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By ESPN Staff

Hearts issue amazing 'mafia' rant

Heart of Midlothian FC have launched a tirade against external influences - including "mafia" - they believe are having a damaging impact on the club.

Hearts are owned by Lithuanian businessman Vladimir Romanov, who has a history of eccentric and often controversial rants since first buying a stake in Hearts in 2004.

The latest comments, attributed to the Hearts board of directors, are "in relation to outside influences on players and the club".

The statement on Hearts' official website, read: "Every year Hearts fights to be in the top three, but even last season in the last 12 games of the season it was almost like someone replaced the team with a different one. Whose fault is that? Players? Manager's? Or it is mafia.

"Stealing players, bad games, problems with the law - all of that on top of record SFA (Scottish Football Association) fines. Problems are just shifted to another level."

The statement continued: "Each year we are forced to fight against these maniacs harder and harder.

"We are standing in their way, not letting them manipulate the game of football in the way they want.

"As such they undermine us in every possible way they can.

"The task of the club is to tear these kids out of hands of criminals."

Previous outbursts have landed Hearts in disciplinary trouble.

During the 2004-05 campaign, Hearts asked the SFA to investigate the "integrity of the decision" by officials to award a late penalty in a home loss to Rangers.

In October 2006, Hearts were fined £10,000 by the SFA for bringing the game into disrepute after further criticism of match officials.

A £25,000 fine from the Scottish Premier League followed in February 2007 after accusations of the "buying off" of match officials.

Celtic and Rangers said they would seek legal advice over the comments, while Romanov insisted he had been misquoted.

Hearts' statement last night made reference to "football patriots", the Scottish media and the agent and former Hearts player Gary Mackay.

The statement came just a few hours after Hearts announced Craig Thomson, who is represented by Mackay, was free to resume his career following a club investigation into his conviction for "lewd, libidinous and indecent behaviour".

The 20-year-old full-back earlier this month pleaded guilty, was fined and placed on the sex offenders register in relation to his inappropriate conduct towards two under-age girls over the internet.

In a statement issued to Press Association Sport in response to last night's club statement, Mackay said: "The Hearts record appearance holder with 737 appearances declined to comment."

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