The Game of Our Fathers S01E02 – The Hardest Road

Hello guys and welcome to the second episode of “The Game of Our Fathers”. I wanna thank you all for your support with the first part, I’m very glad you enjoyed it. In this second part, I’ll look to build on the mission statement of the first episode and explain a bit the scouting and policies that I’ve been putting in place. Hope you enjoy it!

A man with greying hair sits on a chair in the middle of the studio. He smiles as he straightens the navy and gold tie he’s wearing, which matches his suit.

“Would you mind stating your name for the recording?” asks the interviewer.

“Of course not”, the man laughs, “My name is Andy Roxburgh”.

Former Scotland manager Andy Roxburgh got the Scottish National Team qualified to the 1990 World Cup and 1992 European Championships, as well as leading the under 18s to the title in the 1982 U-18 European Championships. He was also the Director of Coaching of the SFA between 1975 and 1994, setting up the coaching courses that would later be attended to by the likes of José Mourinho and Fabio Capello.

“Why hasn’t Scotland been producing as many great footballers as they did in the 70s and 80s?”, we ask.

“I think it comes down to the infrastructure we have”, he explains. “In the old days, we had a great footballing environment; kids were playing in the streets, in their school, and players just developed out of that passion for the game. Nowadays that natural grassroots culture and passion has disappeared. So we have create it artificially, we have to design it. They’re no longer in the streets playing, so it’s not gonna happen as it did in the past”

The stadium is full as Hearts host Dunfermline Athletic. The Jambos have been in form over the last couple of months, quickly dispelling their beginning of the season struggles to unleash a free-flowing, high-scoring style. 

It’s a great feeling”, says midfielder Andy Irving, “The lads are having a great time, we’re enjoying our football, so hopefully we can keep it rolling and celebrate come the end of the season”.

A great part of their performance has come down to strikers Liam Boyce and Jamie Walker who scored a combined 12 goals in 18 matches. The Northern Irishman was expected to be a key player during the season, but Walker has given him a run for the spot up top.

“Of course having some competition gives you an edge”, comments Boyce, “Jamie is on a great moment, I’m on a great moment, so we’re constantly pushing each other to do better”

Boyce is entering his first full season at Hearts after signing in the middle of last season in January 2020 and is eager to make an impact.

“Last season was very difficult. Scoring in my debut game was great but all that followed was very hard; it ended up being a very tricky and heart-breaking season, so I’m glad we hit the ground running this time around”,

Captain John Souttar has also been on top form. With Hearts becoming the best defence of the Scottish Championship, the former Dundee United man has been key.

“It’s been a challenge, no doubt”, points out the Souttar. “Ross has us playing in a very different style, so it took some time to adjust, but now we’re reaping the rewards of that. We’re top of the league now, and we want to keep it that way. We’re taking it one game at a time but there’s nothing I’d love more than being back in the top tier”.

Unknowingly to the players, a special guest is finding his seat for the match. His visit has been a long time in the making.

As the practice day ends, Ross Salcedo’s staff gather the training equipment. Salcedo excuses himself and finds his way to the Club House, where a key recruitment meeting is taking place. Andrew McKinlay is already there, with Director of Football Richard Marshall and Chief Scout John Murray. With the January transfer window about to open, the club is looking to zone in on the targets they’ll be looking to bring.

“First up we’ve got Finlay Robertson, from Dundee”, continues Murray. “Again, great attitude, really hard worker, just 18 years old, lovely touch, can dictate tempo from midfield…”

“I think the issue here might be the player. He’s not confident we can give him enough playtime, and his agent tells me he’s not looking for a move just yet”, comments Marshall.

“Well, then we have to go for option number two for this spot”, says Murray, “Of course, that’s Billy. We all know him, we all know what he can do. The question is whether it can be done from the economic standpoint”.

The club has been scouting Billy Gilmour from Chelsea for some time and is looking to make a deal to reinforce the spot that was weakened by Steven Naismith’s injury. However, the economics of a top English Premier League side are vastly different from those of the Scottish 2nd, so even a club like Hearts struggle to compete.

“What I’m getting from them”, says McKinlay, “is that they’re willing to pay for a large part of his salary as long as we meet a number of criteria”. 

“Which are those?”, asks Salcedo.

“They want him in centre-midfield and they want him starting regularly”.

“With a talent like his, you can find a compromise”, points out Murray.

“He’s one of those players we’d love to keep over here, so I say we do it”, says the manager.

Salcedo and the board are looking to build a that makes the most of the Scottish talent. That creates extra hurdles when it’s time to improve the squad, but the manager and his team are confident.

“If you think of most sides that have been loved in the history of football… the Busby Babes, the Lisbon Lions, even in more modern times with the likes of Guardiola’s Barça”, explains Salcedo, “What they all have in common is that they were grown from the people who they embodied. We want to do that. We want to build a side that represents the fans who cheer them on, a side that people can build a connection with. We know that’s the hardest road, but it’s the one we chose to take”.

The players get ready for the match. A 3-0 win vs. Dunfermline means they remain top of the league, but with only 2 points separating them from 2nd place Ayr United, any slip could be costly. For new signing Billy Gilmour it’s a special fixture: it could be his debut for the Jambos.

“Of course I’m really excited to be here”, Gilmour says, “This is a great opportunity for me, at a massive club, so I’m ready to show what I can do and hopefully get them back to the Premiership”.

As the players take on the pitch and the game begins. Hearts are in control early on. Inside the first three minutes, a Josh Ginnelly header in the six-yard box is saved by Alloa goalkeeper Neil Parry. Liam Boyce puts a header in from the resulting corner but Parry is once again in control. As the minutes passed, it’s clear Hearts is struggling to convert their dominance into goals. 

The second half starts with Hearts again in control, but still struggling to take the lead. After just eight minutes, Alloa’s Lee Connelly scores against the run of play. Salcedo subs new signing Billy Gilmour in, but with time running out Hearts’ game gets sloppier.

Hearts’ defeat means Ayr United, who beat Dundee FC away from home, are now top of the table. Salcedo’s disappointment is clear. With a Scottish League Cup Semi-Final vs. Rangers in the horizon, this is the last thing the team needed.

The players wait in the tunnel for the match to begin. Everyone is dying to get started, but for Hearts midfielder Andy Halliday it’s about much more than a regular match.

“I was born a Rangers fan”, says Halliday, “In fact, my first Rangers game was an Old Firm match when my mum was pregnant so I have been going to Rangers games before I was even born”.

Halliday grew up on the Copland Road, just metres away from Ibrox and was a member of the Rangers Academy until he was 15-year old. 

“It was actually my mum and dad who told me the news. I cried that day and didn’t didn’t kick a ball for three months, but I don’t hold a grudge. You can’t fall out of love with your football team”.

The Glaswegian midfielder was let go by Rangers following the end of the 19/20 season, after which he signed for Hearts.

“Of course it’s gonna be a special match for me, but I’m a Hearts player now, so what I the most is to help my team win…If the gaffer picks me that is”, he laughs.

However, Halliday isn’t the only one who is facing a special match. Cheering in the Hampden Park stands is Glasgow native Hearts fan, Elliott Clark.

“Being in Glasgow, I never got through to Tynecastle Park as often, so it’s great to have them here at Hampden”, he pointed out while speaking to our team before the match. 

Being a fan from a club of a different city can be hard, but Elliott feels Hearts’ is one of those fan bases that you never fail to feel a part of regardless of the how things are going. 

“There were so many games I’ve watched in pubs and met others who were Hearts fans and in Glasgow they just don’t understand it”, he says. “In a city so dominated by the Old Firm, you’re always walking on eggshells when you support a different Scottish team, but being a Hearts fan is massive to me”.

The match, however, isn’t going Hearts’ way. Despite the Jambos having a few shots on target, it’s who Rangers scores first, through a Conor Goldson header. 

Inside the dressing room nobody’s talking. When Salcedo enters, the players look down; they know they haven’t been up to it.

“You know what’s at stake lads”, says Salcedo, “We’ve all know we’ve been the better side. But that’s not good enough. That’s not good enough. Either you score the goals or it’s not good enough. Remember what we work on week-in, week-out. Because if you don’t then what the hell are we doing? You’re creating chances and then throwing them away. Keep your heads cool. There’s no prize for doing it quicker. The match goes on for 90 minutes and then the team with the most goals win. So keep doing what you’re doing and keep your heads cool. Come on now!”

As the match progresses, the difference in class between the sides becomes ever more apparent; Rangers are getting more and more chances. Another Conor Goldson header doubles the Light Blues’ lead just on the hour mark. An Olly Lee discount against the run of play makes little difference as the match is now firmly in Rangers’ control. With less than 10 minutes left, Joe Aribo seals the definitive result with a goal from a set play.

“Of course, it’s not what we wanted”, says Salcedo in the press conference, “But I think we can leave with our heads high. The club has had a few good runs in the cups lately and we’ve been able to make it yet another one. I think it proves we’re still a great side with the ability to compete”.

Bad results vs Alloa Athletic and Raith Rovers have left Hearts 2nd in the table, 4 points behind surprise team of the season, Ayr United. A close win vs. Queen of the South kept them in the run, but they need to beat Ayr to close the gap and put pressure on the league leaders.

The team, however, is shaken, as earlier that week former club captain Steven Naismith announced his retirement, fearing sequelae after his ACL tear earlier in the season. 

“We respect Steven’s decision”, says Salcedo to our interviewers, “He was an important part of this squad but me better than anyone can understand the decision he took”.

With Naismith now permanently out of the team, Liam Boyce will be Hearts’ main name up top. After a shaky start to the season, the Northern Irish striker has been building up his confidences and is feels ready for it.

“It was sad to see Steven go, but I think we’ve got a strong enough squad, so I’m looking forwards to the rest of the season”, commented Boyce. “We need a good result vs. Ayr to get back closer to the top and maybe we can give Steven a parting gift”

Hearts start the match strong, with Boyce scoring from a run in behind within the first 2 minutes, but Ayr soon equalizes. Both teams keep trading blows, but as the second half begins the Jambos take the lead through a Liam Boyce penalty and never look back. When the final whistle comes, it’s Hearts 4, Ayr United 2.

“We’re very happy with the result”, says Boyce, “and I’m glad I could help the team… Hopefully, Steven saw that and decides to come back”, he laughs.

There’s a lot of season to go through still, but Hearts are finally looking like a side to win their ticket back to the Scottish Premiership.

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