HIBERNIAN icon Lawrie Reilly believes the Easter Road faithful should consider donating money to the Hearts cause as their Edinburgh rivals face a financial battle for survival.
Hearts announced yesterday that they have raised over £600,000 through a share issue, while several thousand pounds have been earned through various fund-raising schemes. Those funds have staved off the immediate threat of a £450,000 tax bill due to HMRC which, until a payment plan was agreed last week, threatened to sink the 138-year-old club.
However, Hearts have warned that their monetary concerns are far from over, with a £2 million shortfall to contend with until the end of the season, a further £250,000 needed by the middle of next month to meet the next wage bill, an upcoming tax case potentially worth around £1.75 million and a debt of £24 million.
Despite being born a stone’s throw from Tynecastle Stadium, Reilly, now 84, is a devoted lifelong Hibs supporter but firmly contends that the survival of the capital’s greatest rivalry is more important than the petty squabbling between supporters.
To that end, he has urged Hibs supporters to be ready to put their hands in their pockets if matters reach crisis point in Gorgie again. “I was born within 400 yards of Tynecastle but was never tempted to be a Hearts fan, so the poorer players they have to sign, the better, as far as I am concerned,” he quipped. “But, in terms of surviving, I truly believe that Hibs supporters should donate money to keep the Hearts in the game if it looks like they could go to the wall.
“What would Edinburgh be without two teams? Without that rivalry and that spark that comes from the games against each other? It has always been Hibs and Hearts and, as far as I am concerned, when I kick the bucket, it should still be Hibs and Hearts. The clubs need each other and the supporters need each other.”
It is a perspective which was partly fostered through many years of amicable relations with Hearts stars of yesteryear – including the late Willie Bauld, one of Hearts’ famed “Terrible Trio”. Reilly certainly had the numerical advantage as part of Hibs’ “Famous Five”, and that battle for supremacy continued on the pitch, as well as on the golf courses in and around the city. “Hearts have always been great rivals for Hibernian, but it was always a friendly rivalry and always should be,” Reilly, who scored 232 goals in 12 years at Easter Road, said.
“I was massively friendly with a good few of the Hearts players of that era, probably more than the Hibs players. Willie Bauld and I used to play golf every week at Baberton and I had some great times with the old Hearts players. You can be great rivals but, at the same time, appreciate how important you are to each other.”
The clubs meet in ten days at Easter Road after being drawn together in the Scottish Cup fourth round, less than six months after Hearts demolished Hibs 5-1 in the 2012 final. You could forgive Reilly for hungrily eyeing up this swift chance of partial redemption, particularly given earlier this month there seemed a possibility that Hearts’ perilous financial situation would mean that defeat in May would prove to be one of the last derbies.
Instead, he concedes that he could do without the hassle, although, as with every home match, he will faithfully be in attendance. “It’s not a game I am hugely looking forward to it. I don’t get a great deal of enjoyment from playing Hearts,” Reilly said. “It’s a horrible day if we lose, and if we win then it is just a feeling of relief more than anything. The rivalry is important but the games themselves…at this stage I could do without the stress.”
• Lawrie Reilly was speaking as Hibernian launched “Still Game”, a fitness scheme by the Hibernian Community Foundation aimed at fans over the age of 60.