von Sydow and some old bloke with a scythe, you'll know what crisis is. It's not cataclysmic, it's not sudden: it's slow, creeping, numbing horror at something seemingly no-one can do anything about. We got out of that one, only just, and everything since has been Fine By Me. Everything's relative. This season it's all relative to Hibernian - just who would be complaining if Hibs were having their usual crappy old season down beneath the water line?
So I was not one of those who waved a red card at St Johnstone, nor sat around for fifteen minutes after Dundee, nor with the wee boys who chased an empty van out of Tynecastle so that Reporting Scotland had an even better story than the one they were going to make up about Hearts. Christ, some supporters really do play into the media's hands and give them so much ammunition, just as those who get the hump about Tam Cowan do nothing to discourage the popular view that Hearts fans are a bunch of paranoiacs. And here's a message to those who buy the Daily Record… now, I'm typing this very slowly, Watch My Fingers… Stop complaining about it. Don't call the Record biased, or inaccurate - of course it is, it's a newspaper! The vast majority of its readership is of the Wicked West (and not just in it) and that's whom it's aiming to please. Newspapers are only interested in selling tomorrow's newspaper. Remember that. I know you canny get it down here, but The Scottish Sun is far, far better, 'cause it gets the fun stories, the real stories - like Jose nipping off to the crapper just before extra time in the League Cup earlier this year. What, you didn't see it? We'll put it in Website Gallery if you like.
More Mediawatch: did anyone else play Spot The Difference after Hearts beat Dundee? Scotland on Sunday's headline - the Saturday night edition which I bought in the pub whilst being right royally entertained by Jiggery Smith, the Sadowicz of Seafield - declaimed "Hearts As Happy As Pie". But the copy bought by my good friend Mr Allan the following morning called it differently: "Hearts Not As Happy As Pie." Subtle difference, right? Obviously something had happened - not simply after the final whistle, for Saturday night's report mentioned the sit-in - but something beyond that, something injected by a bored sub-editor who wanted to make things more lively or, for the paranoid amongst you, perhaps someone with a more sinister motive.
No, dignified dissent was the man who stood stolidly, defiantly, non-threateningly at the crush barrier round the back of the stand after the game, with a laminated but home-made banner proclaiming "Pie Man Must Go." To accompany this demonstration, he filled his lungs and bawled slowly, magnificently, in the richest of tones, "PIE MAN, PIE MAN, GET TAE FUCK! PIE MAN - GET TAE FUCK!" Everyone who passed by him paused momentarily to nod their approval, whether or not they agreed. Here was a man who cared deeply, a man who knew the television cameras wouldn't be interested in him. After five minutes (I know, because we stayed to admire) another man with an identical banner joined him and it became a duet. No-one would have called it a spontaneous outburst, then, but as demonstrations go those two have much to teach the internet generation who believe that protests organised on the Web have any credibility.
The reason that Chief Grouser has been silent recently is because criticism is only ever insightful when the team's doing no' bad. Everyone else seems to have taken on Grouser's mantle since September, anyway. I sat in my local boozer back then watching Kilmarnock demolish Hearts with the sound turned down and the jukebox on. I tell you, the accompaniment of Brittany and the Bee Gees made it quite surreal, tempered only once when someone put on "Teardrop on the Fire" by Massive Attack, which reminded me the last time I'd heard it was the soundtrack for a telly ad for the Red Cross - strangely appropriate. I know I was watching it on a wee telly, but from minute one I was puzzled that five Kilmarnock players were permanently in the picture when there were only two of Hearts. (Not much of an opening bid, for the bridge players amongst you.) I did have a little Say-So ready for publication here, but being proved right gets a bit wearying after a time, so I left it. Its main point was that if you were going to be as bold, as tactically inspired as to play 3 up front (McSwegan, Flogel, Juanjo) then playing only 3 in the midfield is absolute suicide because you're never in a million years going to have enough of the ball to give to those three. So not only is the midfield chasing the game, the three up front are non-paying spectators to the event. And when one of the midfield was Fitzroy (and another was Jackson) I don't think we need look much further to explain away a 2-0 reverse. A 4-3-3 (Durie, Kirk, Juanjo) was employed against Hibs not long after. Bold bold bold, Jefferies Be Praised. We take the lead, because we get the ball quickly up to the three up front, we score. But from that moment onwards Hearts didn't have a clue, because it was a formation designed to take the lead and build on it. Instead, for some reason that only can be explained inside the players' heads, they tried to defend a one-goal lead for 88 minutes with a 4-3-3 formation. Mind you, it's allowable to wonder what if Durie had scored on 40 minutes… 6-3 maybe. Maybe.
One of our little themes over the last year or so has been to suggest that Hearts' parlous state has been on the park as much as off it, and involves the players and especially the manager and his mate a little more than it does the Board. Unfortunately you get involved in this Robinson v Jefferies debate, as though you have to take one side or the other. No-one's denying Chris Robinson is a bit of an arsehole (most of us are at some point in our lives) - and having met him a couple of times he seemed a pretty ordinary guy who didn't have much of a clue. A bit worrying, to be sure, though I had a lot more sympathy with him than the jumped-up self-grandiosing of Les Deans, but let it never, never be forgotten that these two men are Hearts fans who rescued Hearts from the serpentine squeeze of the Wallmeister as money was siphoned via a large plastic tube from HMFC into Dunedin Properties. Let's face it, Robinson wouldn't have the savvy to be crooked. Except for the fact they told Mercer they had £2m when they didn't. And he fell for it. Ha ha ha.
I thought Jefferies seemed to buy the players he wanted (it wasn't lack of money that stopped Robbie Winters joining Hearts - but thank God for the lack of money that spared us Lee McCulloch) and some seem to still be enjoying marvellous wages at season ticket holders' expense for very little return. I wasn't present at the shareholders' meeting when Billy Brown promised that in spite of the dissenters, Gordan Petric would prove to be the best buy he and Jefferies had ever made. Well, I hope he's addressing Bradford City shareholders shortly with the same message. I simply don't think that Jefferies is a man who gets better at his job after five years, no matter whether it was at Heart of Midlothian or Legal and General. He needed a new challenge, and hopefully he'll do very well at Bradford (whatever 'very well' actually means there). But I doubt he had much more to offer Hearts, and his frustrations seemed to limit the players overmuch. Craig Levein wasn't my preferred choice, but I didn't have one in November anyway (though when Steve Clarke was released by Newcastle a year ago I almost got on the blower to Robinson) and it may now be up to the players to make the team tick. It's no good looking at the dugout any more, boys - he's not there! However, Levein may be a useful hatchet man who will respect no-one's position: not even Robinson's… that's the future in the present. I'll be buying my season ticket - because I do not think the club belongs to me.
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