A GROUP of Hibernian supporters aim to follow in the footsteps of their city rivals Hearts by staging a fan-led takeover at Easter Road.
Former midfielder Paul Kane is heading up an organisation called Hibernian Forever, which is seeking to purchase the football club and stadium from Sir Tom Farmer’s parent company HFC Holdings Ltd.
The proposal would see supporters own a majority shareholding of 51 per cent through a membership scheme, not dissimilar to the way Foundation of Hearts (FoH) are funding their takeover of the Tynecastle club.
FoH have more than 8,000 members and are already helping with running costs at Hearts ahead of formally taking control of the club from Ann Budge in three to five years’ time.
Financing to purchase the remaining 49 per cent stake in Hibs would come from private investors within the business community, with Kane adamant he has had promising talks with potential backers.
And he has urged Farmer, who took control of the club in 1991 to ward off a hostile takeover from Hearts’ owner Wallace Mercer, to be open towards the proposal when it is formally submitted and
“establish his legacy for Hibs”.
“We are drawing up a proposal for a newco Hibernian fans co-operative to own the club and the stadium,” Kane explained. “The key point is the fans will own a 51 per cent majority shareholding through a membership scheme and we will attract finance for the other 49 per cent. We have already talked to potential investors in the business community who are Hibs supporters as well as other potential investors.
“We know we are going in the right direction and can reach an agreement with club owner [Farmer] with both parties acting in good faith. Sir Tom Farmer has always said he saved Hibs for the community. Now is the time to establish his legacy for Hibs with the fans at the very heart of the club.”
Around 1,500 fans gathered outside Easter Road on 7 June to protest against non-executive chairman Rod Petrie and the current board.
In the aftermath of that display of disillusionment, Kane’s group was granted a meeting with Farmer later in the month. During that meeting it was agreed they would submit their proposal for the future of Hibs. That was rejected, as Kane describes it, due to “tax and investment complications”.
Neverthless, Hibernian Forever are now pressing on with their second proposal – one which would see the fans take control. With the plans still being fine tuned, they hope to outline the exact details of their prospective membership scheme in the near future.
“We met with Sir Tom Farmer a couple of weeks ago and put in a proposal. That has been rejected at this stage, but the door has not been closed,” Kane continued. “We are in for the long haul.
“Football clubs know they are in a new era of openness and transparency where they have to involve and respect the fans. Their view cannot be ignored.
“The Hibs support has had serious concerns about how the club has been run by the current board and chairman. They want radical change as was seen at the rally at Easter Road.”
In the last set of published accounts, up to July 2013, Hibs’ net debt stood at £5.5 million, however HFC Holdings Ltd do boast substantial assets in the form of Easter Road and Hibs’ East Mains training centre.
Meanwhile, Hibs have chosen not to offer Wigan full-back Adam Buxton any deal as manager Alan Stubbs turns his attentions elsewhere.
The 22-year-old had been on trial at Easter Road and featured in Stubbs’ first pre-season match in charge, a 4-0 victory over Lowland League outfit Vale of Leithen last weekend. However, the signing of former Manchester United graduate David Gray, also a full-back, on Tuesday, may have put paid to any deal.
The club has also rejected two offers for striker Jason Cummings from Swansea as the English Premier League side again look to plunder Scotland for talent. The Swans want the 18-year-old but Hibs are keen to keep him to help in their bid to return to the top flight at the first attempt. The forward, who began his career with city rivals Hearts, only made his debut for Hibs last November as a substitute in the 2-0 loss to Inverness.
He scored both goals in the 2-0 play-off first leg win against Hamilton in May – Cummings’ only strikes in 18 appearances last term – but missed a penalty in the second leg shoot-out loss that confirmed relegation.
Swansea signed midfielders Jay Fulton and Adam King from Falkirk and Hearts respectively in January before recently returning north to capture Bairns’ left-back Stephen Kingsley.