Firework Phil & Romanov's Two-Fingered Salute
Every time I read quotes attributed to Phil Anderton in the papers relating to the situation at Hearts, I get one of those regretful 'what might have been'-type feelings.
It's very easy to forget just how influential a figure that Anderton was in the Tynecastle set-up at the beginning of the 2005/6 season due to the fact that he was sacked so early into the season. Although there was plenty of focus on his departure from Hearts at the time in the media, it was George Burley's sacking that got most of the coverage, and although I think we all agree that Burley was doing a great job, so was Mr Anderton - well, in the eyes of the fans at least.
Now there may well have been parts of Anderton's remit that were neglected in favour of others depending on who you believe (sorry....I mean, 'BELIEVE'!), but there is no doubt that he contributed greatly to the feel-good atmosphere that was generated during those magical first few months of that season. For a start, Burley was Anderton's man, so anyone who perhaps didn't like Anderton himself would surely still have to give him credit for identifying the right manager and selling the club to him sufficiently in the first place.
Secondly, Anderton was the man responsible for the marketing campaign that eventually saw Tynecastle being sold out for a record number of times that season, and indeed the subsequent years that have followed. It was his idea to showcase all of the new signings in the summer of '05 by allowing free admission to the pre-season friendly against Middlesbrough, and once the full house that showed up that night saw the standard of player that was likely to be playing for Hearts that year, they were hooked.
Anderton then made Hearts home matches into much more of an 'event'-like occasion than they had been previously, and even although the pyro-technic shows and the extra gifts for the kids would seem like fairly basic stuff, they did the trick. Simple ideas are often the best, and it was also great to finally have someone at the club who looked as though he had the interests of the fans as his number one priority - he rightly identified them as his main customers, and if he could get them onside with what he was doing then it would be a solid start. He certainly achieved that and then some in the short time he was at the club, but sadly one man's ego and jealousy robbed us of potentially the most exciting season Hearts have had since the '50s.
Anderton took some time out from his current role with the ATP to speak to the press this week about the current farce at Tynecastle, and when you read his comments you can't help but wish we had him (or someone like him) back at Hearts. Speaking about his old nemesis Vladimir Romanov, he said:
'Trying to communicate with him is extremely difficult. He pretends he can't speak any English when we know he can He doesn't spend any time at Tynecastle now the team isn't doing well. He's hidden himself away and only seems to show when he thinks there's going to be some glory for him. That makes it hard for anyone to communicate with him.
'Consequently, you have to go through his puppets and that's a difficult way to talk with someone because you're going through a third party. You don't know exactly what's being relayed to him.
'The rare times you get the opportunity to speak to him directly, it's very much a monologue. He basically tells you what to do and if there's any sense of disagreement or suggesting another point of view, you'll certainly get that look of 'this is mine, and this is the way we're going to do things'.
'Romanov got upset when I tried to communicate with the fans. He just didn't like other people having the limelight. Hearts is his toy and he wants to be the guy getting all the glory.
'He didn't like it when George Burley had his name sung by the fans, didn't like it if I was in the papers. His little puppets send him all the newspaper clippings and he hated seeing me out there communicating.
'I saw my role very simply. After the Chris Robinson era when there was very little communication from the club and consequently a pretty negative atmosphere amongst fans, the situation was straightforward. The fans are the people who bankroll the club and the ones who are passionate about it, they should be kept up to speed wherever possible.
'Clearly there are areas of confidentiality which you can't discuss publicly. But you should give updates on signings or any plans for what you're doing. I think now, because things have turned sour, it's the classic case of 'I'm taking my ball away, you're not playing' and Romanov is snubbing everyone. I just look at it and say it's pathetic. It sticks two fingers up at the fans.'
As many of us have suspected, Anderton also shares the view that Romanov will probably be loving every minute of the fact that he's now Public Enemy Number 1 with the Hearts support. He continued:
'I personally think he'll be getting a little kick out of that. People are getting upset at this guy, it will give him a perverse sense of power that he's been able to engender that type of reaction.
'He has the ability to upset people and have them asking for answers and only he has the power to grant them their wishes, or not so. Romanov knows Hearts supporters are loyal to their club but they are in a very difficult position. What you would normally do in business after getting treated this way is go somewhere else, but in football you can't do that. There's no way a Hearts fan will go and support another team, it's a betrayal of the club not to turn up to matches.
'Romanov communicated a lot in the beginning through his people because he was in a courting process. He gained control of Hearts, then the communicating slowly reduced to where we are now. I don't think it's a coincidence that he doesn't show up at Tynecastle when the team isn't doing well. Guys with courage and passion turn up and take the rough with the smooth. Romanov only wants to turn up when he's being praised, he scurries off to his bolt hole in Lithuania when things aren't going well.
'Will things change? If the team starts performing well and he feels he can attain reflected glory from that, I don't doubt he'll be there wearing his maroon and white scarf and waving to the crowd. But knowing the guy and the stubborn ways he acts, I don't see it changing. It just reminds me of the old Russian propaganda-style secrecy of giving people hope then taking it away.
'What encapsulates Romanov for me was him with the boxing gloves on fighting Roman Bednar. A classic example of the little man with the big ego taking on a guy who he knew wouldn't fight back, at least not against his boss. If it was me with the gloves on I'd have punched the guy's lights out.'
I don't think too many of us wouldn't share that last sentiment, but when asked what he thinks is Romanov's ultimate motive in relation to his investment in Hearts, this was one question that Anderton was stumped for an answer on. He said:
'If you look at the club's income, ticketing is a large part but not the be all and end all. Sponsorship and TV money is there irrespective of the fans, so how he treats the Hearts public depends what his ulterior motive is.
'Do the fans really matter or is there some other vision the guy has which is not dependent upon having a full house every week? Who knows the answer to that question?'
Who knows indeed. The whole situation is undeniably worrying though, and I quite agree with those fans who are now attempting to get some sort of serious campaign going to oust the current regime. However it is very difficult to know, if anything, what the fans can do when you have a regime who own more of the company than they need to in order to communicate fully with their main customers. Has anyone got Hannibal Smith's phone number?!