VLADIMIR Romanov made a dramatic intervention into the great Hearts stadium debate yesterday, calling an emergency general meeting of the club’s shareholders to vote on the cancellation of the sale of Tynecastle. Although he has yet to complete his purchase of Chris Robinson’s shares, Romanov is expected to win next month’s vote convincingly.
Leslie Deans and Robert McGrail, each of whom owns about ten per cent of the club, will vote to stay at Tynecastle, as will the majority of small shareholders. It is also understood that, with negotiations to sell his 20 per cent stake well under way, Robinson is obliged to vote in accordance with Romanov’s wishes.
The only significant shareholding that might oppose the motion is SMG. But the media group has also indicated its willingness to sell, and, unless negotiations break down irretrievably over the coming weeks, it should go along with the majority.
Romanov’s action paves the way for Hearts to stay at Tynecastle for at least several more years. As he has previously explained, where the club calls home beyond that will depend on how feasible it is to modernise and redevelop the ground.
Romanov’s move was announced just hours after the club’s Stadium Working Group (SWG) announced its findings, key among which is the recommended withdrawal from the agreement to sell the ground to Cala Homes. The SWG also said it would be feasible and relatively cheap to stay at Tynecastle for several years, with anything thereafter depending on funding and other factors.
The egm will be held on the same day as the club’s annual general meeting, which will take place on 10 January at 11am. Technically the two meetings will have to be separate, but there would be no problem in one being convened minutes after the other was closed.
Although it was made public yesterday, Romanov’s decision to call an egm was actually made on 10 December, shortly after a new deadline was announced for completion of his purchase of shares from Chris Robinson. The postponement of Romanov’s deal with the chief executive meant it would not be guaranteed to go through until after the 31 January cut-off date for pulling out of the sale of Tynecastle.
To avoid that decision being taken out of his hands, Romanov called the egm. It was subsequent to that that the Hearts board bought more time for the would-be owner by negotiating a month’s extension to the Cala deal. The club can now pull out of the deal any time before 28 February, giving the housing group only three working days’ notice, and paying a penalty fee of no more than 75,000.
The board is free to decide at any time to pull out of the Cala deal, and if it does so it would remove the need to hold an egm. Before it does so, though, it will need more detailed assurances from Romanov about the amount of money he is willing to put into Hearts.
George Foulkes, the Hearts chairman, had said before the egm announcement was made that the board would need to be convinced the club had a secure financial future if they were to tear up the Cala agreement. After hearing the news of Romanov’s move, he said that the timing had simply become more acute. "I think that, on 10 January, we have to work out whether we withdraw from the Cala sale," Foulkes said. "But, before we do that, we need to get more details in writing from Mr Romanov. I am sure that will happen in the near future.
"The issue of guarantees is now even more relevant. If anything, it is more urgent that things are sorted out by 10 January. We need to be sure that projected deficits are underwritten."
With the debt standing at 19.6million, Foulkes and his colleagues need to know that they can afford to call off the sale to Cala.
The Halifax Bank of Scotland and SMG are also interested parties as Hearts’ two biggest creditors, and would need to approve any business plan based on staying in Gorgie.
"We really appreciate Vladimir Romanov’s interest in the club and his positive vision for it," Foulkes had said earlier. "But we need to be sure the financial situation of the club is secure for the foreseeable future. Therefore if we are going to withdraw from the Cala deal we need someone to underwrite our position. I believe Mr Romanov can and I hope he will."
Romanov obviously has money at his disposal, as he showed when buying his present ten per cent stake from Deans. In order to free the club from its debt, however, a much larger sum will be required.
Romanov has given verbal assurances that he will make a substantial investment in Hearts, but the club’s custodians need something in writing before they can scrap the Cala agreement. If such an assurance is received, the need for an egm could be removed, and Hearts would simply go ahead with the agm as normal.
Either way, Romanov’s action is bringing matters to a head more quickly than had been expected. The year for Hearts began with Robinson claiming a move to Murrayfield was necessary, and many supporters being resigned to the sale of Tynecastle. As it comes to an end, an altogether more optimistic picture is coming together.
THE recommendation by the Hearts Stadium Working Group that the club should, at least for the time being, stay at its present home should be warmly welcomed. Remaining at Tynecastle has always been the preferred option of the majority of Hearts supporters, and a precipitate flight from the ground could have seriously damaged the health of the club - especially if it had no new home of its own to go to.
Even if, in the longer term, Hearts decide they have a more viable future elsewhere, at least the move will be made following a public and transparent discussion of the issue, in a manner which should lessen discord.
The decision by Vladimir Romanov to call an emergency general meeting to cancel the sale of Tynecastle to Cala Management Ltd should also be applauded.
Let a full and frank debate begin at last, as the club looks to secure its short and long future. This is the least its supporters deserve.
The Hearts Stadium Working Group’s six recommendations are:
1) The missives should not be concluded with Cala Management Ltd and that the club should withdraw from the agreement to sell the site.
2) That the club should stay at Tynecastle and make improvements in the short term to allow its continued use for a period of, say, five years. This can be done for a minimal cost circa 100,000 and allows the club time to consider other options.
3) That the UEFA pitch dimension size should be resolved by taking formal advice from UEFA directly on an achievable pitch size of 100m x 64m. The group believes this would meet UEFA requirements pro tem. An alternative of playing UEFA games at Murrayfield remains a viable option.
4) That the club should apply independently for planning permission to re-develop Tynecastle for the best economic use possible and thereby establish the greatest benefit to the club from the asset by establishing an alternative use value.
5) That the club should investigate thoroughly the costs of staying at Tynecastle, acquiring the land at McLeod Street and redeveloping the main grandstand. This should be done in conjunction with a detailed financial appraisal of potential increases in revenue generated from alternative and additional uses of all parts of the stadium.
6) That the club should work closely in conjunction with City of Edinburgh Council to explore the possible redevelopment of Sighthill Park, which could feature a new stadium to be used by the club and other stakeholders, and to consider entering into a joint venture.
The SWG examined a total of ten sites: Tynecastle, Sighthill, two adjacent sites at Straiton, Braehead, Ingliston, Hermiston, McLeod Street, Saughton Park and Murrayfield.