A CONSORTIUM including former player Donald Ford will today step up its bid to buy out Vladimir Romanov and take Hearts forward as a supporter-led club – despite being scathingly dismissed by directors yesterday as misguided and “opportunistic”.
Foundation of Hearts was launched two years ago and has ratcheted up attempts to take control of the club in recent days following revelations that the club was struggling to meet a £450,000 tax bill. Last night, the club announced that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs had extended the deadline for payment to be made, and would accept it in two instalments provided the final payment is made no later than 3 December.
On a dramatic day, Hearts announced last night that they had turned down an initial proposal from the fan-led Foundation and branded their approach as showing a “worrying lack of understanding” of the club’s current perilous position.
The club said the group’s ‘note of interest’ “demonstrates a staggering misjudgment of the value of the club” and accused the consortium of attempting to “exploit what is a difficult financial situation” at the club.
On launching the recent shares issue in a bid to plug a £2 million funding gap for the season, director Sergejus Fedotovas indicated the move could be the first step towards supporters taking ownership of the club. However, it was made clear last night that the efforts of the Foundation to implement a business plan that would make that fan ownership happen had fallen some way short of being acceptable to the club.
A statement said: “Heart of Midlothian Football Club has entered into talks with Supporters Direct, the official government-backed organisation set up to promote fan ownership of football clubs. The board reiterated its intention to offer supporters an opportunity to take ultimate control of the club. The club can also confirm that it has received a ‘note of interest’ from businessman Alex Mackie on behalf of a consortium of unnamed business people.
“The proposal has no consideration of cash for the shares of the club, even if the debt is removed completely, and demonstrates a staggering misjudgment of the value of the club, and a worrying lack of understanding of the situation. At best it is opportunistic, an attempt to exploit what is a difficult financial situation at the club.
“No evidence was provided on how the club would be operated and resourced after any potential purchase. The board has declined the proposal based on the above and further considerations. While the club remains open to genuine offers, it will continue to operate with the support of its fan base.”
Paul Goodwin, head of Supporters Direct Scotland, held lengthy discussions yesterday with representatives of the Foundation and will speak with the Hearts board again today with the aim of trying to progress a possible deal.
The group includes 68-year-old former striker Ford, a one-time accountant and local politician, and insurance chief Alex Mackie, a 58-year-old staunch supporter of the club who was described yesterday as having “a brilliant business brain” and the “clout” to push a deal through.
Twelve months ago, Romanov slapped a £50 million price tag on the club, which is around £24 million in debt, when he announced his intention to try and find a buyer. But, despite suggestions yesterday that it would take “significantly less” to buy out the Russian-born banker, it is obvious that he will not be removed from power easily.
Fedotovas, Romanov’s right-hand man in Edinburgh, said: “When we move the club on it will be to the right people at the right time. With this in mind, we have held positive initial discussions with Supporters Direct and we have asked this organisation for further talks on how we might be able to structure an appropriate supporter-led buy-out of the club. At present, we will continue these talks with Supporters Direct, in parallel with maintaining the momentum that is gathering behind the club’s share issue and other fundraising activities. Together the staff, players, supporters, club partners and political and community groups are already making their mark on the club.
“With their continued support, we do believe we can steer through the current financial challenges we face.”
Goodwin had initially indicated that Hearts had, so far, been “pretty receptive” to discussions held by him on behalf of the Foundation. But, with hopes improving that Hearts can see off the taxman’s threat to close them down, it remains to be seen whether Romanov will view the group’s approach as one that could become viable.
Goodwin said last night: “Foundation of Hearts want to get to the point where the fans own the club. We are totally supportive of what they are doing.They have been researching this for about two years to work out what is the best model for the way forward and I am, on behalf of Supporters Direct, acting as an interface between the Foundation and the club.
“I’ve had three meetings at Hearts and it’s been positive, and they have invited me back in. A lot of things have got to come into place for things to be successful but the club have been pretty receptive.”