HEARTS head coach Robbie Neilson is adamant irate fans are within their rights to boycott away fixtures following a bitter battle with the SPFL and several of their Championship rivals.
However, the Tynecastle boss has stopped short of calling for the drastic action and admits he would prefer his side to be supported on the road next term.
Hearts and Partick Thistle failed in their bid to have their respective relegations overturned in Monday when an independent Scottish FA arbitration panel ruled in favour of the governing body.
They were also denied compensation despite an ambitious claim for £8 million.
It has left a sour taste for many among the Hearts faithful and, as well as venting their fury at the SPFL, a swathe of fans have expressed a reluctance to visit the likes of Dundee, Raith Rovers and Dunfermline following several incidences of acrimony involving those clubs.
Addressing that suggestion for the first time, Neilson said: “I can totally understand the frustration and annoyance of everybody – the anger and the hurt.
“It [boycotting] is a decision the fans will need to make themselves.
“We’ll be desperate for the support and we’ll hopefully be able to get it in the home games, but I can totally understand their annoyance at the way things went.
“It just depends on how they feel and everyone will make their own decision on it. There will be fans that are desperate to come and watch us, which we’d like.
“But there will be fans who will still harbour that anger, which is understandable.”
Neilson was speaking on the day the Championship fixtures were announced, with Heart handed a narrative-laden visit from Dundee.
The October 17 curtain-raiser sees Dee chief executive John Nelms arrive at Tynecastle – six months after his infamous U-turn proved decisive in the ballot which ultimately relegated the Jambos.
It is also a resumption of hostilities with Dundee for ex-Tannadice boss Neilson – who firmly expects his old Tayside foes to be among the title contenders next term.
He continued: “It’s a great opener for us because Dundee are going to be one of the main contenders with us for the league.
“They’ve been down there for a year now and stabilised a bit under James [McPake] and kept the majority of their squad together.
“Them, Inverness and Dunfermline as well have added a number of players so I see Dundee as one of the main competitors in this league.
“It gives us a target for pre-season but also gives us a big game before a [Edinburgh] derby in the Scottish Cup at the end of the month after that.
“Any league, if you’re going to be in it, you have to start well, especially with the shortness of the season. It’s just 27 games so you won’t get the chance to have a poor start. We must hit the ground running, as everyone else will be saying.
“So we need to make sure we get a good pre-season, get plenty of games in and make sure the guys are ready.”
With that in mind, Neilson, who say the arbitration outcome will not affect his recruitment plans, has revealed the details of his marathon two-month pre-season which could see Hearts play TWELVE friendlies.
He explained: “The boys have been off for a long time so this is not your normal pre-season.
“We felt that to get them ready for the first game, we had to give them an extended pre-season. We can’t come in and do our normal thing when the boys have maybe been off for four weeks and are still in relatively good condition.
“Having been off that long, we’ll have to take that bit longer to get them ready to make sure we don’t get any injuries or reduce the chance of getting injuries.
“So they’ll come in and do a three-week block, we’ll give them a bit of time off, they’ll come back in and do another five-week block and then we’ll start playing games.
“By the time the Dundee game comes around, we’ll potentially have had about ten to 12 games.”