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The Last Stand

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End of an era as club prepares to bid farewell to 103-year old Archibald Leitch structure

Have you ever had one of those dreams where you try to run but your legs don’t move as fast as you want them to, almost as if they’re moving through water? If you haven’t had that experience, the closest thing I can liken it to is being a Hearts fan in the latter stages of this season. You want to reach the end of the season as soon as possible, for it all to be over, but any movement towards the finish line is frustratingly slow and stuttering.

Hearts may have fourth place and European football still mathematically within their grasp, but only the blindest of optimists would back this side to overturn a six-point gap, let alone do it with four games remaining against the sides above us. When you take into account the fact that in the 12 pre-split games against those teams, we took only eight points from the 36 available, you’d forgive any Hearts fan for considering these remaining fixtures as mere formalities; footnotes to a generally uninspiring season.

When compared to the third-placed finish of last season, missing out on a Europa League spot this year certainly looks like a step backwards. Not only does it signify a regression in our on-pitch performances, it also means the club misses out on the extra prize money and gate receipts that would come with a higher league finish and European fixtures respectively. And yet despite the unquestionable benefits, I can’t help but feel Europe would be an unwelcome distraction in our current circumstances.

One thing we can be certain of heading into the summer is that — whether supporters like it or not — Ian Cathro will be in charge at the start of next season. Personally, this doesn’t offend or worry me too much at this stage. Although I — like every other Hearts fan — had hoped to at least end the season on a more positive note instead of willing it to be over as quickly as possible, I still hold the opinion that Cathro deserves the summer to instil a greater degree of stability and balance that simply wasn’t achievable during a season of considerable change and upheaval. If he is going to turn things around, however, it is vital that Cathro makes the most of this pre-season period, that he communicates his ideas effectively and that any business is conducted efficiently and smartly.

Of course, by “business” I mean “recruitment”. There have already been signs that a clear-out is underway and an important part of this summer’s business will be to ensure any gaps are filled accordingly. So far, we know that Callum Paterson and Sam Nicholson will leave under freedom of contract, having both rejected new deals, while Billy King has been told he is surplus to requirements and is free to move on, with Tannadice his most likely destination. More are likely to follow them through the door, but who replaces them will depend not only on what system and style Cathro intends to deploy, but how organised we are in the transfer market (something that has been badly lacking in the past couple of summers).

Thankfully, it seems an element of squad planning for next season is already underway with Aaron Hughes signing a new one-year deal on Friday and Andraz Struna seemingly on the verge of penning his own contract extension. Elsewhere, news breaking from down Suffolk-way has given the strongest hint yet that Christophe Berra may be set for a return to Edinburgh from Ipswich, a capture that would certainly lift the mood in the stands, though one that is still some way from becoming reality.

Naturally, there will be plenty focus on those movements in the weeks to come. This afternoon, however, the narrative will take on a more poignant tone as Hearts supporters young and old bid farewell to the Main Stand. Given our record against Aberdeen this season, it’s unlikely to see a classic unfold in the 2253rd and final competitive game played in front of it, but Cathro insisted they would strive to give it a fitting swansong:

“We’ll be doing everything that we can, on the pitch, to make sure that it’s signed off in the right way. The bigger nights will be the bigger nights. This won’t be one of the epic moments that’s remembered in front of the stand but we’ll do everything we can to make sure it’s signed off with a victory.”

It is just over 19 years since I sat in the Archibald Leitch structure for the first time — a 4–1 win over Ayr United in the quarter final of Hearts’ historic cup run in 1998 — but having only ever had season tickets in the Gorgie and Wheatfield stands, that game is one of only a handful of genuine “Main Stand Memories” I can draw upon. I don’t believe, therefore, that I have the same emotional connection to the structure as those fans who have been housed by it on a weekly basis over the years.

Nevertheless, while I have rarely been a part of that Main Stand atmosphere myself, I have had the pleasure of seeing it from a different vantage point. As a Wheatfield tenant, the Main Stand has formed the backdrop to almost every cherished memory I have of Tynecastle, so there is still very much an aesthetic connection to the structure that I’ll miss.

That backdrop will change dramatically next season, and although it will be sad to see a bit of history disappear, it is incredibly heartening — in an age where more and more football clubs are demolishing historic stadiums and re-locating to characterless bowl-shaped soul vacuums — to know that our club will remain at its spiritual home, with a new stand providing the backdrop to Tynecastle memories of generations to come.

Originally published at maroonspecs.wordpress.com on May 7, 2017.

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