HEART of Midlothian Football Club can be saved from liquidation after issuing an appeal to supporters for emergency funds, according to one of its senior directors.
A crisis meeting took place at Tynecastle last night as representatives of supporters’ organisations and shareholders sought to develop a swift strategy to save the club from collapse.
Sergejus Fedotovas, a director who speaks for the Edinburgh club’s owner, Vladimir Romanov, said yesterday: “I don’t believe that this is the end of Hearts. I am confident a solution will be found.”
He went on to point out the club was not alone in enduring severe financial hardship and said: “I think it’s a serious situation overall in Scottish football.”
Hearts have reported an “encouraging response” from supporters following a plea for emergency financial backing.
The board warned on Wednesday that the home game against St Mirren on 17 November could be the club’s last after being presented with a winding-up order over a £450,000 tax bill. The club urged fans to buy tickets for forthcoming Tynecastle games and subscribe to a £1.79 million share issue. It also said that the ticket centre and online store were doing “brisk business”.
In a statement on the club’s official website, Mr Fedotovas said: “It was not easy for the board to write that statement yesterday but we find ourselves in a very difficult situation at the moment. This is a very tough period for Heart of Midlothian FC and we need the fans to back the club as much as they can. The demand for the tickets for St Mirren has picked up and the priority is to sell this game out as well as Celtic and Aberdeen.
“There has also been a lot of business done in the shares department, which again is great to see. But make no mistake, these are extremely tough times for everyone associated with this famous football club and only with the help of the supporters, the lifeblood of the club, will we be able to come through them.”
Hearts announced on Wednesday that the club faced collapse unless fans helped to raise £450,000 to pay off money owed to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) in unpaid tax and National Insurance contributions. HMRC presented a petition to the Court of Session in Edinburgh to place the SPL club into liquidation.
The club said it was trying to sort out a payment plan with HMRC for the outstanding sum but issued a plea to supporters for help after telling them Hearts “could be entering the final days of the club’s existence”.
Fans have been urged to invest in a share scheme launched by the club as well as buy tickets for three key upcoming games.
Yesterday, Hearts fans took to Twitter to try to rally others to the cause. One fan said he had posted the club a cheque for £500, while another tweeted: “To let you know what Hearts means to us. My eight-year-old has just emptied his bank and said give to Hearts.”
Bucket collections are set to take place outside Tynecastle and fan websites are encouraging people to pool their resources and make collective share purchases.
Derek Watson, of the Hearts Supporters Trust, who attended last night’s emergency meeting, said he believed fans would rally round to rescue the club.
However, he added: “The question is: when is the next bill coming in? This is my personal thought, but I think if everything was laid out, and we were shown what the club needed until the end of the season, that would be wiser and buy us some time. I hope we can get an answer on that.
“The situation has to be more transparent, but we will do our best for the club. It just depends whether it will be enough.”
Mr Watson said some fans were planning to buy shares in the club but were waiting until the end of the month when they will be paid. However this could, according to the club, be too late.
“The position in general is that it is a bad time of year for people,” Mr Watson said. “This is the worst scenario for seven or eight years since the Save Our Hearts campaign, so it is a very difficult situation.”
Former Hearts chairman Leslie Deans said he believed fans should put aside any feeling of recrimination over the desperate financial situation and focus instead on saving the club.
He urged supporters to heed the call for emergency backing, saying: “The financial situation shouldn’t have been allowed to get as bad as it has. But the reality is, leave aside whose fault it was, leave aside responsibility for it, the important thing is to save Hearts from going to the wall.”
Mr Deans went on: “Hearts were effectively living beyond their means. Hearts, like any other football club, have got to spend no more than they earn and run the club on that basis, not rely on any outside sugar-daddy for funding, but be self-sufficient.”
He added: “I think inevitably a new buyer will emerge. Hearts have been an important part of the fabric of Scotland’s capital city for 136 years. Hearts cannot be allowed to die.”
Politicians Marco Biagi and Margo MacDonald issued a statement asking HMRC to “give the club breathing space in order to address the financial situation”.
Independent Lothians MSP Ms MacDonald said: “I remember when the existence of Hibs was at risk, at that time to a hostile takeover.
“When I chaired the Hands Off Hibs rally in the Usher Hall, a representative group of Hearts fans were there to show solidarity with us. They knew, and I know, that the capital needs its two big teams, so I am repaying the favour.”
Mr Biagi, the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central, said: “Last year at the cup victory parade, you couldn’t move for crowds of supporters in Gorgie.
“There can be no question that Hearts are held in deep affection in the local community and far beyond.”