A MODERN stadium is needed for long term stability, says the Hearts director.
WITH the immediate threat of liquidation likely to be staved off this week, Hearts fans will be entitled to a sigh of relief. The £450,000 tax bill should be paid in full by the Thursday deadline, the club will therefore not be wound up by the courts on Friday, the match against St Mirren, which is nearing a sell-out, won’t be the last hurrah.
But the danger has not passed, it may merely have been delayed. The board have admitted that they need fans to dig even deeper into their pockets. They need £2 million to cover the shortfall in running costs from now until the end of the season. That’s unless even more surprises are lurking in the shadows and given all that has gone before, few would be willing to wager there aren’t. The will of the fans is that the money will be raised. Whether they like it or not, they are buying up shares. In full emergency aid mode, they have rallied. But even if they make the end of the campaign, the angst is far from over.
People now want Vladimir Romanov out. He says he is still committed to the club but will no longer “waste” money. The fans retort is that in backing his share issue, with no guaranteed reward or say in the future running of the club, he may be asking them to do just that. And, despite assurances from Hearts director Sergejus Fedotovas that the club is looking at appointing a fans’ representative on to the board or establishing a supporters’ council if the current sale of shares is a success, they have a right to be wary.
The club say that next term they will be more self-sufficient. Big earners will be offloaded from the wage bill, and the outgoings will be more sustainable. But they also stress they need more ways of generating dependable income if they are to continue to support the youth academy, and continue to compete on the pitch. According to Fedotovas, a modern stadium is the best way to do that.
This week there has been much talk of coming full circle. When majority shareholder Romanov took control of the club from Chris Robinson, he was seen as the saviour. During one of the darkest spells in the club’s history, they were in debt, struggling to pay bills and Robinson was planning on selling Tynecastle. With a modern stadium identified as the primary “solution” to the club’s fiscal ills, an alleged £2m has been spent on plans to revamp the current Gorgie site which still do not satisfy city planners.
Fedotovas said: “I don’t want to say that staying here was a mistake. I think that leaving here for Murrayfield would probably have seen this club become a First or Second Division club in Scotland over the period.
“But even before Romanov this club was facing funding gaps between £2m and £3m a year. That’s the reality of football. We want to play good football but we’re not able to generate the cash. Why we cannot do that is a big systemic problem. The distribution of income in Scotland, TV revenues, facilities – I think the way forward for Hearts is a modern stadium.
“The future is a modern stadium where we can have good hospitality income and a good experience on match day, where we can have a number of things that people are enjoying at modern stadiums and that we cannot afford at Tynecastle as it is today. We are trying to do everything we can. It costs us a lot of money. The budget for repairs at Tynecastle is the highest ever. Every day, something is going down, something is breaking.
“Every day there is maintenance, builders, contractors on site and the clock is ticking and the money is being paid. With all this investment, with all these efforts, I believe we are not anywhere near where we would like to be.
“When [Romanov] came here he had two priorities – investment in the playing squad and the stadium. We’ve spent a lot of money on players and we’ve spent around £2m on trying to get planning permission for Tynecastle. That was money to develop Tynecastle. “
But with Romanov unwilling to throw more cash at an unsure venture, would he be more willing to bankroll a purpose-built stadium? “I’m not Mr Romanov but if we have a rosy future he would be able to help us out. Every person would say ‘yes’. If that’s a solution then he would give us the money. But he would want proof that the solution would work. He’d need the details of how much it would cost, how much it would generate. Show it would work as a business model and then we’ll get an answer.”
It would suggest that while seven years have passed, and two cups, one undermined title challenge and a few European matches have been delivered, things have come full circle.
“I think we have a situation like the frog in the boiling pot. If you put a frog in the water it will never jump out. It will boil to death. We are facing the situation where the fortunes of Scottish football are gradually becoming lower, and lower and lower and lower. We just don’t notice it day to day. There may come a time when it is too late. There’s a bad financial situation at Hearts. We can’t pay the £450,000 bill. What is the solution? Let’s cut the playing budget twice. Let’s not invest in youth. Let’s not do something else. Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. Where’s the efficiency in that and where does it lead?
“From reading The Scotsman and the Financial Times there’s a view on the Scottish situation and it’s difficult not to agree with that. The worse it gets the harder it becomes to repair it.
“I think Mr Romanov will have a discussion with anyone willing to invest or buy the club. The only difficulty is that there are a lot of people pretending they want to buy this club and pretending they have the money. They’re not able to demonstrate that they would be able to support the business.”
But the comments from Brian Kennedy, one of those involved in the failed bid to assume control of Rangers, have piqued some interest.
“We definitely need to contact him. We can’t afford to waste any opportunity. I can’t comment on this based on what was in the newspaper and what it means for Hearts because it’s difficult to say whether or not he is interested. But we will definitely have a goodwill discussion with anyone who has a reasonable opportunity to take over the club. It doesn’t matter what their name is as long as it is right. This discussion can always happen and we will facilitate that.”