Byline: by JOHN McGARRY
SYMPATHY is a rare commodity in football. Yet, as he left Tynecastle last Saturday, St Johnstone skipper Dave Mackay's feeling of satisfaction at a job well done was tinged with a sense of understanding of what his fellow professionals are currently going through.
These days, it seems few players in the Scottish game can go through their entire career without encountering at least one disastrous off-field situation.
Having been on the books at both Dundee and Livingston when the shadow of the administrator loomed large, Mackay might question if he did something wrong in a previous life.
His last encounter with a runaway train came at Almondvale two years ago, when the club went into administration after months of unpaid bills and broken promises by Italian owner Angelo Massone.
Despite the horror of it all, to some extent Mackay counts himself as one of the lucky ones, in that he was allowed to jump into the life raft that was St Johnstone.
The bitter experience of it -- and the feeling of incredulity that such things seem to happen so readily in this country -- has never left him, though.
Business may have been business last weekend but, once the job was done, Mackay couldn't help but spare a thought for the plight of the men he'd just faced.
'You do naturally feel sympathy for anyone that's going through it,' the 31-year-old said. 'Although, when it came to the game last Saturday, we only had one thing on our minds.
'But you do feel for them. conditions, to Ukio Ugianskis It's especially hard coming up to Christmas time as well, which is an expensive time for anyone.
'It looks like the players there could be going a long time without getting any sort of wages. It's a very difficult situation to be in.
'Our situation wasn't quite as bad as Hearts'. The longest we went without being paid was 17 days, I think. But it happened over a long number of months. In my final season, we maybe only got paid once or twice on time.
'It still meant you were missing your direct debits. We were due to get paid on the last Thursday of the month and most of the boys' financial commitments were at the start of the month.
'If the wages were late, that obviously caused a lot of problems.
'It was worse for the younger boys. They weren't getting paid either and were maybe on YTS wages. Even though that was Government money, the club were still withholding it.'
For all Hearts are a much bigger entity that Livingston, there are obvious parallels between the situations. The despised Massone, like Vladimir Romanov, evidently also thought nothing of paying scant regard to the terms of an individual's contract.
And, as the game's authorities stand back and claim they are powerless to intervene, it's left to the Players' Union to do what they can.
'In Hearts' case, unless the SFA and SPL step in, there's not that much that can be done by the union,' added Mackay. 'They do their best with what they've got and I'm sure they'll be doing the same for the Hearts boys at the moment. …