Game 6: Heart of Midlothian 1-0 Royal Antwerp

Sunday, July 17 @ Tynecastle Park, Edinburgh

It was inevitable that I’d see a stinker of a friendly eventually, and this was it.

I suppose that it goes with the territory; after all, pre-season friendlies are all about preparing for the competitive challenges ahead and giving players a chance to get ‘match fit’.

Nevertheless, when you are expecting supporters to turn up and pay for admission, then there has to be some responsibility incumbant on both sides to make the game interesting.

Maybe I am being unfair on Hearts and Royal Antwerp, a ‘great old’ institution, now languishing in the second tier of Belgian football. There was certainly effort on show, just a desperate lack of fluency from both sides.

I’m not a fan of pointless stats – for me all that matters in football is goals – but the ‘pass completion’ rate for most of the players on show must have been woefully low.

All too often, Hearts hoisted the ball long for Chris Sutton, spurning the more aesthetically pleasing option of feeding the ball to Medhi Taouil, their new midfield signing from Kilmarnock.

Hearts' main stand facade

There was a cup at stake, to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Hearts’ time at the current Tynecastle Park, and as the game progressed, a penalty shoot-out to decide the destination of the trophy looked inevitable.

Until, with five minutes left, a clumsy challenge in the box from an Antwerp defender saw referee Steven McLean give a penalty which was nicely put away by another new Jambo, Jamie Hamill.

Come full time, Tynecastle stadium announcer Scott Wilson tried his best to talk up the significance of the game and the silverware he was tasked to present, but the underwhelmed way it was accepted and half-heartedly held aloft by Hearts skipper Marius Zaliukas summed up the low-key atmosphere to the entire afternoon, which was only lifted by the noise generated from the couple of hundred Antwerp supporters across in the Roseburn Stand.

If there was one saving grace from a personal point of view, it was the fact that I had enjoyed the afternoon as a guest of Innovators Sports, who arranged the game, and was able to watch it from the comfort of the Tynecastle directors’ box.

Amongst other activities, Innovator act as agents for a number of our players at Livingston and it was a good opportunity to get to know a couple of their main men better.

Hearts certainly treat their guests well; there was a very nice pre-match and half time buffet on offer, and the Directors Suite itself was interesting as it contained a variety of artefacts from Hearts long and illustrious history.

My seat was bang in the centre of Hearts’ marvellous but ageing main stand, designed by Archibald Leitch almost a century ago.

Directors' box view

The vantage point was very good as you might expect, although the ubiquitous pillars make the view from the directors’ box, usually the best in any ground, inferior to that of the press box, where I have sat before.

Given that the structure is getting older, and probably requires a fair bit of maintenance, I can understand why Hearts are keen to replace the old stand with something new and shiny, but there’s no doubt that if it ever does go, then most of Tynecastle’s remaining character will go with it.

To some small degree it compensated for the lack of entertainment on the park by providing a point of interest off it. Concrete breezeblocks just don’t do that.

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