Let’s get this straight. Eight million quid will not win us the Premier League.
I don’t live in Edinburgh any more, so I realise I don’t have to put up with the Greater Glasgow disease that infects otherwise clean and healthy parts of Scotland. When we were trashed by Rangers and Celtic the other week, I wasn’t surprised – but worse, I wasn’t all that bothered – because I don’t have to go to work on Monday to face triumphalist Hun bastards or whey-faced paranoid Sellik-types who still insist on calling us Cloven Hoof juniors. I just shut my eyes, get on a train, and pretend it’ll go away. By the time I open my eyes at Kings Cross, it has.
So I don’t see the point of Hearts trying to compete with the Old Firm. Money is now making its true mark all over Europe. There are only two or three teams in any country you name who have their League as a realistic target. Aston Villa, Athletico Madrid, Standard Liege – they know they’re not going to win their League but they don’t hurt themselves the way Hearts do because of the fact. Instead, they get on with realistic ambitions at their level, and don’t do badly at that.
It’s stupid even to recall the 1980s and think it can happen again. Hearts had their chance and blew it, just as the New Firm didn’t: Aberdeen were neo-Weegies with added Hieland muscle thrown in, and Dundee United were brainwashed to become the best-coached club in Europe, the natural heirs to Nottingham Forest. But they only could do it cause Celtic and Rangers were dreadful. But now the Glasgow clubs have got their business hats on, we’ll never catch up - and we’ll damage ourselves if we try.
Third-best ain’t bad – if you think what and where it’ll get us.
It’s what we must aim for – in the short-to-medium term. Getting beat off the Old Firm – 4-0, whatever – isn’t good, but infinitely worse is getting beat off Dundee United, or Motherwell, or St Johnstone, or Kilmarnock. It proves we’re not the team we think we are, or should be. What this 8 million smackeroos should be doing is putting clear maroon water between us and the rest of the Premier. If Hearts finish a good third for three, four, five years in a row, we start to convince those littler clubs in the Premier that they’re beat even before the kick-off. That’s the Glasgow secret – so let’s use it! I’ve got no problem with Celtic and Rangers asserting the superiority that their millions should give them. Just as long as we assert our superiority over shitey little teams from shitey little towns. (And Hibs. Say what you like, but they’re touched by a wee bit Embra civilisation.)
Third means Europe - annually. Hearts can become a name that other countries recognise as being regulars in the UEFA Cup in the same way we’ve all heard of Ferencvaros, Real Betis and Brondby. (Mind you, I can’t think of (m)any non-British teams whose name doesn’t mention where they come from. Makes you think that we’d carry more clout if we were called Edinburgh – and Hibs were called Leith…) Regular telly money will make us a player – a small player to be sure, but at least we’re at the table, rather than someone who’s stuck in a wee booth handing out the chips. And finally – and least likely, of course – we might get recognition from Scottish Football in all its guises that Hearts are a force for good in Scotland and for Scotland. I’d like to support a club that’s admired, as well as feared.
The next few years are about consolidation and consistency. The game’s about financial survival. No matter who or what Hearts buy, Celtic and Rangers can pick up some pricey leftovers from Europe and sustain the losses if it all goes pear-shaped. Hearts can’t. The current eleven is pretty good, though we need a better goalkeeper and a top-class striker. (Personally, I’d like Hearts to pitch for Neil Sullivan and Mark Burchill - just to put down a marker for our ambition.) But we don’t have a lot of quality in depth, and injuries and suspensions will hurt us. And just as we saw against Motherwell, even our best eleven isn’t necessarily up to the task. Look to the future – it’s only just begun.