Hearts have been held up as a success story that others could learn from as clubs seek to navigate the financial challenges of Scottish football.
Bryan Jackson, one of the administrators who was called in to sort through the mess left by the Vladimir Romanov regime, said that the way the fans rallied round was the club’s saving grace.
He added that the positive regrowth of the club, currently sitting third in the Premiership, should inspire confidence in supporters of other sides demanding a greater say in the way their clubs are run.
Speaking at Fir Park, home of Motherwell FC, where the Well Society is poised to assume fan ownership of the club, former BDO representative Jackson said that the agreement reached between Hearts’ creditors, businesswoman Ann Budge and the Foundation of Hearts a couple of years ago had shown that different approaches could be successful in gaining fans greater control of their clubs.
When he was first called in at Tynecastle, Jackson had described matters as bleak and claimed the situation was as desperate as anything he had seen in his time bailing clubs out of trouble.
And he said that the success of a new initiative, launched by Supporters Direct Scotland and aimed at advising and helping community groups and businesses seeking involvement in community clubs and professional teams, would be in fans making positive steps before clubs reach crisis point.
“It’s obviously been a real bonus for this initiative that Hearts have rebounded so quickly,” said Jackson. “The support there are very hardcore of course, and they reacted very quickly. The one thing you can’t predict of course is after the crisis, how they will react then?”
The fact Hearts fans have continued to pay into the Foundation and maintained high attendance figures has facilitated the club’s swift recovery and Jackson says other clubs could benefit from that. That is why he has offered his services to the new Club Development Scotland consultancy unit, aimed at arming fans with the information, tools and best practice guidelines needed to enhance their involvement with their clubs and their communities.
“It was only latterly when the industry became overheated and clubs were chasing the holy grail of TV money that the crisis started to happen,” he said. “Prior to that it was understandable that fans never thought ‘I need to be more involved’, or ‘I need to look at ways of raising finance’. I don’t think it occurred to anyone back then.
“The biggest obstacle every time is trying to get that engagement if it’s not required, because fans understandably are quite comfortable with the club being managed by somebody. If you see the reasons for the demise of clubs over the years and why they got into the difficulties they did, it tended to be because they were reliant on one person.
“But the interesting thing about my job over the years is that when the crisis hits, fans fully mobilise. Prior to that you find that some fans have mobilised, there is already a structure and there is already people interested, as we saw at Dunfermline. But full mobilisation only really happens because of the crisis. What we’re trying to do is get the mobilisation prior to the crisis.
“Even if there is not going to be a crisis, it doesn’t mean that fan ownership isn’t the way forward anyway. When you see the power of fans, it’s the one thing that isn’t on a club’s balance sheet, the goodwill from fans. There’s always a hardcore support, whether it’s 100 or 100,000, and if you look at all the administrations we’ve been involved in, it’s been the fans who have saved the clubs each time.
“Interestingly the last four clubs that we’ve been involved in – Dundee, Dunfermline, Portsmouth and Hearts – they’ve actually all been sold to the fans. There’s certainly a trend now that that’s the way forward.”
l Go to www.clubdevelopment.scot for more information on the new Club Development Scotland consultancy unit.