HEARTS supporters have been in the confusing position of finding comfort in something that infuriated them.
There was plenty of outrage and resentment around when they learned that Rangers had offered to pay £500,000 of the money owed for signing Lee Wallace and David Templeton.
On one hand, the move might have been embraced as a generous offer which would instantly stave off the threat of Hearts being wound-up by Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs over an unpaid £450,000 bill on Thursday.
Hearts took it another way: Rangers in general and chief executive Charles Green in particular were being callous chancers, cynically trying to get out of the full amount they owed for the two players – £800,000 – by making a take-it-or-leave-it offer to a desperate club in no position to refuse.
Every penny is a prisoner for Hearts these days and here they were being asked to kiss goodbye to £300,000. Rangers will argue there was generosity of spirit in the offer and that it was a show of solidarity from one stricken club to another. Hearts saw it as cold and opportunistic, an attempt by Rangers to save some dough by capitalising on their vulnerability.
Suspicion over Rangers' motives resulted in Hearts letting off some steam at the weekend but the episode did serve another purpose. When a man is drowning he doesn't turn down the chance of a lifebelt because it's not big enough. Why would Vladimir Romanov refuse a £500,000 handout from Rangers if the alternative was Hearts immediately going out of business?
Maybe the refusal surprised Rangers. Maybe Green thought their years of grotesque mismanagement had painted Hearts into a corner to such an extent they were in no position to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Instead, by telling them to get lost Romanov showed that his club is not at death's door quite yet. Either he is prepared to stump up the money himself to see them over the line this week, or else he's banking on supporters raising enough to get close to the £450,000 and he'll make up any shortfall. Either of those options would remove the most immediate threat from Hearts, HMRC's winding-up order, and allow them to continue playing in the short-to-medium term.
Even if Romanov felt Rangers's motives were objectionable, there would be no sense in him rejecting their money only for Hearts to be liquidated and the £24m owed to him to be flushed down the pan. Clearly, he thinks they can pay off the £450,000 and still hold Rangers accountable for the full £800,000 they owe. The alternative, saying no to Rangers without a Plan B, would amount to utter madness, even by his well-established standards.
A combination of the fans' money and any shortfall being met by Romanov would amount to an emergency bail out. It would do nothing to address the chronic underlying issues Hearts have to address. There is a shortfall between income and expenditure which is touching £2m and must be met before the end of the season. If the share issue raises £1.7m will that go towards this shortfall, or will it be used for the separate (and disputed) £1.7m tax bill also hanging over the place? What if the full £3.7m has to be found?
When the team runs out in Gorgie on Saturday the supporters will turn out in real force and provide a reminder that not only Celtic and Rangers fans can make big, impressive gestures. The game against St Mirren will be played in front of a packed, emotional Tynecastle and it promises to be quite a celebration of Hearts.
Romanov will not have the nerve to show face. He's been neither seen nor heard now that supporters are having to perform their resuscitation act.
Many fans clung to a loyalty towards Romanov for sparing the club from a £20m debt and the probable sale of Tynecastle seven years ago. Now their fear is combined with a sense of betrayal.
Romanov, with his maroon scarf and anti-Glasgow rhetoric, presented himself as the uber-Jambo. Instead, the club is on a life support machine because of him, likely to survive the coming days and weeks thanks to the real supporters yet locked into financial commitments which cannot be met and a potentially ruinous disregard for paying taxes. They are heading for unequivocal confirmation of Romanov's failure: administration.
The benefits of Scotland's trip to Luxembourg tomorrow may not be immediately apparent to those unmoved by a November friendly against UEFA plankton, but it can serve a purpose for some useful work off the park. SFA board members on the trip should prepare to busy themselves speaking to the squad's senior players.
The SFA's cack-handed handling of Craig Levein's dismissal will have irritated many of those players, who liked Levein even while repeatedly letting him down. The SFA has nothing to apologise to them for, but some explanations would be welcome if one of the few successes of the Levein era – the return of a disciplined, focused and committed mentality throughout the squad – is to be preserved for his successor.