Andy Web­ster

Hearts great on his run-ins with Ro­manov

The Scotsman - - Front Page - By Aidan Smith Sports Fea­ture Writer of the Year

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St Mir­ren 0 Celtic 0

Andy Web­ster strode out of school with a bun­dle of Highers and had univer­sity keep­ing a place for him if the foot­ball hadn’t worked out. Of course it did work out but, as one of Scot­land’s hottest young tal­ents, his idea of down­time was study­ing psy­chol­ogy. Now, as a re­serve team coach, he’s reached the Mas­ters stage of his de­gree in Sports and Business Man­age­ment.

So don’t call him stupid. Web­ster as a classy de­fender may have been many things: as­sured, strong-willed, opin­ion­ated and, when the oc­ca­sion de­manded, ar­ro­gant. The 2012 Scot­tish Cup fi­nal de­manded it and Hearts, with Web­ster in charge at the back, went on to give their fans the great­est day since the pomp of the Ter­ri­ble Trio.

Stupid, though, is what Hearts or more specif­i­cally Vladimir Ro­manov wanted him to ’fess up to be­ing when he re­turned to the club the pre­vi­ous year. Web­ster had left Tynecas­tle in 2006 un­der the biggest and black­est cloud of any Scot­tish foot­baller in mod­ern times, and given that the cir­cum­stances changed the law, pos­si­bly ever. The highly com­bustible char­ac­ter be­hind the mad­dest reign at a Scot­tish club, no ques­tion, in­sisted the player could only come back if his tail was firmly be­tween his legs, if he ad­mit­ted to be­ing a naughty boy, if he promised not to do it again.

“He wanted me to read out a state­ment,” re­calls Web­ster. “I was to say that I was young, naive, stupid. I should never have left the club. This, that the other. On and on it went. There was no way I was go­ing to stand up and say all of that. It sim­ply wasn’t true. Ro­manov wasn’t ac­tu­ally at Tynecas­tle that day; he was in Lithua­nia. The mes­sage came back from him: I had to read out the state­ment or I couldn’t sign. I said we should just call the deal off and then things sim­mered down. I didn’t have to read it.”

Web­ster made his­tory when he walked off down Gorgie Road and his test case has its own Wikipedia page. Sim­ply put, the “Web­ster rul­ing” en­ables play­ers to quit a con­tract af­ter a fixed pe­riod rather than wait un­til its con­clu­sion. “Fun­nily enough, I’ve just reached the sports law part of my de­gree and at the lec­ture the other day my name popped up on one of the slides.” The wran­gle wasn’t funny or sim­ple, how­ever, fea­tured a num­ber of “in­tim­i­dat­ing” letters from Hearts’ lawyers and lasted 18 months. No one, not his le­gal reps or agent, dragged Web­ster through the process; he was the driv­ing force. If Jean-marc Bos­man is the Pele of play­ers’ rights trail­blaz­ing then our man is prob­a­bly the Maradona.

Web­ster, 36, runs the sec­ond string at St Mir­ren, also over­see­ing the Un­der-18s. I catch him for a cof­fee at the Hilling­ton in­ter­change of the M8 on his way home to his wife Julie and their three chil­dren, but not to talk about the rul­ing. I’m more in­ter­ested in what tabloids, in the wake of

some big drama or other, used to quaintly call “hap­pier times”. I want to know about the sec­ond biggest “What if ?” mo­ment in jamb oh is tory and I want to know about Craig Levein.

Levein, first time around as Hearts boss, was the man who took Web­ster to the club, ba­si­cally as a younger ver­sion of him­self. The Pele of “What ifs?” for the ma­roon-clad hordes was the 1985-86 ti­tle lost in the last ten min­utes at Dens Park but at the start of ’05-’06 Hearts, with Web­ster one of the stars, streaked to 12 games unbeaten and the fans dared to dream again. Right now, with the cur­rent team perched on top of the Pre­mier­ship thanks to a 100 per cent record and with who else but Levein in charge, Web­ster’s views should prove in­ter­est­ing.

At the dawn of the Ro­manov revo­lu­tion, prompt­ing the trib­ute Cos­sack hats to be worn at a jaunty an­gle, it was Ge­orge Bur­ley in the dugout. “We were play­ing at­trac­tive foot­ball, fast foot­ball and other teams couldn’t live with us,” says Web­ster. “The re­cruit- ment had been ex­cel­lent, re­ally, re­ally good, and that was down to Ge­orge and the back­room team. We had a strong base, good ex­pe­ri­ence, in­ter­na­tional play­ers. Rudi Ska­cel’s goalscor­ing was bet­ter than Hen­rik Lars­son at that point. I liked Ge­orge’s style of man­age­ment. He was quite dis­mis­sive of op­po­nents. ‘Rub­bish, rub­bish, rub­bish,’ he’d say, ‘and let’s get af­ter their right-back.’ That made you feel good about your­self and we started to have an air of in­vin­ci­bil­ity.”

Hearts beat Rangers, ham­mered Hiber­nian, Celtic squeezed a draw against them and ,13 years ago, web­ster was Septem­ber’s Player of the Month. But then: crash! Bur­ley was sacked. To this day Web­ster doesn’t know why. “My only the­ory is that when he bought the club Ro­manov got all the lime­light and he loved that, but then the at­ten­tion shifted to Ge­orge…” Hibs promptly ended the unbeaten run. “Ge­orge leav­ing took the wind out of our sails. There was a ru­mour that two or three weeks af­ter he was sacked, Ro­manov asked him to come back.” That didn’t hap­pen and the faith­ful were left to won­der what might have been.

Web­ster – who would play fleet­ingly for Wi­gan Ath­letic in Eng­land’s top flight and then Rangers in be­tween his two Tynecas­tle spells, lift­ing the Scot­tish Cup while on loan at Dundee United and amass­ing 28 Scot­land caps – pauses to con­sider the is­sue of mo­ti­va­tion as he con­tem­plates a manager’s job at some point in the fu­ture. “The St Mir­ren re­serves played at Hamil­ton on Mon­day and were re­ally flat. I asked the boys: ‘Where does mo­ti­va­tion come from? What do you want to achieve?’ I said to them that, yes, I must have had a bit of tal­ent when I played but my mo­ti­va­tion was ma­jor.” Web­ster is fas­ci­nat­ing on mil­len­ni­als, snowflakes, their love of so­cial me­dia, their dis­in­cli­na­tion to prob­lem-solve, the free­dom he had as a kid that young­sters don’t have now and the re­sponsi-

ON GE­ORGE BUR­LEY’S HEARTS TEAM “We were play­ing at­trac­tive and fast foot­ball and other teams couldn’t live with us. The re­cruit­ment had been ex­cel­lent and that was down to Ge­orge and the

back­room team”

A kilted Vladimir Ro­manov and Andy Web­ster are all smiles in Liver­pool dur­ing Hearts’ Europa League ad­ven­ture in Au­gust 2012. But the pair didn’t al­ways see eye to eye.

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