KEN Stott has been based in New Zealand for much of the past two years, working on Peter Jackson’s three-film adaptation of The Hobbit.
But the Edinburgh-born actor has kept in close touch with events back home, in particular with what is happening at Tynecastle.
A lifelong supporter of Hearts, Stott gave his backing to the Save our Hearts campaign group which fought against previous chairman Chris Robinson’s plans to sell the ground and move to Murrayfield. Now, with the club in administration, he has become a wholehearted supporter of the Foundation of Hearts, the united group which will make an official offer to buy the club this week.
Stott is one of thousands of Hearts supporters who have set up a monthly direct debit to help finance the club should the bid be successful. Speaking by phone from New Zealand, he explained to The Scotsman that he is confident the time is right for the fans to take over the club, and that the Foundation’s plans will help it avoid a repetition of its current predicament.
“This is a group of people who have Hearts at their centre,” Stott said. “They care. We’ve had two regimes” – Robinson’s and that of Vladimir Romanov – “which have lurched from one crisis to another. This is a fine opportunity for all Hearts supporters to turn things round and to be part of the club’s future.
“That would be such a joy, to have the club in the hands of the people who care about it most. And that’s why I’ve made a pledge of financial support to the Foundation. There are people who have done a lot of work for the Foundation who have serious business expertise. At the same time anyone can be voted on to its board as a director, because it’s run on the principle of one member, one vote.”
Although, like many other supporters, Stott has been deeply frustrated by the mismanagement during the last years of the Romanov regime, he thinks that merely to condemn the previous owner is too simplistic. Remembering his days working with Save our Hearts, the 58-year-old is happy to credit Romanov with playing a vital role at a time when the club’s future was possibly even more under threat than it is now.
“It’s time to move on from the Romanov years, obviously, but we should not forget that if we had not met Mr Romanov then Hearts would have been in an even worse situation – homeless and paying rent to the rugby ground down the road.
“At least we’re still at Tynecastle, and I think that fact is enough to show that the Romanov regime was not 100 per cent bad. He brought a lot of promise to the club, if you think back to the quality of player who came to Hearts back in 2005, and at first he provided some stability too. Now we need that stability back, and we need some self-respect back too.
“I gave money to Save our Hearts for the campaign to stay at Tynecastle, and I gave money to the Romanov regime late last year too – I suppose, basically, to pay their tax bill. And now I’ve pledged to the Foundation.
“But this time we have a chance of making a real change for the better. It’s not just about buying a bit more time by paying an overdue bill: it’s about a stable future for the club.
“I feel very confident now about the Foundation’s bid, and about the group’s ability to run Hearts should that bid be successful. We’re not over the worst of it yet, because the club is still in administration, but we are getting there.
“I would like to thank all Hearts fans who have pledged so far, and I would urge every supporter who has not yet pledged to do so. As I said, this is a unique opportunity to get the club back into safe hands, and I think everybody’s got to get involved.
“As I said, it’s democratic. The Foundation is not a small group of people asking the fans to back their bid. The Foundation is the thousands of Hearts supporters who have already pledged, and everyone else who will pledge in the coming days.”
As actors always like to be asked about their current projects, we felt obliged to inquire about Stott’s character in The Hobbit – a creature called Balin, whom he describes as “the consigliere of the dwarfs”. But, as this is a sports story, we had to ask something of footballing relevance as well.
Like the other characters in JRR Tolkien’s fantasy epic, Balin inhabits Middle-earth. But what would happen if he escaped from Middle-earth and entered our own? Would Balin be a Jambo? Unfazed by this surreal turn in the conversation, Stott did not hesitate. “More than likely, yes,” he said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”