HEARTS football club has issued a stark warning that it could fall out of existence in a matter of days unless supporters make up a serious financial shortfall.
• Club warns emergency backing needed from fans
• Warning that St Mirren game could be Hearts’ last
The Tynecastle club’s board of directors made the plea on Wednesday night after it emerged that it had received a winding-up order at the behest of Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) for an unpaid bill of nearly £450,000.
That bill is separate from another sum of £1.75 million, which HMRC says is due but which Hearts has said it will vigorously dispute.
Hearts has struggled to pay staff salaries in recent months, and have launched a share offer directed at fans which could raise £1.78m.
That offer is open until mid-December. The winding-up order gives Hearts eight days to pay, with the club understanding that Friday next week is the deadline.
Hearts hopes to agree a schedule of payments with HMRC, but they are aware that they may well need to find a large lump sum in a short space of time.
Insolvency would incur an immediate penalty of 17 points – a deduction which would send the club to the bottom of the Scottish Premier League.
“Today the board of Heart of Midlothian plc is writing to you with the express wish that every supporter provides emergency backing for the club,” the statement on the club’s website said.
“There is no greater need than now for supporters to invest in the club in whichever way you can, without delay. This is not so much a request as a necessity. Without the support of fans there is a real risk that Heart of Midlothian Football Club could possibly play its last game next Saturday,
17 November, against St Mirren.
“This isn’t a bluff, this isn’t scaremongering, this is reality. Without your help now, we could be entering the final days of the club’s existence.”
Since 2005, Hearts has been controlled by Ubig, the Kaunas-based group in which Vladimir Romanov has a controlling interest, and which has traditionally bailed the football club out when it needed funds.
Over the past year, Ubig has cut back on its support as it faces more challenging financial circumstances. The Hearts board hopes that Ubig can help it meet the tax bill, but has been given no reason for confidence. “We continue to seek the support of Ubig at this stage,” the statement continued.
“However, no business is immune to the financial realities of the current global economy and for this reason the club’s reliance on its supporters is greater than at any point in the last seven years.”
Derek Watson, chairman of the club’s Supporters’ Trust, predicted loyal fans would rally to save Hearts. But he said supporters should be given a guarantee the club would no longer be threatened by administration if the existing deficit was met.
He said: “There’s got to be more cuts when it comes to player costs, but I think the club is still viable.”
Ross Meikle, secretary of the Glasgow Hearts Supporters Club, said: “Personally, I’m not rich, but I will still buy some shares. People need to dig deep at the moment. The Hearts statement is an apocalyptic one.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It is in everyone’s interests to find a solution which ensures that Hearts can continue in business while also meeting their obligations to the tax authorities.”