By Keiran Fleming
Recently we were speaking about some of the most memorable teams in Scottish football history – and some of the fantastic stories that come along with them. We thought, ‘Hey why not make a series out of that’. So welcome to the first edition of NE98’s ‘Classic Teams’. This week Keiran Fleming takes a look at the Heart’s side of 05/06, they certainly created some memories.
The Hearts team of 2005-06 were in the midst of the Romanov era, faced 3 managerial changes during the course of the Season and manager John Robertson resigning just before the season was about to get underway. Somehow, they were able to become the first team since Motherwell in 1995 to break the old firms hold on the top two and they also won the Scottish Cup after a difficult run to the final.
The season began with the disappointing news John Robertson no longer wanted to manage the Jambos. However, this led to the exciting appointment of former Ipswich Town and Derby County manager George Burley.
Fans were optimistic before the season began, with the appointment of Burley and the financial backing of Romanov they really felt they could push the Old Firm to the title. There were Summer signings Rudi Skacel, Edgaras Jankauskas and Takis Fyssas, these added to the talent they already had in Andy Webster, Steven Pressley, Craig Gordon and Paul Hartley. Hearts started the season brilliantly with a 12 game unbeaten run, including a 1-0 win over title holders Rangers. This meant that the Jambos were top of the league
However, Burley and Hearts parted ways in October hours before the Jambos were set to take on Dunfermline, which they went on to win 2-0. A statement after the game revealed that Burley left by mutual consent due to “irreconcilable differences” with the board. It was rumoured that the relationship between Burley and Romanov was strained due to the fact that Romanov would sign players without Burley’s permission.
John McGlynn was appointed as caretaker after Burley left the club. During this time Chief Executive Phil Anderton was sacked, this led to the resignation of Chairman George Foulkes resigned in protest at Anderton’s dismissal. This led to the appointment of Romanov’s son, Roman Romanov (***Editors note – what a name by the way***), as Chairman and acting Chief Executive.
Graham Rix was appointed as head coach at the beginning of November. Heart’s title push suffered a major blow when celtic beat them 3-2 on New Years Day 2006. Reports were made that Rix told disappointed players after they were left out of a match against Dundee United that Romanov was “pulling the strings” and picking the team. It was well known that Rix was not in charge of transfer policy, it has never been confirmed whether Romanov had a say in who played.
After the game against United Andy Webster’s agent indicated that he would leave at the end of contract which was due to expire at the end of the 2006-07 season. This led to Webster being transfer listed in April 2006 due to Romanov feeling as though he couldn’t trust the player.
In March Graham Rix was sacked as head coach along with the Director of Football, Jim Duffy, who was only appointed a month before. Valdas Ivanauskas was appointed interim head coach until the end of the season.
Even after all this turmoil and uncertainty the Jambos eased into the Scottish Cup Final, doing so in the best way any Jambo could have imagined – pumping Hibs 4-0 which included a Paul Hartley hat-trick. On the third of May Hearts secured second spot guaranteeing a place in the Champions League qualifying rounds for the following season. This success was then followed by the Scottish Cup Final which they won on penalties after a 1-1 draw against Gretna who were in the second division (current league 1).
Where are they now?
This team saw the likes of Lee Wallace and Christoph Berra make sparse appearances for the Jambos but where did the other players end up?
Brellier became a Heart’s cult hero due to the way he covered both Hartley and Skacel as they bombed forward. A French Flag was frequently in Tynecastle with “Le Juge” emblazoned across it. Romanov didn’t see what the fans saw though. Bruno Aguair was brought into replacement although Brellier would extend his contract for one year. Brellier case wasn’t helped by the fact that he was sent off against AEK Athens during the Champions League qualifier. At the end of the 2006-07 season he rejected a new contract at Tynecastle and moved to Norwich for nothing after speculation that he was heading for Ibrox. Sadly his career went downhill from there, his contract was terminated by the canaries and he ended his career in France in 2010 which allowed him to sign for amateur side AC Seyssinet, who play in the 7th tier of French football.
Fyssas left Benfica and was linked with moves to Germany and England. However, he chose to come to Scotland and play for Hearts. He became a very popular figure in the Jambos backline especially after he cried when the club cemented their spot in the Champions League. At the end of the 2006-07 season the Left Back moved back home to play for Pananthiniakos where he would retire after a single season. Now Fyssas is pursuing a career in politics after being nominated as a candidate for Greece’s New Democracy party earlier this year.
Gordon had made his debut with Hearts in 2002 when he was 19 after being out on loan at Cowdenbeath. At the end of the 2005-06 he was voted as the Scottish Football writers player of the year, the first Hearts player to do so since 1986 and also the first keeper since 1993. The unrest at the club led to him being linked with a move away to Rangers, Aston Villa, Arsenal and Manchester United. However, he would stay for one more season and be inducted into the hall of fame at the age of 24 the youngest in the club’s history. In the summer of 2007 he moved to Sunderland for £9 million the highest fee paid by a British club for a Goalkeeper at the time. His time at the Black Cats was plagued with injury which led to him being released in 2012. After a 2 year break from football he was picked up by Celtic where he would win the treble treble and be a key component for the hoops squad. He is currently for a starting spot with Scott Bain.
Craig Levein picked Hartley up for free in the Summer of 2003 after his contract expired at St Johnstone. The 2005-06 season saw Hartley prove how good a player he is, he scored 17 goals for the Jambos. Although he was sent off in the final against Gretna that didn’t stop them from winning. At the end of the Season he was voted the Best player in the SPL. January 2007 would see the midfielder subject to bids both Old Firm clubs and Aston Villa. Hearts eventually accepted a £1.1 million bid from Celtic for Hartley in January. Hartley would later have stints at Bristol City and Aberdeen. He retired whilst at Aberdeen in 2011 due to a knee ligament injury. Hartley is now at the helm of professional football league newcomers Cove Rangers and they have scored 9 goals in 2 league games.
Edgaras became the first Lithuanian to win the Champions League whilst at Porto. After an unsuccessful spell at Nice he made his way to Tynecastle. His experience and strength as a forward were able to power the Jambos to second and win the Scottish Cup final. However, the next season he was consistently injured and in relative bad form which led to him leaving for AEK Larnaca in Cyprus. He would go on to retire in 2011 after only a few months at Russian second tier side Fakel Voronezh. Jankauskas would return to Tynecastle as an assistant for one season. His most recent job in football was as manager of Lithuanian national team however he was sacked last December.
Neilson had made his way through the Hearts academy and was a mainstay in the defence by 2005-06. He would eventually play 200 games for the Jambo’s and captain them. In 2008 he was given a testimonial at Tynecastle however, he would leave for Leicster for free after he was unable to agree a contract with the club. He would join up with East Fife in 2013 as a player/coach and retire from playing at the end of the season. He would return to Tynecastle as u20’s manager in 2013 but it was just less than a year before he was head coach of the senior side. Neilson was able to get the Jambos promoted in his first season and also getting them to third in their first season back in the top flight. He is currently trying to get another sleeping giant back into the top flight after taking the head coach job at Dundee United last year.
Pressley was brought to Hearts for free from Dundee United in 1998. He was made captain by Craig Levein in 2001-02 season and he would eventually have the second longest captaincy in the club’s history. During the 2005-06 season he would captain to second place and a Scottish Cup win. However, this would be his final full season as a Hearts player. In October 2006 he led a coup against the clubs owner Romanov. He would be stripped of the captaincy and released from the club before the January transfer window. He attracted the interest of multiple clubs but ended up at Celtic. He had a relatively quiet two years at Celtic went to Randers in Denmark and then retired at Falkirk. Pressley was appointed Carlisle United manager earlier this year who are currently 18th in League 2.
Skacel arrived on loan from Marseilles after Pananthinaikos did not take up their option to buy. In each of the first seven games of the 2005-06 season the midfielder scored. He was also the sole goal scorer for the Jambos in the Scottish Cup final. Skacel went to Southampton for £1.6 million at the end of the season, however, it would only be 4 years until he returned to Tynecastle. His second stint as a Jambo further cemented the fact that he was a Hearts hero. In 2 years he scored more goals and put a man of the match performance in the 5-1 win over Hibs in the Scottish Cup final. He would leave after the victory for Dundee United. Skacel retired in Czech Republic after being relegated 1. FK Pribram. He now offers one on one football coaching sessions that you can enquire about on his website Skacelsport.
Webster moved to Hearts from Arbroath in 2001 and spent 5 years at the club. He partnered Pressley at the back during the 2005-06 season. However, after not being selected for a game against Dundee United he entered a contract dispute with the club. During the dispute he was able to activate a loophole that allowed him to leave for Wigan for free whilst still under contract. This ended up with Fifa telling Webster to pay £625,000 to Hearts for cancelling his contract with an unjust cause. He would later come back after 4 and half injury plagued seasons away and he would help them win the Scottish Cup in 2012. Webster would leave the club for Coventry City in 2013, he would come back across the border to retire with Saint Mirren in 2016. Andy Webster didn’t go into coaching and remains to be a Pundit for news sites when it comes to Hearts.
Romanov was one of the founders of Ukio bank and was believed to be worth between £200-£300 million pounds. He took over Hearts 2005 and had a great start with the 2005-06 season. However, things got a lot worse with pushing many star players out the club. The Romanov Era ended when Vladimir was being investigated for embezzlement and fraud after he declared himself insolvent in 2013. The Ukio bank was closed down and Hearts were put into administration. He is currently in court over £300 million fraud claim after the Lithuanian government changed the law to get him into the dock.