"Hearts, Hearts, inglorious Hearts. It's down at Tynecastle they bide. The talk of the toun are the boys in maroon. And Auld Reekie has reacted with a sense of moral outrage.." In reworking the Heart of Midlothian club song, it is obvious that these are vastly different days from the 1950s, a time when Scottish comedian and singer Hector Nicol heartily delivered the Edinburgh club's renowned theme tune.
The Craig Thomson case is the kind of scenario that nightmares are made of, perhaps more so for the exploited victims. Thomson is a professional footballer with a blossoming career, but has placed his future prospects in the game in jeopardy by pleading guilty in court to 'lewd, libidinous and indecent behaviour' towards underage girls on the internet.
He was fined £4,000 and placed on the sex offenders' list for five years, but the matter is hardly going to slip quietly into the night. In refraining from joining the lynch mob that invariably clamps itself to such happenings, it is difficult to see how Thomson can survive as a professional player, far less one representing a club with the heritage and size of Heart of Midlothian, a fine old establishment founded in 1874 with several Scottish titles and Scottish Cups to its name.
Football feels like it is rotten to the core, ranging from the questionable practices within FIFA to the conduct of unscrupulous owners, agents on the make and players who forgot about their duty to the ordinary supporter a long time ago. If football as a game wants to rescue any last vestige of integrity, Hearts must take the necessary steps to resolve such a wretched situation in the appropriate manner.
Action must be taken for the player's own safety as well as the wider interests of a club wounded by the publicity this gruesome saga has carried along in its tailwind. Hearts may feel that Thomson has a resale value, but who would be willing to buy a player who is likely to be blighted by chants of "nonce" and "beast" wherever he goes for the foreseeable future?
Whatever Thomson is or was worth, a price cannot be put on the type of damage that will shroud the Edinburgh club like a great cloak of depression if he is deemed to be an acceptable candidate to play. Whatever is said, football is not the be and end all.
Thomson was suspended after further allegations emerged, while a disgruntled club sponsor has had enough and withdrawn endorsements due to the adverse publicity. More will follow if decisive action is not taken.
Football has never been very good at playing the role of a moral guardian. It has already conveyed the message that it is acceptable to assault a woman and return to construct a playing career. Marlon King was sacked by Wigan Athletic after being sentenced to 18 months in jail for sexual assault and breaking a woman's nose after she rejected his advances in a London bar a couple of years ago. He was signed by Birmingham City from Coventry earlier this month.
Thomson has not been stitched up, as the eccentric Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov appeared to suggest in a bizarre statement on Friday evening. Thomson has been up in court to plead guilty to the offence. He was apparently aware of who he was speaking to. Without going into the finer details of the case, the victims were 12 and 14.
It could be argued that at the age of 20, Thomson is a victim of the internet era, but such a debate is part of a commentary on a society that is defined by social networking sites.
We live in the polluted age of the internet, of the X Factor, of shops and supermarkets selling inappropriate garments to children, of rocketing teenage pregnancy rates and the sexual exploitation of kids. Celebrities of little or no worth are false idols for children these days. Old values have fallen by the wayside. The age of prolonged innocence in childhood is rapidly dwindling.
Thomson is just out of his teenage years, but is viewed as an adult. He hardly fits the bill of a sick paedophile, but he has made an awful mistake.
"The game has changed, money-wise, and for some reason it seems to lead down a certain path. It makes your heart sink," said Hearts manager Jim Jefferies. "You don't want your club to be associated with anything like this. There's a big part of me that is sorry the player got involved because I knew what the reaction would be...he can't have any complaints because it was a bad, bad thing he did. He has made a grave error."
How can a player be held up as a role model if he is deemed to be a potential danger to the lifeblood of the very club he represents? If you are a parent taking your kid to a game, how would you explain to your child why Thomson is being subjected to such rancid abuse?
Nor should Thomson be set on fire. Some of the fans who are adopting the moral high ground would think nothing of indulging in domestic abuse, of wielding a knife, of wife-beating behind closed doors or perpetrating anti-social behaviour. Hold them out of the windows of Princes Street and give them a good shake, and there would be a ticker-tape of lurid incidents uncovered.
Sexual assault, rape and child abuse are three of the more heinous crimes an individual can commit. None are more or less worse than the other, but the nature of Thomson's conviction makes it difficult for him to recover personal ground as a player in the foreseeable future.
The right course of action is for the appropriate authorities to remove Thomson from the public glare. He faces a long way back to redemption. He is unlikely to be helped by continuing to fraternise with football, a sport that depends on future generations for its very existence.
If we live in a society that encourages atonement rather than burning people at the stake, Thomson must be removed as a courtesy to the victims in this case, which include his own family. He has time to make sense of such dark moments, but Hearts have been left to clean up the mess. His club will begin their season in late July. The stench from all of this will remain for some time to come.