HEARTS directors and Supporters Direct Scotland are to resume talks next week, with the fans’ organisation increasingly hopeful that the club will agree to community ownership.
Paul Goodwin, head of SDS, said yesterday that he had been encouraged by talks he has already had with Hearts managing director David Southern and believes that the club could develop into a model example of how supporter ownership can benefit Scottish football.
“Hearts have been very transparent,” Goodwin said after the SDS annual conference in Falkirk, attended by more than 100 delegates. “The next stage is me getting into the detail of all the finances but everything I’ve asked to see, I’ve been shown.
“I see it as a real opportunity – a bit like in England. We’ve got the opportunity with Portsmouth, which really is a huge club. If we can get a chance to do the same in Scotland with Hearts, the third biggest club, I think we’re talking about a real seismic shift in the change of Scottish football in terms of ownership models.”
Hearts were put up for sale a year ago by owner Vladimir Romanov but have this month turned down two offers which they regarded as seriously undervaluing the club.
They are currently promoting a share offer aimed at fans, and have so far raised more than £600,000 but need substantially more to reach the end of the season safely.
Goodwin believes there is a growing acceptance that single benefactors are no longer a feasible option for clubs, and that community control is the most secure way of running a club.
“We all know there are no white knights out there who are willing to, not invest – that’s the wrong word – throw their money away into football,” he said. “So I’m really hopeful with the Hearts situation. There’s no-one else going to pick it up.
“The devil will be in the detail, but we’ve gone from a position where we walked in at first and said: ‘Why should Hearts fans put money in from their own pockets without getting something back tangible?’ to a
position where, six weeks later, we’re having talks and they’re starting to ask me ‘How did you do it at Stirling?’ [Albion, which Goodwin used to run].
“It’s getting to a position where it just might happen. It’s a big ask but what’s the alternative? Just keep going banging away, paying off the interest, paying off the debt? Or do you say ‘We can reboot this’?
“It’s a big challenge. It’s also a huge opportunity.” Romanov valued Hearts at £50million when he put the club up for sale late last year, an estimate which many believe is prohibitively high. But Goodwin does not believe that haggling is part of his role, instead preferring to explore different ways of running the club, finding out which, if any, the present owner favours, and only then discussing the monetary implications.
“I’m not going to put a value on the club, because I’m not a bidder. If Vladimir Romanov says it’s worth £50m, as he has done in the past, I’ll come back and say I don’t think that’s going to be achievable under the fan ownership model.
“At some point we’re going to get to a number. But my document was very deliberate in omitting a number. If we can get them to buy the model
[of fan ownership] then we’ve got a chance.
“They’re genuinely interested. He [Romanov] might come over, then I’ve got a chance to talk to him directly. I don’t know, but I’m really hopeful. It’s not in their interest or mine to get to this level without meaning something.
“The next step is there will be a meeting, probably the start of next week. [Hearts director] Sergejus Fedotovas and his colleagues will be coming over from Lithuania.
“They’ve got a document in front of them that I produced, seven or eight pages, talking about all the models in very loose terms. They’re reviewing that and the plan is we’ll have a meeting to discuss it, so I think the next meeting is pivotal to see whether it will go forward.”