PAT Stanton believes the way that Hearts supporters took control of their club is an inspiring example for Hibernian fans to follow as the “BuyHibs” campaign, which aims to purchase the Easter Road club from Sir Tom Farmer and put it in community control, was launched.
The campaign was welcomed by the Hibs hierarchy Tuesday night, with chief executive Leeann Dempster hailing the development, together with the board’s own strategy for the future, as “a genuinely exciting period of change at the club”.
Earlier, at the launch of BuyHibs, Stanton said that major change was needed if Hibs were to end years of stagnation.
“You’ve got to admire what Hearts have done – it’s great,” said the former Hibs captain, one of the interim directors listed on the campaign website, www.buyhibs.org. “They’ve got behind their club. I’m sure, given the right encouragement, the Hibs fans will do the same thing.
“Maybe the people will think they don’t have to go out and do what the Hearts fans have done. But you’ve got to admire what they’ve done.”
BuyHibs have adopted a similar model to the successful Foundation of Hearts operation and are inviting fans to pledge a monthly sum to help run the club in the event of a community takeover. Neil Wheelan, the main spokesperson for the group, yesterday delivered a letter to Farmer, care of Easter Road, urging the owner to begin takeover talks. One of the proposals outlined by the group in their new ownership model is for Farmer to retain a 26 per cent interest as a “golden share”.
Farmer has previously rejected several tentative offers for the club, without naming a specific price, saying the bidders were not the right people to take charge. BuyHibs hope the businessman will accept there is no-one better placed to run the club than the supporters themselves.
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“Change of ownership doesn’t guarantee success, but you hope it would be for the better,” Stanton added. “You’ll not know that until you try. If you just allow things to keep going on, things may get worse. You don’t know. The manager might pick things up and you might do better, but that remains to be seen.”
Although the website only went live yesterday, BuyHibs has already succeeded in uniting several different groups under its umbrella. Backed by Supporters Direct Scotland, it also has the support of the Hibernian Former Players Association and the Hibs Supporters Association, as well as Forever Hibernian, the campaign group run by ex-player Paul Kane.
While figures such as Kane have for some time been overtly critical of Farmer and club chairman Rod Petrie, Stanton has been slow to voice his anger. But, he explained, when a slow decline on the field culminated in Hibs being relegated at the end of last season, he felt he had to get involved. “There comes a stage where you just can’t turn away and say: ‘That’s got nothing to do with me’. I’m a Hibs supporter and what happened at the end of last season was very, very disappointing. I think the fans are frustrated. It’s been one thing after another and that just put the tin lid on it at the end of last season. Overall, they’ve had to put up with a lot, but they’re still there.”
Besides Stanton, Kane and financial adviser Wheelan, four others are named on the BuyHibs website as part of the “team”. Dawn Robertson is a lawyer, Douglas Roxburgh MBE is a leading member of the Supporters Association, Andrew Sibley is a senior executive with manufacturing company Desso, and Ashley Thorne is national training manager for a football and leisure firm. While that team would be responsible for negotiating the takeover and then running the club for a short time thereafter, the plan is for new directors to be elected by the mass membership.
Responding to the launch with a statement on Hibs’ website, Dempster said: “We are delighted to learn that Pat Stanton is leading and has launched a campaign to encourage supporters to invest in the ownership of the Club and fund its sporting ambitions. We look forward to having a positive conversation with BuyHibs so that we can understand the full details of their proposals and how they are intended to both keep the club safe and take it forward.”
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