Desmond Kane

Second coming of Jim Jefferies a heartwarming experience

Desmond Kane

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Who remembers Geoffrey Richmond? Richmond was the owner of Bradford City in the late 1990s, an English businessman who followed a path well trodden in purchasing a football club before being left hamstrung by buying players the organisation could not afford.

Richmond ultimately capsized under a weight of debt last seen in the movie Brewster's Millions, but football has not learned from such dramatic failure.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tasteless, classless owners of football clubs from India, the Middle East or the Home Counties remain all the rage in the English Premier League these days, but figures with new money and not much else directing their moral compass seem to have clamped themselves to clubs since football became a key route to self promotion, around about the time that figures such as Richmond were getting themselves involved in the old, sodden business.

Like the mishandled Sam Allardyce and Chris Hughton in recent times, Jim Jefferies, a manager about to celebrate a rousing first anniversary in his second period running Heart of Midlothian, discovered that managing among England's elite can be a wholly dispiriting experience when the characters running the operation seem to be railing against the football people.

Jefferies once dipped his big maroon toe in the managerial waters of the Premier League courtesy of Richmond.

It was a decade ago last month that Jefferies was appointed manager of Richmond's Bradford City. It was nine years ago this month that he was dismissed.

Having been asked by Richmond, the then Bradford City chairman, to keep the club in the Premier League while ridding a heaving wage bill of faces such as Benito Carbone, Stan Collymore, Ashley Ward and Dan Petrescu, it was of little surprise that Jefferies failed in the task set before him.

Within months, he was back in Scotland having been dismissed by Bradford as they struggled in the Championship, a side on the way down in every sense in trying to fend off closure before Richmond left the scene of the crime in 2002.

The continuing success of Jefferies over these past nine years suggests that while figures such as Richmond come and go in football, it is reassuring to know that talented managers will always find work.

When new Blackburn 'chairwoman' Anuradha Desai started making some outlandish comments about the ability of the sacked Sam Allardyce as a manager last week, it reminded one of the time the Scottish football manager Peter Hetherston, then managing Albion Rovers, delivered a withering critique of a female linesperson after a match.

"She should be at home making the tea or the dinner for her man who comes in after he has been to the football," said Hetherston. "This is a professional man's game. I believe that she shouldn't be here."

Allardyce will come again, of that there is no doubt. The success of Jefferies has proven that a manager does not need to succeed in the Premier League to be rated a coach of true ability. Roy Hodgson and Steve McClaren have enjoyed their most piercing moments in the game outside of England, Jefferies has revelled in true joy within Scotland.

Scottish managers appear to be geniuses at managing teams when one thinks of Sir Alex Ferguson, Alex McLeish, David Moyes and Owen Coyle, but not all of them need to fly south for the winter to increase their stockpile of credibility.

Relocated and reinvigorated at the Edinburgh club, Jefferies seems to be a figure nursing a true sense of contentment. He is hardly creaking at the age of 60. 

In the peculiar case of JJ, familiarity seems to breed content. One of the most heartening sights of the bleak mid-winter in Scotland is the reemergence of Jambo Jim, a figure whose uncanny ability to see life through big maroon goggles has always made him a glorious companion of Gorgie.

Managers tend to be run by the moods, but the splendour of Jefferies has been defined by what is happening in and around his beloved Tynecastle Park, a venue he used to rummage around as a player for 14 years in the 1960s and 1970s before picking up the cudgel as a manager of Hearts in the 1990s.

In his first experience as Hearts manager, Jefferies led the club to the Scottish Cup with a 2-1 win over Rangers in 1998. He will celebrate the first anniversary of his second coming as leader of the Jambos next month having dispelled the theory that whatever you do in football, you should never go back.

In this particular month, Hearts are beating and Jefferies has every right to project an air of self-contentment. He says he is not seeking fresh faces in the January transfer window, because he is happy with what he is witnessing. Such talk must give his players a genuine sense of optimism of what can be achieved this season.

His side are only two points behind second-placed Celtic in the SPL with leaders Rangers a further three points on. It may be premature to discuss potential challenges for the championship, but there is little doubt that the SPL is a more valuable parish with constintuents such as JJ running Hearts.

In David Templeton, Rudi Skacel, Kevin Kyle and Adrian Mrowiec, this Hearts side seem to be made of some fine stuff. When Andrew Driver is fit to return to the fray, it will only enhance Jefferies's options.

Jefferies is a manager of some quality. He is an argument against the train of thought that you have to leave your own backyard in life's journey for self-betterment.

Having enjoyed success on a limited budget at Berwick Rangers and Falkirk, Jefferies kept Kilmarnock in the Scottish Premier League during an eight-year run as manager at Rugby Park set against a backdrop of considerable debt.

Whatever the average Kilmarnock fan thinks of Jefferies or his trusty sidekick Billy Brown, the ramifications of Killie losing their status in the SPL would not have been worth considering.

Tynecastle is an arena that crackles when Hearts are in the mood. The team are searing at the moment.

As the club song goes, the defence is as strong as the auld castle rock. Or at least as stout as their old manager's heart. A 1-1 draw with a crafty Inverness on Saturday brought to an end the home side's run of six straight wins, but loftier ambitions than being Scotland's third force should not cease with the dropping of two home points. 

The club's Lithuanian owner, Vladimir Romanov, does not suffer fools gladly having spent time holed up on a Soviet sumbarine during the Cold War, but one hopes the bank manager has more nous than Richmond on what is best for a club. 

Tynecastle is strewn with bodies who have failed to meet with Romanov's demands over the years, but hopefully this time he is speaking the same language as Jefferies.

Jefferies's east coast Scottish patois may differ from Romanov's eastern European diction, but they should both seek to deliver the same message during this season of goodwill: Hearts look too good to happily settle for a bronze medal.

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