BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
CRAIG LEVEIN admits he is devastated that former Hearts striker Isma Goncalves did not feel he could confide in him about the sickening racist abuse he received from a minority of the Tynecastle support.
Goncalves, who departed the Edinburgh club to join Pakhtakor Tashkent last month, has revealed that his year-long stint in the capital was plagued by discriminatory taunts and online abuse, playing a major part in his decision to accept the switch to Uzbekistan.
Among his startling comments, the Portuguese attacker said: “It’s not nice when your son, your wife and your brother have to listen to people calling me ‘a f****** black’.”
Goncalves’ wife, Lucia, and two-year-old son, Santiago, stopped attending matched due to the slurs, however the former St Mirren star did not open up to Levein regarding his torment and, as confirmed by PFA Scotland chief executive Fraser Wishart this week, chose not to contact the players’ union.
Speaking about the revelations for the first time, Hearts boss Levein was clearly deeply upset by the claims and is ready for a period of introspection as he bids to ensure his players are ready to come to him with any issues that are affecting them.
He said: “The club made a strong statement it and when I read [Isma’s] comments I was sad and I was embarrassed that he didn’t feel he could speak to me about it. That really does make me feel embarrassed.
“He spoke to some of the other players about it and I have spoken to some of the squad as well. I have apologised to them that they didn’t feel that they could mention it to me.
“That is something I need to look at. I need to get better at getting closer to them, understanding their situation and making them feel that they can come to me with anything, because they can.
“I know it is difficult because I don’t understand it and I’m never going to be in the position that they are in – I have never experienced it.
“I am embarrassed that he has come out and said it publicly and that I have not been able to help.”
Hearts wasted no time in addressing the claims, issuing a no-nonsense statement promising to ban any supporter found racially abusing players. They have also vowed to forward any cases onto Police Scotland as they seek to root out the problem.
Levein was similarly forthright after the ‘disgusting’ incidents came to light and is adamant the culprits have no place following the Jambos and sullying the reputation of the majority of fans.
He continued: “It is disgusting. It really is. I have been trying to get a hold of Isma and I’ll apologise to him about what has happened.
“I don’t care if someone has been a lifelong Hearts supporter and their families have been lifelong Hearts supporters, if they behave in this way then they deserve to never come back to Tynecastle. It is as simple as that.”