Saturday, 30 January 2010

Jim Jefferies - Coming Home

It’s a less than a month since the man who gave me - and thousands of other Hearts fans - one of the greatest weekends of my life left a position he had held for eight years. 2010 wasn‘t even two weeks old when, Jim Jefferies left the managerial post at Kilmarnock 'by mutual consent'. It appeared the former Berwick Rangers, Falkirk, Hearts and Bradford City manager had reached an impasse with Killie chairman Michael Johnston and a parting of the ways was inevitable. Jefferies assistant and managerial right hand man Billy Brown also departed Rugby Park.
It seemed Killie fans were split about the news. When Johnston announced the news at a supporters meeting on a cold, wintry Monday evening some reacted with applause, others remained silent. I've heard the phrase 'he'd taken the club as far as he could' mentioned and there seem certain similarities between Jefferies departure from Ayrshire and his leaving Hearts a decade ago.

As a Hearts player in the 1970s, Jefferies perhaps wasn’t the most skilful player in the world although his commitment to the club he supported as well as captained was never in doubt. When his managerial career inevitably took him to Tynecastle in 1995, he instigated a five-year period that brought much yearned success for the maroons. Throughout season 1997-98, Hearts played the best football I've ever seen at Tynecastle and were very close to snatching the league title from under the noses of Celtic and Rangers. There were some stunning displays that season and perhaps only a lack of strength in depth in the squad as the campaign reached its crucial phase denied Hearts the ultimate glory.

Not only did ‘JJ’ get results, he got those results by having Hearts play some hugely entertaining football and scoring goals aplenty. When the likes of Neil McCann set off on a mazy run - and who could forget ‘Terry’s’ mesmerising performance in the Coca-Cola Cup final of 1996? - or Colin Cameron would power forward from midfield, Hearts fans were on the edge of their seats. It was Jefferies who first recognised the defensive qualities of David Weir and who was prepared to take a chance on Stevie Fulton whose career began in such memorable fashion at Celtic before he lost his way somewhat. He was not only revitalised but he flourished under Jefferies and Billy Brown.

Hearts may have fallen short in their admirable quest for their first league title in nearly forty years that season. They did, however, win the Scottish Cup in 1998 defeating Rangers 2-1 in the final to end thirty-six years of hurt. I shall never forget that season or the weekend of the cup final when thousands of Hearts fans dreams came true. Of course, Hearts were to win the famous old trophy again eight years later but the triumph of 1998 was, to me, that wee bit more special. After years of so many near misses I was convinced I would never see my team win a major trophy; thanks to Jim Jefferies building such a talented team that theory was dispelled.

When Jefferies was given some money to spend on players thanks to the ill-fated SMG 'investment' in Hearts a year later he paid £400k for goalkeeper Antti Niemi - a great piece of business - and also brought players such as Gordan Petric, Lee Makel and Leigh Jenkinson to Tynecastle. However, a year after Hearts won the Scottish Cup they flirted dangerously with relegation - they went three months without a win and several games without even scoring - before the return of injury stricken Colin Cameron and Jefferies inspired signing of Darren Jackson from Celtic turned things around.

I was in the pub on the Friday evening it was announced Jim Jefferies was coming home. At first I thought it was a mate winding me up when he sent me a text message saying Csaba Laszlo had left. I got deeply suspicious when he sent another text shortly after saying Jim Jefferies had been appointed as his replacement. I headed for a pub, which had Sky Sports News on the television, and the story was confirmed.

Such an experienced and talented football man with an eye for previously unheralded talent deserves to remain in the game. Walter Smith returned to Rangers after a few years away and has been a success second time around. That said, Hearts are now a different club to the one that Jefferies left all those years ago. It remains to be seen how his relationship with Vladimir Romanov will work.

However, for now - it's welcome home Jim!


  1. Vlad is the only problem, but JJ has the best chance of success. I await the removal of several players very soon!

  2. Alan Gow may possibly be the first...