This particular blog is longer than any of those that have
come previous. I can reassure that this was not premeditated scheming on the
part of a Hearts fan in charge of a website. Believe me, sometimes the last
thing I want to read about, particularly this season, are the fortunes of my
own team. No, the reason for the length is that this is Hearts, it is little
ever as straightforward as a clueless manager signing a useless player. There
is often a back story which, in the end, has to be told in order to fully
appreciate the ridiculousness. And this doesn’t just apply to the Romanov era. Writes Craig Fowler
Goalkeeper: Eduard Kurskis
Some positions were harder to choose than others. Needless
to say, goalkeeper was not one of them. Eduard Kurskis is not only the worst
goalkeeper to play at Tynecastle, he is arguably one of the worst to play in
“Eddie” arrived at the club during the height of Romanov’s
meddling, when the management team were only in place in an attempt to conceal
the true extent of intrusion from our megalomaniac owner. First team selections
were hazardous to the health and a conveyor belt of dismal Eastern European
imports was the club’s main signing policy.
Kurskis was arguably the worst of those arrivals – although
there was another keeper who was signed as a favour to a friend of Romanov’s
and spent his entire six months with the club warming the subs bench in the
reserves. It’s terrifying to imagine just how bad he was.
At first fans were impressed with the athleticism of Kurskis
who was positively spritely in comparison with the lumbering Anthony Basso and
veteran Stevie Banks. However, any good feeling was obliterated the moment he
allowed Barry Ferguson’s seemingly harmless bouncing effort to spill over his
outstretched arms and into the Ibrox net, handing Rangers a 2-1 win.
The terrible tale isn’t finished there. “Management” stuck
with the lambasted goalkeeper for the next game, a home match with Inverness
Caley. An awful Hearts side were already a goal down when Eddie added the
second in his trio of infamous gaffs by needlessly taking down Marius Niculae
in the penalty area and being beaten by John Rankin’s spot-kick.
Every good story needs a good finale and our hero provided
one by pushing down Russell Duncan and being sent off with five minutes
remaining. This action is more memorable not for the moment itself but for what
followed. Hearts soon equalised, but having already used up all three subs they
were forced into deploying Lee Wallace as an emergency goalkeeper. Wallace,
with a thin grasp of the rules of football, was unaware he was allowed to use
his hands in this unfamiliar position and unsuccessfully tried to block Graham
Bayne’s injury time winner with a trusty knee slide.
Right back: Fabien Leclercq
The Frenchman was signed by Jim Jefferies off the back of
Stephane Adam’s recommendation that the team would improve if they went to France and
brought back his brother-in-law.
Unfortunately Leclercq looked neither comfortable on the
football nor knowledgeable in his defensive duties; a complete liability every
time he took the field at right back. Somehow he survived 13 appearances before
it eventually clicked that this lad was just no good and he was sold back to France in
February of that year.
The pouting Leclercq then made a complete fool of himself by
publicly insulting the Hearts fans, saying the club was not welcoming to
foreign players. It was a ludicrous accusation dismissed even by his own family
as Adam soon came to the defence of the support that he loved and loved him
Left back: Jamie McAllister
The first difficult choice in this list: Austin McCann was
painfully slow, Kenny Milne a lumbering dud and Jose Goncalves, while being a
capable centre back, had his non-existent football talents highlighted by spell
at full-back. In the end this decision came down to a popularity contest.
McAllister lost because of his crimes in one infamous performance.
Signed by Craig Levein, initially it seemed the perfect fit
for a player entering his prime to join the reigning third best team in the
country. Preconceptions certainly weren’t a problem either; fans already loved
him for scoring in Livingston’s 2-0 League Cup
Final victory over Hibs. But somehow it just never clicked.
Unsteady under Levein his performances nose dived when John
Robertson took over. It culminated in the League Cup Semi-Final defeat to
Motherwell; a display that will forever rank as one of the most catastrophic ever
witnessed by the Hearts’ support. He improved under George Burley but was, by
then, on the peripheries of the first team and left in January the next season.
Centre back: Kevin James
The lanky defender was brought to the club at the tail-end
of the SPL’s first season, with the team sitting rock bottom of the table and
inexplicably about to drop out of the league a year after almost winning it. We
survived but it had little to do with the arboreal defender.
He took the “big huddy” tag to a whole other level. Perhaps
that wouldn’t have been such a bad thing, if only the guy could jump. I don’t think
you’re ever going to see a 6ft 7inn defender routinely lose aerial battles to
opponents up to a foot shorter than him as much as James did.
Thankfully his time with the club was limited to just 14
appearances and he was shipped out in 2001 to deservedly play out the rest of
his career in the lower leagues. Presumably strikers don’t jump down there.
Centre back: Gordan Petric
This is an unfortunate inclusion because I am tired of the
fact that every time Gordan Petric’s name is mentioned around a fellow Hearts
fan they will instinctively bring up his injury time miss against Stuttgart
that could have sent the club through to the next round of the UEFA Cup. Everybody
talks about it like he missed the target from underneath the crossbar, when the
fact is he skied a bouncing ball from 12 yards. Put simply: you wouldn’t have
fancied Andy Webster bury it.
I always believe his defensive abilities were somewhat
underrated. Don’t get me wrong, they were pretty poor, but there have been
worse that I have seen in my time following Hearts. Dawid Kucharski is one man
I wanted to include because he had zero positional sense and was once
deservedly hooked in an away game at Hamilton
after 28 minutes. Petric at least played consistently in a mean defence that
helped the club finish third in the league table. The reason the crowd didn’t
like him was that he was awkward, gawky and a slow moving lumbering lump. That
and the price tag above his head.
In short, he a colossal waste of money: he cost £500,000 in
transfer fees and £10,000 a week in wages over a two-and-a-half year deal in
the pre-Romanov era. The reason Vladimir Romanov had any part of Hearts in the
first place was because of the financial mismanagement suffered in the wake of
the cup final. It was an era when staggeringly generous wages were handed out
to average players, with Petric as its’ poster boy.
Right midfield: Kevin Twaddle
Fans were sceptical from the moment the free agent signing
was announced in the summer of 2002. The team was badly in need of creative
outlet but few observers recognised Twaddle as filling that void.
Sadly for Hearts-daft Twaddle, the weariness was justified.
His debut came in the 5-1 demolition of Hibs; I don’t think I can ever recall a
player being so contrastingly poor in a game where the rest of his teammates
were absolutely superb. It didn’t get much better from there on in. He just
seemed so unnatural for a supposedly natural wide player. He was 6ft 3inn but
didn’t pose a threat from diagonal balls, his crossing was good but he could
never beat anybody, and his passing was often wayward.
Thankfully, Craig Levein quickly realised that the big lad
wasn’t going to the answer and wisely spent most of the money from the sale of
Antti Niemi to bring in Phil Stamp. Twaddle went at the end of that season,
having played only eight games.
Left midfield: Leigh Jenkinson
Signed by Jefferies shortly before Christmas 1998 in a
desperate attempt to turn around the fortune of the team plummeting towards the
bottom of the table, Jenkinson played only five first team games for Hearts,
starting three, but is always one of the first names mentioned when a “Worst
Hearts XI” conversation is started. It’s a small sample of which to judge a
player, and had he been given longer perhaps we would have saw why he was a
regular for a top flight St Johnstone team for a couple of years, but he was
just absolutely rotten. Like Twaddle he was slow and cumbersome for a
wide-player, but it went much further than that. This guy just didn’t look like
he’d ever played football before: utterly horrendous.
It should also be noted that he is so bad he keeps David
Obua out of this team.
Centre midfield: Mo Berthe
In the time between now and his 1999 debut, Mo Berthe’s 45
minute Hearts career has taken on a mythical aura; no-one knew where he came
from, few remembered where he went, but in a 2-0 defeat at Dundee
he was there, he was real, he existed. In the same way that every middle aged
Mancunian with sideburns claims to have watched the Sex Pistols’ first
Manchester performance at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, every Hearts fan you
speak to will claim to have been at Dens Park the day this monster took to the
field for the second half.
Mired deep in the relegation battle, Jefferies found Berthe,
was apparently satisfied enough in training, and unleashed him on an unexpected
public. The optimism faded once Berthe started to move and died when he got on
the ball. The man’s size, football ability and running speed all shared
attributes with the side of a building, and nobody who saw him that day could
believe how the man had stumbled across this career in professional football.
Thankfully it was all we saw of him and he was given a free transfer less than
two months after joining.
To add to the legend, Berthe doesn’t even have a Wikipedia
page and his photo on the London Hearts website displays him in a maroon top
that appears to have been painted on.
Centre midfield: Fitzroy Simpson
Simpson is the first of his kind to appear in this team: the
overrated and overpaid has-been. I have fond memories of watching a Monday
Night Football game back in the early 90’s and correctly identifying Fitzroy as
man of the match in a 2-1 defeat for Manchester City away to Arsenal. So
imagine my delight when a mere six years later the midfielder turned up at
Tynecastle as one of the four players signed following the injection of money
Regrettably, those six years had not been kind to the
talents of the attacking midfielder. Instead, what we got was a player who
couldn’t run, couldn’t pass and generally drifted through games looking like he
really couldn’t be bothered. And who could blame him? Eight-grand-a-week is a
nice little retirement fund to earn while playing in a side that would
ultimately put its club in debt to the tune of £20million just to finish third
in the Scottish Premier League.
Forward: David Witteveen
I am going to disappoint many people, particularly Hibs
fans, by not including Christian Nade in this team. When you look at every
factor he probably should be in here: poor performance, hefty transfer fee, a
frighteningly high weekly wage and scored little more than a handful of goals.
But there were times during Csaba Laszlo’s first season, which completely
rejuvenated supporter opinion of the club, where the chubby attacker played an
important role of target man in Laszlo’s well disciplined 4-1-3-1-1 system.
Plus he scored twice at Easter Road, one of which with his cock.
No, as much as a strain big Nade was on patience, and the
McDonalds in Gorgie Road,
there have been far worse who’ve been charged with scoring the goals during the
Romanov era. First up is a player foisted upon a beleaguered manager, Laszlo
again, from the depths of the Austrian amateur leagues. David Witteveen didn’t
arrive with much of a pedigree and boy did it show. He arrived looking like a
clone of Juho Makela – 6ft plus, blond hair, white boots – but lacked the
previously maligned striker’s pace and eye for goal. Slow, poor touch, no
finishing ability, bad in the air, you name it, Witteveen had it.
Incredibly, when we sent him on loan to Morton he started
banging them in left, right and centre. It didn’t earn him a reprieve at
Tynecastle and he was gone before the summer.
Forward: Andreas Klimek
To pick Klimek two worthy candidates had to be discarded.
Juho Makela had the worst first touch of any striker I have ever witnessed. He
once scored in a reserve game against Dundee United with a looping first time
shot from the corner of the penalty area. Only that it wasn’t intended to be a
first time shot. Makela, in trying to trap the ball, sent it spinning in the
air and over the bewildered United goalkeeper into the far corner. He gets a
reprieve because at least he demonstrated some striker’s instinct and could
finish when presented with a chance. Then there’s Ricardas Benuisis, perhaps
the most disliked of the Lithuanian contingent. A complete cart-horse who never
looked like replicating his scoring exploits from the Lithuanian league. He was
never likely to recover after being hung out to dry in his first match, a 1-0
defeat to Hibs, so nobody understood why he managed to hang around the edges of
the first team for six months.
It came down to him and Klimek but missed out because, like
Berthe, Klimek’s time at the club has become oddly unforgettable. This is
despite the fact that nobody could likely tell you exactly how many games he
played or who they were against. The reason everyone remembers the Polish
striker is because of an ill-advised photo that appeared on the Hearts
website shortly after he arrived featuring an uncomfortable and cold looking Klimek sitting on top a horse. As awkward as he looked in the image he
looked even more out of place on the pitch. There isn’t much to say about his
abilities, or lack thereof, just another useless lump that was never going to
win over the in-built distrust of the Hearts fans after his voyage from Kaunas.
Manager: Eduard Malofeev
In actual fact, I’d like to choose John McGlynn here. At
least “Eddie” had the excuse of not speaking English, being too old-fashioned
and having excelled in a country halfway across the world. Also McGlynn had
three-quarters of a season, where as a Malofeev had only six games and couldn’t
really be viewed as a permanent manager. But I’m enjoying the nostalgia and
McGlynn just seems too much of a boring choice. Plus, like Berthe, Klimek and
Kurskis, it’s good to pick Malofeev on comedy value alone.
Malofeev was an advisor to Romanov prior to Valdas
Ivanauskas’ sabbatical in October of the 2006/07 season. The Belarusian former
manager stepped down from the director’s box and into the dugout for the home
match with Dunfermline, which occurred one day
after the Riccarton Three drama, prompting a hilarious post match rant from
Malofeev following the 1-1 draw. Next up was an away trip to Celtic where
Hearts were outstanding, but ultimately lost 2-1 to the last kick of the game.
Then came the defining game in his brief tenure, the League Cup quarter-final
loss to Hibs. Robbie Neilson at right midfield, Paul Hartley pushed up as a
striker in the second half, the team was all over the place and how we didn’t
lose by at least five goals is anyone’s guess. An away draw at Falkirk preceded
a home defeat from Rangers, and by the time Ivanauskas was back to view a 0-0
draw at Inverness the team had gone from
second in the table to sixth and not won in six games.
Still, Malofeev was back the following summer to lead a
pre-season training filled with wheel-barrow racing and Eastern European
poetry. And no, he couldn’t speak any English.
Craig is a freelance journalist who regularly contributes to
the Scotsman and Press Association. You can follow Craig on twitter.