The Game of Our Fathers S02E03 – Words

Prologue

Hearts legend John Robertson sits behind a desk, surrounded by microphones and recorders. It may seem just another press conference from the Inverness boss, but it’s not. The following day the Caley Thistle will host the Jambos.

“It’s always a special fixture”, says Robertson, “No doubt. Do I have unfinished business with them? Could I do a better job with them now? I think I could, with the experience I’ve got, the knowledge I’ve got. But my job right now is Inverness and I don’t want to disrespect the Inverness fans or the chairman. In football management you deliver what you can in the time that you’ve got for the club that you’re working for. Right now, I’m giving everything for Inverness.”

“The Jambos are in a good place now”, says one of the journalists, “They had gone undefeated in their last seven matches before last week’s surprise loss vs Morton. Those three wins in four got Salcedo the Manager of the Month award for October, what’s your take on him and his work with Hearts?

Robertson frowns slightly. He seems to be made uncomfortable by the question.

“I’ve got to be honest here. And I hate to talk ill of a colleague, but I think people are getting a bit carried away with him. I think he’s a bit overrated. I mean, he’s saying the right things and using the right words, but that’s all, words. Those mean nothing if in the end you don’t perform and the unavoidable truth is a club the size of Hearts shouldn’t be in the second division”.

“Presumably then you think you’re gonna get a good result tomorrow…”

“I think we’re in a good position to do it, absolutely”.

The match came to an end, and bottom placed Inverness have held the Jambos to a draw. As both teams leave the field, John Robertson approaches the nearly two thousand Hearts fans who stand at the away end. With both sets of fans cheering on the former Scottish international, Salcedo leaves the pitch.

Part One

Hearts fans across the world woke up today to huge news as it was announced the club has gone through a takeover. Despite the former owner group repeatedly denying the rumours and saying those were not to be believed, today the club announced a consortium led by Edinburgh-born businessman Jacob Atkinson has bought a controlling interest in the club.

The Jambos, currently in the midst of a promotion battle, will look forward to seeing what their new owners can bring to the club. With current manager Ross Salcedo’s contract set to end after this season, the times could be changing soon if the new chairman feels a change of direction is needed.

“We haven’t taken any consideration with regards to Ross’ situation”, said the new owner. “We’ve of course set up a plan for where we want to take the club as well as a number of goals we want to achieve along the way. We’re gonna evaluate the progress of the team until the end of the season and decide then what we’ll do”.

With Hearts struggling to hit a regular patch of form, this could spell for Salcedo as he goes into the second half of his second season without any assurances of what the future holds for him.

“Jacob and the new directors have been very clear in what they want going forward”, said the manager to our interviewers. “For us nothing changes. No matter what the old board expected from us or what the new owners want now, we want to get back into the top tier. So we’ll keep on working towards that objective and the good of the club”.

“Do you expect any investment in the squad going into the Winter Transfer Market?”

“It’s not up for me to say. We haven’t talked about that with the new directors and I think that, no matter what, this squad has enough quality and skill to take on the challenges we want to take on” says the manager. “It’s up to us to find the winning combination, we can’t just throw money at the problem. That has been a problem for Hearts before, and it’s just not the way we want to do things here”.

Part Two

“It’s come to this, boys”, says Ross Salcedo to his team. “It’s now or never”. The team is gathered in the dressing room. It could be the final game of Hearts’ season. 

Struggling to find regular form all season long, the Jambos have missed once again on direct promotion to the Scottish Premiership. They finished 3rd, some twelve points behind 2nd placed Partick Thistle. 

“It’s really hard”, says midfielder Finlay Robertson to our interviewers. “We couldn’t manage to get into our rhythm. There were moments when we played bits of fantastic football and a second later it fell apart. That’s very frustrating, as a player. To know you can absolutely do better but always end up missing that final bit… it takes it’s toll over a season”.

“There were so many moments where it felt like it was finally gonna click”, says goalkeeper and club captain Craig Gordon. “We’ve had so many great games, where you could feel the momentum turning our way.”

“But then someone would get hurt, or we would have one of those games where nothing goes your way…”, adds Robertson,  “and it would simply take the wind off our sails, you know? It affects a side’s mental strength. You get over it once, and again, and again but every time it takes longer to get there, every time you struggle more. I don’t think we were ever able to break that cycle.”

“Now we’ve got a final chance, and we’ve got to make the most of it”, concludes Gordon.

For the second season in a row, Hearts have to go through the Scottish Championship PlayOffs to fight for promotion. This time, unlike the last season, they have to play the semifinals that pit 3rd vs 4th. In the dressing room, the players look nervous. Fourth placed Falkirk have proved a very tough nut to crack all season long. However, a 0-0 result at Falkirk Stadium could be a key advantage; with everything to play for at Tynecastle, the fans are hoping to be what splits the two sides.

“This is where we prove our strength”, says season ticket holder Aidan Hill. “We’re gonna take it one step at a time. We don’t wanna get over-confident. With the new owner coming in, it looks like things could get better. But we need this promotion”

“Do you think Salcedo can hold on to his job if you go up?, asks our interviewer.

“I don’t know. I truly don’t know. I mean, he has put together a really nice team, but things just haven clicked for him, you know what I mean? So now with the old owners gone I don’t know”.

“He sure as hell he won’t keep it if we don’t”, he chuckles.

As both teams take on the pitch, it’s a very shy match early on. Both sides testing each other out, giving little away, looking for their opposite number’s mistake. The best chance of the half came in the 35th minute with an Alex Lowry free kick from 25 yards that Craig Gordon barely cleared off the line. When the referee blew the whistle to end the first half, the series was still up in the air; 45 minutes remained to settle the spot in the final.

With the teams feeling the heat in the second half, the match burst alive. The Jambos were giving their all, with the fans behind them. It was Falkirk, however, who landed the first blow. A cross from a free kick by Alex Lowry found centreback Tom Grivosti totally unmarked on the edge of the six yard box; Gordon couldn’t do a thing. Hearts answered with a flurry of chances; with no Away Goals Rule, that meant a single good strike made things level again. In the 65th minute the Jambos had their chance of the match. Aidan Denholm caught his own rebound from Connor Smith cross. With the goal almost empty he put it just wide. Just a few minutes later, a defensive mistake gifted Falkirk winger Josh Todd the 2-0. Hearts never recovered; when the final whistle came it became official, the Jambos were spending yet another season in the Championship.

After the match, the press conference with the manager was called off. Darcy Irving, the club’s press officer, appeared in front of the journalists.

“I have a quick announcement to make”, she said. “Heart of Midlothian Football Club have decided that Ross Salcedo’s contract and that of his team will not be renewed going into next season. The club thanks Ross and his team for all their hard work over the past two seasons and wish them the best going forwards. That will be all, thank you all”.

Ross Salcedo refused to talk to our interviewers after the match.

Epilogue

Ross Salcedo arrived early the morning after the game. His body language was that of man exhausted and disappointed in equal measures. As he cleared his office, he allowed our interviewers to talk to him one last time.

“It’s quite sad, I’m really sad”, the manager said. “We started this project with a lot of hope, with a lot of enthusiasm. We thought that we could really come here and do something different, and take this club to a different place. I don’t know what we did wrong, really. I don’t think we did anything wrong. It just didn’t work”

“Any regrets?”

“Not really, no. I got to meet a lot of great people and do what I love. In the end perhaps our ambition was our own undoing. Perhaps someone comes here, tries to simply make it work, focus less on the rest, and get this club where it deserves to be. I know someone will, Hearts is just too big to remain here a lot longer. Hopefully our work will help them get there. I think we leave a lot of good work done here, the basis of a really good team. I’m just sad I won’t get to see it do that click under my watch”. 

“But that’s football for you”, said Salcedo. “You do all you can and in the end you could just as well end with nothing. I’ll dust myself off and carry on. There’s no other way”.

Published by fromero92

Argentinian writer and journalist

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