' What he did for Hearts was keep

them in the forefront '.

UNLIKE at some football clubs, where the chairman has to be pointed

out to new players by the elder statesmen of the dressing room, Wallace

Mercer was -- and is -- a face well known to the staff at Tynecastle,

where his fame often outstripped the players who were given centre stage

on a weekly basis.

Yet for all his bluff, extravagant showmanship, Mercer appeared to be

able to get through to the dressing room precisely what he was trying to

achieve. Managers may not appreciate such a high profile presentation,

but many of the lads who wear the boots were shrewd enough to spot the

prizes to be gained by being part of the Mercer roadshow.

For instance, Craig Levein -- a player of some perception -- has been

one of the personnel at Tynecastle for close to 10 years, all of them

with The Great Waldo waving his wand in the boardroom. And you would be

hard pushed to get him to say a critical word about the chairman who

this week announced his decision to put the club up for sale and live in


It could be, of course, that Levein is reluctant to say anything

untoward lest the owner changes his mind and reappears to run the show

once again, a scenario which still cannot be ruled out when the

bewildering fluctuations of Mercer's thinking are taken into


But he insists that in any dealings he had with the man, he found him

''honourable.'' That is a word which will make the man in France feel

specially proud.

''He was good to deal with, and I had a great working relationship

with him,'' adds Levein, who also was smart enough to recognise what

Mercer was about. ''He seemed to believe in the old saying about any

publicity being good publicity. In fact, one of the signs that he maybe

was beginning to get a bit weary after all these years at the club was

that he had not been in the papers as much as usual.''

Levein has a slightly prejudiced view in that he had much for which to

be thankful to the chairman during the depressing period when he was

recovering from a serious knee injury. ''I was in and out for almost

three years, and during that time, he was really decent with me. I was

given full bonuses for a while, then I was on half bonus. I was included

in trips, and he gave me a new contract. I appreciated that very much.

Not every club chairman would have behaved that way.''

Despite the impression sometimes created that the lads in the dressing

room find it difficult to grasp the intricacies of anything more

demanding than Desperate Dan, many players pay attention to the noises

coming from the board-room, even if it is only the intake of cigar


Levein, for example, reckoned that the Hearts players inwardly were

quite happy to have a bold front man like Wallace leading the way.

Perhaps some of Mercer's fellow directors occasionally would find that

large personality as welcome as a police bill, but they also appreciated

the effect Mercerism had on the outside world.

''What he did for Hearts was keep them in the forefront whenever

anything was happening. If he didn't instigate something, he was not far

behind. I cannot speak for everybody at the club during these years, but

for me, he was good for Hearts.''

Levein says all this despite the fact that Mercer sacked the man who

had brought the Dunfermline-born player to carve out a career which has

reached international heights since. Alex MacDonald, who still had Sandy

Jardine as his cohort at the time, signed the 19-year-old from

Cowdenbeath, and his dismissal upset the Fifer considerably.

''Alex was a good manager. He was a players' manager. He did his best

for players and treated them as men, which I think is important. He got

the best out of the squad he had at the time. We have had better squads

since Alex left, but I don't think we have had the same fighting spirit

and will to work for each other.''

Yet, while he felt genuinely sorry for MacDonald, he did acknowledge

that the chairman made what he thought was the right decision for the

club at the time. ''There is no point looking back and saying this or

that shouldn't have happened. Decisions were made for the betterment of

the club.

Whether it worked out that way or not is a different matter, but it

was made with that intention. And I think the fans were in agreement at

the time.''

Levein refuses to accept that the devastating effects of missing the

league championship on the last day of the 1985-86 season have continued

to haunt the club.

''The problem was that Wallace thought he would try to take us beyond

what he felt Alex achieved, but he didn't reckon with the fact that

Rangers were going to stretch away from us all so decisively.

''The 1986 thing hung over all our heads for a while, but we have

finished high up in the league and we've done well in the UEFA Cup and

the Scottish Cup, and the truth is that if Rangers, or Aberdeen for that

matter, had been as good then as they are now, we would never have got

close to winning the league.''

Levein himself might have reached a different plane if he had not been

held back by the cruciate ligament injury which interrupted his career

at the beginning of the 1986-87 season. He went through an operation,

came back, but broke down again and had a second operation. It was close

to three years before he was playing again regularly in the first team,

but in the season just past, he has played perhaps as close to his best

as he has done since.

He confesses to some annoyance at what the time off may have cost him.

''I don't think there's any doubt I might have moved on if it hadn't

happened. Not that I have been unhappy with Hearts, but at the time,

there was talk of me going on to bigger clubs. I was playing the best

football of my life at the point it happened.

''When you come back from something like that, you know clubs are not

going to pay huge money to risk a player just recovering from serious

injury. But I am happy with my game now, and I think I have proved I am

just about at my best again.'' The recall to the Scotland squad this

season gave the 29-year-old a lift in confidence, and he would like to

think he will be back in the international reckoning when the new season


Levein, who began life as a Raith Rovers supporter, has a lot of

respect for his new manager, Sandy Clark, whose knowledge of the young

players at Tynecastle could be invaluable. ''Sandy knows the club inside

and out, but most of all, he has helped to bring on the new kids who

seem to me to be the best we have had at the club in my time.

''There are two or three who could turn out to be million pound

players and these lads are just the type to give us all a lift.''

It may be accepted elsewhere that the new boys will be doing their bit

under the auspices of a new owner, but Levein is not entirely convinced.

''I am not sure Wallace is a cert to be away. There are not many people

going about who will come up with the money he will want.

''A consortium is fine if you can keep everybody happy. But I don't

believe that from this point on we can rule out Wallace. I think he will

be here for a while yet.''

Levein's consuming ambition, apart from his desire to play for

Scotland, is to win a trophy with Hearts. If it does happen, whenever it

happens, he would not be surprised to see the delight on the face of the

chairman as he greeted the press. Nor would he be startled to recognise

that face as the one tanned from a sojourn in France.