THE former right-hand man of Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov believes the club needs to sell its top players and drop into the second or third division rather than face oblivion at the hands of crippling debts.
In an outspoken attack, Charlie Mann, who was spokesman for the Hearts owner for four-and-a-half years, claimed fans would rather see the club down sized and a firesale of top playing talent than it ceasing to exist.
Mr Mann believes the club has been “sleepwalking into oblivion” for a number of years and now faces a harsh slap in the face that could see them disappear from the Scottish footballing map.
He said the club should sell its talisman captain Marius Zaliukas and other leading players to ensure its survival and suggested playing against East Stirling and Annan Athletic would be a better fate than allowing the club’s 138-year history to end in liquidation.
The club faces the threat of having a liquidator appointed by the end of next week unless it settles an unpaid tax bill of almost £450,000.
BBC football analyst Mr Mann said there had been signs of looming financial trouble at Hearts for the past two years, but he claimed Romanov – whose net worth is estimated at £200 million – had “done his bit” and that fans now needed to help save the club.
Mr Mann said: “Previously, with a lot of the statements and utterances we have had from Vladimir Romanov you have had to read between the lines. On this occasion, it’s slapping you right in the face. You cannot mistake the message and the message is that Hearts are in a very, very bad place, a dangerous place and a place that could lead to the club’s extinction if they don’t get the support of the fans,
“In the last couple of years all the signals have been there that the club is in trouble, but people have been almost sleepwalking into oblivion because they have not read between the lines.
“Some people are saying ‘just let the club go into liquidation and we’ll start again’. I cannot see the logic in that.
“The logic I see is that you help the club through the difficult cashflow problem. It might not be the same Hearts that comes out the other end, but at least there will be a Hearts. If Hearts are playing in the second or third division, I think most Hearts fans would rather see that than no Hearts at all.
“If fans can dig deep into their pocket, what the club are looking to do is see themselves through to the end of the year. If they can get to January and hopefully sell some players, then get to the summer when a lot of players will be leaving, that should allow them to restructure the salary situation.
“It would mean you are not going to have the Andy Websters of this world but you will still have the Hearts.”
Mr Mann said he had been impressed with the fans’ response to the club’s appeal, but added: “No-one in their right mind would give money unless they know where it is going. There has never been a time when it has been more important for the club to look seriously at having a fans’ rep on the board.”
He said Mr Romanov had made a sizeable contribution to the club. “He has backed the club by spending £60m of his own money since he got involved in 2005. He has done his bit.”
Certainly you could argue whether some of the decisions were right, whether some of the salary figures were right, but now is not the time to argue about that. Now is the time to save Hearts.”
Meanwhile Hearts fans appear to be doing their bit with ticket sales at the club office and online for the next three home games showing a sharp rise. One fab has also sent a cheque for £500 to the club.
Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald and Edinburgh Central SNP MSP Marco Biagi had hoped to raise Hearts’ plight at First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament, but neither of them was called.
Afterwards, they said they were joining forces to try to “stabilise” the situation at Tynecastle by seeking extra time from HMRC to give the club breathing space in order to address the financial situation.
In a letter to First Minister Alex Salmond – a Hearts fan – they said: “Might we suggest that, at this stage, as time is required to address the current instability there should be a stay on the enforcement action brought by HMRC. This might be accomplished if the Hearts authorities demonstrated a willingness to meet their ongoing, current liabilities and in addition to make a firm commitment to open book accounting.
A well-known Hibs supporter, said: “I remember when the existence of Hibs was at risk, at that time to a hostile take-over. 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 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. Hearts are woven into the very being of Gorgie-Dalry – its identity, its economy and its community.”
A spokesman for the First Minister said there had been no contact between the club owner and ministers but said the Government would assist in any way possible .
The Government has made it clear the priority is to ensure Hearts can continue in business while also meeting their obligations to the tax authorities. However, it seems unlikely Mr Salmond will be answering the club’s call for fans to buy shares to help it out of the financial crisis.T he spokesman said: “As First Minister he is not really supposed to indulge in buying shares.”
Economics expert Neil Patey believes Hearts majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov will score a financial own goal if he allows the capital club to enter liquidation.
Instead, he reckons the Russian banker, who owns 98 per cent of the Edinburgh outfit through investment company UBIG, may look to plunge the club into administration.
Patey, of esteemed financial experts Ernst & Young, says Romanov has the power to appoint administrators BEFORE Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) set the liquidation process in motion next week - and ultimately reap the rewards.
He explained: “The revenue have decided to go down the liquidation route and, if the money is not paid, a provisional liquidator will be appointed and ratified by a creditors’ meeting.
“While HMRC have gone down the liquidation route, it is in Mr Romanov’s power to enforce administration and attempt to keep the club playing in the SPL.
Meanwhile a report by economics experts Begbies Traybor suggests Hearts might not be alone in facing financial difficulty. They suggest five or six Scottish clubs are in similar trouble.
‘it’s a magnificent gesture in our hour of need’
HEARTS fans attending Edinburgh Capitals clash with Braehead Clan this Saturday will see the value of their ticket donated to the Tynecastle Club as part of a generous lifeline proposed by the ice hockey outfit.
Scott Neil, part of the Capitals management team, said the Murrayfield hockey club was compelled to help raise vital funds for Hearts having also experienced financial problems in the past.
Mr Neil said a steady revenue stream was required to survive the period of uncertainty and – with Hearts travelling to Inverness this weekend – fans could instead watch the Capitals’ home game with the proceeds from their ticket sales being ploughed into Tynecastle.
Ticket prices vary from £8 to £16. All Hearts fans who buy tickets can request the money is donated to their club.
Edinburgh Capitals’ Scott Neil said: “I read the Hearts statement and it looks like a pretty serious call to arms.
We have been there as well and rather than sit back and wait you need the help immediately. I just thought this might be the weekend where they don’t have any cash flow coming in.
“Hearts don’t have a home game this weekend and if they are trying to raise funds, their fans can come to our game and contribute something that will help them out. Too often you can sit back and things just get worse but hopefully they can see it though.”
A Hearts spokesman said: “It is a magnificent gesture to see another professional sports club make such an offer in our hour of need.”
‘It’s A precarious position’
FORMER Lord Provost and lifelong Jambo Eric Milligan says he is worried that Hearts will not be able to find a way out of its financial problems.
He said: “The position is precarious – and essentially it’s the same position as before Mr Romanov appeared. The deficit is broadly the same and no-one can see how they can trade themselves out of the position.
“I’ve been a passionate Hearts supporter all my life and I’ve been troubled for some time by the affairs at Tynecastle. We’ve had six or seven years of having to exist with a large overdraft and little has been done to remove that.”
Councillor Milligan said he did not claim to have any answers.
He said Hearts were an intrinsic part of Edinburgh and everyone had imagined there would “always be a Hearts”.
But he said: “If the mighty Glasgow Rangers can get themselves into difficulties, it’s not too fanciful to think it could happen to Hearts as well.
“I am worried.And I would be happy to meet or talk to anyone who thought they had some way ahead.”