ANALYSIS Black humour the only option as Edinburgh club face possibility of liquidation
UNTIL they find out if they have enough money, Hearts have only hope, anxiety, and gallows humour. The latter is not without its uses. As Ryan Stevenson spoke to reporters after the match in Inverness, some of his team-mates stood within earshot and affected snoring noises.
Stevenson soon responded with some waspish put-downs of how the others had played, delivered with cruel good humour. Jokes are a valuable coping mechanism.
Footballers often have an ability to isolate themselves from the wider world. Even if no-one at Hearts is under any illusion about the grave state in which the club finds itself, there was a business-as-usual feel about how they performed at the Caledonian Stadium.
They did not play well or create much, but neither did they look preoccupied or ground down by the £450,000 bill which could result in liquidation if it is not settled by close of play on Thursday with Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs.
It is possible that the 138-year-old club will never play another away fixture, but this did not have the feel of farewell. Maybe the weather was too bitterly cold for poignancy to take hold.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle are now 10 games unbeaten and would have temporarily gone joint top of the league if they had held on to Owain Tudur Jones' first-half lead, but Hearts' second-half recovery was rewarded by Marius Zaliukas' equalising penalty in the final minute. Inevitably the match, for Hearts at least, was a welcome distraction from the broader concern over the club's survival.
"It's obviously a worry, it's our livelihood," said Stevenson. "It's a worry for the fans, the players, everyone involved with the club. We just want to get our heads down and get on with the football.
"We can't speak highly enough of the people who are trying to help the club, raise money and keep the club afloat. It's been a scary week and it will probably be another scary week to see how we go for Saturday. But my gut feeling is that it will be sorted."
He delivered a list of forthcoming attractions: a sell-out crowd at home to St Mirren, probably others in the forthcoming home games against Aberdeen and Celtic, a William Hill Scottish Cup tie at Hibernian and another meeting with Inverness in the Scottish Communities League Cup semi-final. It would be a big couple of months, he said, but only "if" they can survive this week.
Stevenson walked out on Hearts last December after repeated late payment of his wages. That was on a point of principle, though. If he was asked to agree a deferral of his wages now, to help the club through its crisis, he would.
"I think a lot of people have made assumptions about what happened with me last year. But the club's learned, and we've learned, and the club has been frank and honest about the situation we find ourselves in. No-one wants to be in this position. If it comes to it I'm sure the players will be there. You can't ask the fans to come out and back the club if the players aren't going to do it. We are there as much as the fans are. I'm sure if it came to it the boys would be happy to do that. The next month, month-and-a-half is massive for us."
Over the past few days there has been sympathy from fellow players. Richie Foran, the Inverness midfielder, was at Carlisle United when that club went into administration in 2002. "It seems to me that people come in and throw lots of money at a club and a year or two later they feel they have had enough of losing money," he said. "It's gone from pumping lots of money in to all of a sudden he [Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov] doesn't want to lose any money any more and he wants out. It's going to leave the club in a nasty place.
"It's messy. Players will be thinking about mortgages and their families. The Inverness players don't want to see that happening to the Hearts players."