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Day of the long knives as Hearts' management team and senior players axed

IT was the day of broken Hearts. Ann Budge, the power behind the new regime in Gorgie, yesterday insisted the club was "broken" and immediately instigated further turmoil by dispensing with the service of manager Gary Locke, his assistant Billy Brown and goalkeeping coach Alan Combe.

Craig Levein and Ann Budge leave Tynecastle after yesterday's meeting. Picture: SNS
Craig Levein and Ann Budge leave Tynecastle after yesterday's meeting. Picture: SNS

A 25-second conversation with new director of football Craig Levein signalled the end of Jamie Hamill's career at Hearts with the midfielder expressing his shock and bemusement over the fate of team-mates Jamie MacDonald, Dylan McGowan, Mark Ridgers and Callum Tapping, who were all axed on Budge's first official day as the new owner.

The former Hearts manager Jim Jefferies issued a damning verdict on a day of the long knives. "I don't think Ann Budge comes out of this with any credit. It was said it was way back in October she spoke to Craig Levein but that was denied. Yet it seems to have been," the Dunfermline manager said. "There have been things behind the scenes that have been active in this decision. There have been plenty rumours about people having their say and, to me, it looks like it's all been done and dusted a long time ago and they've just been waiting for the end of the season."

Levein, the former Scotland and Hearts manager who is expected to have the final decision on team matters, delivered the news to the sacked players within hours of arriving at Tynecastle.

Former Kilmarnock midfielder Hamill was among the players who accepted pay-cuts last summer when the club was on its knees after plunging into administration.

The 27-year-old admitted he was disappointed. '"Did I deserve some loyalty? I think maybe the way it was done, it could have been a wee bit better. It's not a nice day for anybody," he said. "I had a quick 25 seconds with Craig Levein and that was me back out the door. I can't even remember what he said to me. I didn't get any reasons but at the end of the day I knew it was coming so I planned not to be here."

Despite a strong finish to the season in which Hearts strung together a run of five wins from six outings, Budge has decided to make changes in the dugout, with under-20s coach Robbie Neilson promoted to the role of head coach under Levein.

Hamill added: "I think it is unfair but Ann Budge has come in and she's put her money into the club. From speaking to some of the fans at the fans rally on Sunday, they were desperate to see Gary in charge but that's not going to be the case. And if you were to ask every player, we would have loved for the gaffer to be there next season, and for the foreseeable future. He has been amazing, He's handled it brilliantly, he has been magnificent as have Billy and Comber."

The decision to axe goalkeeper MacDonald, the players' and fans' player of the year', has stunned the Hearts supporters and Hamill, above, admits he is struggling to understand the cull. "Jamie has been our best player for the past two seasons. It will be a poisoned chalice for the next goalkeeper coming in. I'm bemused with what is happening, especially with Ryan."

Stevenson, 29, said: "Words can't really describe how I'm feeling right now. I'm totally shattered that I'll be leaving Hearts. I just want to thank all the fans who welcomed me back, you have made my time at the club so special. I also want to say thanks to all my team-mates, you have been like brothers to me in a year which has been difficult for me off the park; you were always there for me. And lastly to the manager, I'm sure you'll be back in football soon."

Budge has acted immediately on her promise to change the culture at the club after the free-spending years of Vladimir Romanov.

A statement read: "It was clear from my earliest visits to Tynecastle and my earliest meetings with senior staff that the company, Heart of Midlothian plc, was, in every sense of the word, 'broken'. One thing is very clear. We have come far too close to losing our very existence and we must never allow this to happen again. We must grasp this opportunity

to start afresh; to put in place solid foundations that will ensure we never again risk our 140 years of history.

"We must make changes. We must stop thinking short-term. We must put in place a three-to-five-year plan that will see our commercial activities totally revamped, such that they once again provide a solid financial

underpinning to our football club; and we must also completely revitalise and refocus the football side of our club."

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