Hello guys and welcome to the third (and last) chapter of this first season. I’m already preparing for the new season but I just wanted to thank everyone who helped during the production process of this first season. Adam (aka FM Stag) who I annoyed constantly with questions, Connor and Martin who allowed me to interview them for the fan parts, Mozza who suggested them as interview candidates and of course everyone who read and supported this experiment. Thank you everyone and hopefully you’ll enjoy the latest chapter!
“It was a good goal”, laughs Euan Henderson when asked about his latest performance.
The young winger has just scored the winner on a 2 – 1 win vs Dundee FC, that sees the Jambos through to the Scottish Cup semi finals. It’s only his third goal of the season.
“The fans went berserk after my goal… Tynecastle is simply a fantastic place to play football. Of course things haven’t been going as well, or as good as we’d like, but it’s important to find spots from which to build on. With Ross here we youngsters have been getting a lot more time on the pitch, so it’s nice to be able to pay back that trust”, he points out. “Sometimes we argue, he wants us to push further, to try harder, and you’re drenched in sweat, looking at him like ‘What else do you want?’, but we all know he just wants the best for us and for the club.”
Later that day, they players and staff learned about their semifinals rival in the dressing room. Yet another clash with the Old Firm, this time with Celtic F.C. The mountain keeps getting steeper for Hearts.
Hearts are getting ready for a key fixture in the race for direct promotion. First placed Ayr United sit on 41 points, four ahead of 2nd Place Hearts. For the Jambos, it’s a six pointer; for the fans, it’s much more important. We asked season ticket holder Aidan Hill what his club means to him.
“Being a Hearts fan you get used to the team doing things the hard way and when things go right it really means the world and more to the fans”, he says. “It was never optional for me, being an Edinburgh boy and family of Hearts… they are a religion to me”.
“So of course when someone comes who’s trying to do things right you want to stand behind him. We’ve been through so much crap, so much crap. When the club nearly went out of business… being a day away from being liquidated; it was a soul-destroying moment and you wouldn’t wish on anyone or any team no matter who they were”, he continues. “But at the end of the day we gotta win it, we gotta win it. Ayr have been great but we gotta win it. Hearts are too big of a club to stay another season in this division”.
With the stadium packed, the teams are about to enter the pitch. For Ayr United, it could mean almost securing their promotion to the Scottish Premiership, for Hearts, it could make it a fight till the end, or end it right now.
“Tynecastle is so close to the pitch even with the stands all being fairly new the way the ground was built it keeps the noise in and is like a cauldron of noise when rocking”, says Hill, “Hopefully we can do our bit”.
However when the match starts, Hearts are nowhere to be found; Ayr are on top from the get go. On the 12th minute, Luke McCowan took a freekick short from 28 yards and passed it to Tom Walsh who popped a great strike into Craig Gordon’s goal top left corner. Hearts regrouped and got some chances but failed to create any big problems for the Ayr defence.
When the second part begins, Hearts look livelier. They instantly start creating more chances, getting more shots, looking for that vital draw. As time passes, however, that spring in their step whanes. In the 63th minute, the final strike lands: a Nathan Patterson through ball finds Tom Walsh, who puts a strike low past the near post. Ross Salcedo looked on from the sidelines, powerless. Hearts never looked like recovering from that.
“We didn’t get the result we wanted. We didn’t get the result we needed. All we can do is keep working”, pointed out the manager during the press conference, “We’ve got seven matches to go, we’ll do everything in our hands and hope for a bit of help”.
With Hearts out of the running for the Scottish Championship title, and direct promotion with it, the focus has turned to the Scottish Cup. The team has done a great job getting into yet another cup semi final, but the biggest stumbling block lies ahead. Celtic are top of the Scottish Premiership and look set on another domestic double after getting knocked out in the early stages of both the Champions League and the Scottish League Cup.
After the defeat vs. Ayr United, the rumour started making the rounds that time might be running for Salcedo, with the board apparently going as far as drafting a list of potential replacements.
“It’s part of the job”, said the manager when our interviewers asked about the subject. “Managers rarely get the time that perhaps is needed to get the wheels turning. It’s like firing an actor when he’s just finished learning his lines, but that’s what the job’s like. As far as my situation, the chairwoman and the directors have been very clear of what things are like, so I’m working my hardest and trust their judgement”.
Bad news doesn’t end there for Hearts, as Billy Gilmour packs his bags to return to Chelsea, following a season-ending broken ankle suffered less than a fortnight before the semi finals, in a match vs Arbroath.
“It’s disappointing, of course”, he sighed. “You get to a club looking to make an impact. I feel like things were just starting to kick into gear here for me, and this is a massive set back”, said the midfielder, “Chelsea want me back there to work on the recovery, so it’s back to London and looking forward to what comes next”.
As the Hearts squad prepares for their second visit to Hampden Park of the season, it’s a familiar lineup; it quickly becomes a familiar feeling. With just 10 minutes on the clock, it’s once again a through ball from the right that becomes Hearts’ undoing, as a Daniel Amartey pass finds James Forrest inside the box to make it Celtic 1-0 Hearts.
The Jambos look out of their depth and outclassed through the match, and even as Celtic fails to make their numerous chances count, it doesn’t matter in the end.
At the end of the match, a strung out Salcedo heads to the box where the Hearts directors wait for him. Our interviewers weren’t allowed to enter the room.
“We had a successful talk”, commented chairwoman Ann Budge when interviewed after exiting the meeting. “The club felt that further success in one of the cups was within reach. Ross was aware of this and we felt a discussion was necessary to plan our next move”.
“Sacking the manager is the way things are often solved in football”, she pointed out, “That expression ‘that’s the way it’s done in football’ or ‘that’s the way it’s always been in football’, it’s used too often, but we feel it’s often necessary to stand back for a minute and ask ‘Is it right?’.
“We don’t want to just drift along doing the same-old, same-old. Things are changing, so how are we going to cope with these changes? And more importantly, how can we make things better? We trust Ross and his work, so we’re happy to wait and see where he’s taking this club”, commented the owner.
Hearts are preparing for the biggest match of their season. Despite all efforts during the league season, the title and the automatic promotion spot that comes with it escaped them, being soundly won by an unstoppable Ayr United side.
Now, the team from Edinburgh looks to make good on their promotion expectations via the Playoffs. Having won the First Round vs. Arbroath, the Jambos face the Scottish Premiership 11th placed team, Kilmarnock.
“It’s an absolutely vital series”, said goalkeeper and team leader Craig Gordon. “It’s what we’ve worked for all season. We were disappointed not to make it straight up, but this is a golden chance and we’re dying to take it. Hearts deserves to be a top tier team”.
Hearts won the first match of the series 1-0, so they visit the Rugby Park knowing that a draw or better will get them to the top tier. No away goal rule means in case of losing by just one goal will send the series to overtime, and then penalties.
However, it becomes once again an early goal behind as Rudy Gestede scores from a long ball a little less than 10 minutes into the match. Under a barrage of shots, however, Hearts claw back. Euan Henderson scores from an Elliott Frear cross to make it even just over the half hour and the match goes into halftime with Hearts ahead in the series.
Inside the dressing room players are nervous. Looks are evasive, the tapping of anxious feet like a drum beating to quarters. Salcedo looks at his players, gathering his thoughts. A whole season rests on the remaining 45 minutes.
“You know lads, I’ve been thinking”, he says. “I do that sometimes, maybe something’s wrong with me. But I’ve been thinking. You know how they always say “Footballers don’t care about their club”? I know you care lads, I know you do. But have you heard it? “they just want the paycheck”, they say. But I know you do lads, because I see you busting your asses, week in, week out. And I know loses hurt. But you’re professionals. You can take it”.
“What what about all of the folk who work here and all of the folk out there in the stands? They ain’t professionals, so they bleed for this club. And they ain’t getting a new car if they sign a new contract or get a transfer if they score enough goals. They get all of the heartbreak and none of the perks. They simply are here cause they love the club. We players and managers pass through, it’s our work, our careers, but they’ll be here. They were here long before us and will be here long after we’re gone. Football’s nothing without the fans, Jock Stein said that. We hold the key to their happiness. Let’s not let them down eh”.
Hearts go out on a mission. Just a little under 12 minutes on and they get in the lead, with a marvellous freekick goal from just outside the box by Olly Lee. However, Kilmarnock continues their barrage, creating far better chances; Nicke Kambamba makes it 3-2 in just 5 minutes to send the series to extra time.
With both teams suffering from the intense back and forth match, Jamie Walker gets himself in the box less than 10 minutes before the end of extra time and gets brought down by Kilmarnock winger Thomas Daniel Hill. Penalty for Hearts. Jamie Walker takes the ball and walks to the spot, nobody’s taking it away from him. He makes the run in…
The ball goes on his right…and Rogers stays put, barely moving. It’s Hearts 3-3 Kilmarnock, with eight minutes to play.
The Killie players are shocked. After having Hearts under their thumb all match, it’s getting away from them. Dicker passes wide to Waters who finds Kabamba on the edge of the area. He puts a cross and it’s blocked. Corner to Killie. Burke crosses and Halkett clears. Burke recovers the ball and passes to McGowan, who puts another cross for Kabamba, but Michael Smith clears. The clock marks 120+2 minutes. Salvation is slipping through Kilmarnock’s fingers. Waters puts a long throw for Mulumbu, who squares it for Hill and Kilmarnock once again looks for the best man of the match with a cross. Kabamba takes advantage of a napping Souttar and heads inside the 6 yard box. Kilmarnock scores.
The series is going to penalties.
With the series tied 5-5, Kilmarnock’s Calum Waters takes the ball to the spot. Josh Ginelly has just missed for Hearts. He runs up to it and puts it on the bottom left corner. Gordon dives the other way. Hearts are staying another season in the second tier.
“Obviously it’s not the result we wanted”, said Salcedo to our interviewers later that day. “It shows you that despite your best efforts, stuff can go wrong. Its not always that you prepare the perfect speech and things go like a dream and everyone is happy. This is a tricky business, and everyone in it is clawing their way around. Our win is their loss, and the other way around. All you can do is come back stronger and try again. That’s what we’ll do. Our pride is hurt, we are hurt. But what can I tell you? Blood doesn’t show on a maroon jersey”.