BRYAN Jackson of administrators BDO last night appealed to the Scottish Football Association not to impose any financial sanctions on Hearts, warning that a fine would be a “disaster” and could tip the Tynecastle club “over the edge”.
The SFA is expected to instruct an independent judicial panel within weeks to assess Hearts’ financial position and to decide what punishment to hand down to the club. A transfer registration ban has already been imposed, while SPL rules mean Hearts will start the 2013-13 season with a 15-point deduction. Now the judicial panel could recommend a censure, fine or further transfer embargo.
But Jackson told the BBC last night: “Any monetary penalty would be a big, big concern in how we’d get over that. We understand why there has to be sanctions, we understand the rule is there, but it’s a real pressure on us in a lot of ways. If there are any sanctions that are material in any way, that can be the difference that just puts you over the edge.”
Hearts were forced to appoint administrators BDO in a bid to stave off a winding-up order set to be launched over a partially paid £100,000 tax bill.
The club owe £25 million to Lithuanian firms Ukio Bankas and UBIG, who are also major shareholders in Hearts and enduring their own financial crises. UBIG are in the process of appointing their own administrators while Ukio Bankas – who have a floating charge on Tynecastle as protection for the £15m owed to them by Hearts – lost an appeal against liquidation earlier this month.
BDO are also administrators at Dunfermline, who avoided any financial penalty when the SFA instead decided to ban the club from signing players over 21 until 31 December, and Jackson said: “I don’t know any reason why they shouldn’t apply the same fairness to the Hearts situation. [A fine] could be a disaster. You’re in administration so the cashflow is totally tight. The strategy has been to generate enough money from the season ticket sales to keep the doors open.”
Since BDO were appointed as administrators and revealed that 3,000 season ticket sales were needed within 14 days simply to keep the club afloat throughout the summer, Hearts fans have responded well, with 1,200 sold already.
Jackson added: “The thing that’s really disappointing about it is we always feel the wrong people are being punished. For example, in this situation with Hearts it’s the fans that have put the money in again and again and again and I feel they’re being punished along with players and along with staff. And the people that tend to be responsible generally for these situations coming about are not there any more. That’s what happens.
“Whilst I understand there has to be a fairness and there has to be sanctions of some kind, I just think it’s difficult to get that balance and the wrong people are suffering because of it.”
Hearts players have already suffered and Jamie Hamill is honest enough to admit that he had to think twice before becoming the latest Hearts player to agree to take a wage cut that amounts to a 50 per cent reduction in his salary.
But, when he did think deeply about the situation, and recalled the thrill of playing in front of Hearts’ passionate fans inside a packed Tynecastle, there was only one decision to be made.
Of course, the year that he missed because of a serious injury also preyed on his mind. Hearts stood by him, although because Hamill, like everyone else on the playing staff, also had to endure the stress of delayed wages, he didn’t necessarily owe the club anything. Indeed, they still owe him.
However, Hamill has decided to join goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald and fellow senior professional Ryan Stevenson in agreeing to accept a 50 per cent wage cut, while 19-year-old Kevin McHattie has also volunteered to take one.
“If we didn’t accept pay cuts then basically we were out the door so it’s been difficult for everyone involved with the club,” said Hamill, 26. “There were people at Tynecastle we’d usually have a conversation with in the morning and when I arrived they were no longer there.”
As for the manager, Hamill commended Gary Locke’s role. “He phoned and said he really wants me but the ball was in my court,” he said. “He told me he wasn’t going to stand in my way of anything. That was great because he never forced the issue and it made my decision a little easier. It took me a wee while to get my head round it. It wasn’t a decision I could just have taken off the cuff. I took a few days to discuss things with my missus while the gaffer tried to pound my head. He was keeping me up to date with the situation.”
There are, Hamill points out, still “no guarantees” in this situation. “I have signed this deal and I still don’t know when we are going to get our next salary or wages,” he said. “We are still due X amount of money and things are not any clearer on that front. We will speak to the administrators on Thursday and we can discuss these things with them then and, hopefully, things will be okay.”
The perception that all footballers earn multiples of a £1,000 a week means that not everyone feels sympathy towards the players, particularly when lower paid and less celebrated members of the office staff at the club have already been made no redundant, with no pay-off. “Not everyone is earning £15,000 to £20,000-a-week,” pointed out Hamill, whose family home is in Ayrshire. “I am taking a hit and I also have a lot of travelling costs and everything needs to be set in place. I have come to an agreement and I am looking forward to getting going again.”
Despite what some might expect, he has no regrets about joining Hearts, where he has sustained a serious injury and also had to contend with regular late payments of wages. “Everyone gets injured at some point in their career and I was just unfortunate with the timing but I’m moving on now,” he said.
“A lot of people spoke negatively about the financial situation and predicted this might happen but, at the end of the day, it was the right decision for me to come here and play my football at the time.”
Hamill is under no illusion that there is still much to be done before the players can even consider how to approach a season where they will begin
15 points adrift of their rivals.
Hamill believes that overcoming the deficit and finishing eleventh would count as the biggest achievement in the club’s history. But first they have to ensure that Hearts can make it to the start of the season. “I think the fans will do their bit and, hopefully, that will be enough to get us over the line and kick-start the season,” he said.