Date: 9th May 2008 at 1:22pm
Written by:

As we look ahead to this Sunday’s testimonial match for Robbie Neilson at Tynecastle, an afternoon that will see the majority of the stars that helped to bring home the Scottish Cup for Hearts in both
1998 and 2006 making appearances, I’ve been thinking about whether or not Robbie truly does merit this honour.

To the best of my knowledge a testimonial is awarded to a player simply for ten years’ service at one club, so by that token Robbie, who is now close to 12 years at Tynecastle, certainly measures up. But I wonder if these occasions should really be reserved solely for those who have been first-team regulars at a club for the vast majority of that time?

I suppose in the majority of cases, players who generally stay at one club for that length of time would have been in the first-team for most of the duration anyway, but when it comes to Robbie it’s a little bit different. He is a player who only really broke through to the first-team in Craig Levein’s last season as manager at Tynecastle (about 4-5 years ago) and although he has been a regular starter since then under several different managers, the supporters have never fully accepted him as being good enough for Hearts. Well, most of them anyway – you do get the occasionally staunch supporter of Robbie, but I would say they are in a pretty small minority.

But regardless of what the fans think of Neilson as a player, should he get a testimonial for being a first-team regular for just five seasons? There is certainly an argument againt this unless he had been the victim of some horrendous injuries like for example Craig Levein was. Or worse still, someone like Alan McLaren who had a benefit match because he had to cut his career short through injury.

But Neilson has been very lucky on the injury front and during the last five years, has never had any serious injuries that I can think of. It’s funny how players like him tend to remain injury-free isn’t it? Compare and contrast him with someone like his current manager Stevie Frail, who was twice the player Robbie was, for just one example of how it seems to be that the better players tend to be the ones who sustain more injuries. Sod’s Law I suppose….

I’m not trying to begrudge Robbie his big day on Sunday here though – twelve years of service is twelve years of service regardless of what job he’s been asked to do, so I suppose that’s how the club must have viewed it when they agreed to the testimonial. And let’s face it, we must be struggling to see this sort of occasion coming around again in the near future mustn’t we? – can anyone seriously see many other Hearts players reaching this length of service given the way that the team and squad have been chopped and changed so much under the current regime? Difficult isn’t it?

So regardless of the doubts I have over the merits of what should and shouldn’t merit a testimonial match, I wish Robbie all the best for Sunday and hope that it turns out to be the entertaining day that it promises to be. I’m looking forward to it…..