REASONS why 2012 will never be forgotten by Hearts fans are plentiful. The main one, of course, surrounds events on May 19 at Hampden Park in Glasgow. That highlight was tempered by the club’s very existence being threatened due to unpaid tax. It was indeed another eventful year at Tynecastle. Perhaps the most notorious of all since the Vladimir Romanov era began in 2005.
The New Year was celebrated at Easter Road on January 2 with a convincing 3-1 win over Hibs, Ryan McGowan, Andy Webster and Rudi Skacel all scoring. That game gave birth to the first of many unique goal celebrations by McGowan which would appear throughout the year. While in the Scottish Premier League Hearts were inconsistent under manager Paulo Sergio, their form in the Scottish Cup took them to a semi-final meeting with Celtic at Hampden on April 15.
Skacel opened the scoring early in the second half and Celtic only equalised with three minutes remaining. Just as extra-time looked certain, referee Euan Norris penalised Celtic’s Joe Ledley for handball inside the penalty area. Craig Beattie converted the penalty and sped off to do what is now widely recognised as “The Beattie” – sprinting round the Hampden track with his top off and arms and legs pumping.
Beattie’s goal secured an all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final, the first for 116 years. Not since 1896 at Logie Green in Edinburgh had Hearts and Hibs met in a cup final. The build-up to this one went far beyond fever pitch in the Capital. The game itself was the pinnacle for Hearts and their supporters; quite simply the greatest day in the club’s long history.
Beating Hibs 5-1 gives Hearts fans permanent derby bragging rights. Goals by Darren Barr, McGowan, two by Skacel and a Danny Grainger penalty brought euphoric scenes among the Tynecastle support. Sergio was as composed as ever as players bounced around to the Avicii tune Levels during the post-match celebrations. Perhaps he knew what lurked just around the corner.
Shortly after the final, many of Hearts’ most experienced players left the club on freedom of contract. Among them were fans’ favourites Skacel, Ian Black, Suso and Beattie. Stephen Elliott also left to return to England. However, the biggest disappointment of all came when Sergio confirmed he would not accept the offer of a new contract from the Tynecastle board. He claimed Hearts offered less than half his existing salary, with the club eager to reduce costs and wages.
The popular Portuguese departed, paving the way for John McGlynn’s appointment in late June. He had served Raith Rovers with distinction since leaving the Riccarton coaching staff in late 2006. He returned with good managerial experience and the advantage of working with many of Hearts’ young players whom he had taken to Kirkcaldy on loan. With the Edinburgh club now focused on promoting its own youth academy graduates, McGlynn’s brief was to oversee a major transition at first-team level. His new assistant was the Lithuanian, Edgaras Jankauskas.
Just as McGlynn was settling into his new job, Hearts received their reward for winning the cup in May – a Europa League play-off tie with Liverpool. They lost the first leg 1-0 at Tynecastle to an unfortunate Webster own goal but produced one of the year’s best performances in the return match at Anfield. David Templeton levelled the tie on aggregate with the first goal of the night on 85 minutes, sparking bedlam in the away end. Yet three minutes later the irrepressible Luis Suarez struck for a 1-1 draw on the night and 2-1 aggregate scoreline in Liverpool’s favour.
The harsh reality of European football was difficult to accept given Hearts had more than matched their illustrious Premier League opponents over two games. They drew praise from Romanov, who attended the second leg and spoke of the young players thriving at senior level. One established player was on his way out, though. Templeton joined Rangers despite their demotion to the Third Division of the Scottish Football League. Ryan McGowan also went to Murray Park for talks but declined the move for football reasons.
As the season progressed, more and more young players would get opportunities. Dylan McGowan, Jason Holt, Callum Paterson, Jamie Walker, Kevin McHattie, Denis Prychynenko and Dale Carrick were all youths last season. Now they are established members of the first-team squad. Inconsistency is guaranteed with young players and, as summer became autumn, that frustrated some fans who in turn aimed their ire at McGlynn. However, on-field events paled into insignificance as Hearts’ finances began to unravel in frightening fashion.
Late payment of wages in September and October resulted in the SPL imposing a 60-day transfer embargo, preventing the club signing anyone over the age of 18 until December 23. On October 25, Hearts announced a share offer to raise funds and admitted they were short of money to see out the season. They needed to bridge a near-£2million shortfall in income. The share brochure also revealed they were being pursued for £1.75m in tax relating to players loaned from the Lithuanian club FBK Kaunas between 2005 and 2010.
Just two weeks later, the situation intensified. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs served a winding-up order on Hearts at the Court of Session in Edinburgh over £450,000 of unpaid PAYE and VAT. That prompted a statement from the board appealing to fans for “emergency backing”, with the added warning that “without the support of fans there is, as we issue this note, a real risk that Heart of Midlothian Football Club could possibly play its last game next Saturday, 17 November against St Mirren.” The statement added: “This isn’t a bluff, this isn’t scaremongering, this is reality.”
Supporters of the club rallied like never before as fundraising went into overdrive. Shares were bought, as were match tickets and merchandise, kids took their life savings along to Tynecastle, auctions were held and pubs and other businesses donated takings. It was humbling to watch, albeit also gravely concerning.
Foundation of Hearts emerged seeking to gain control of Hearts from Romanov and run the club on behalf of supporters. Their chairman, Alex Mackie, wants to fund Hearts via a membership scheme similar to Barcelona’s. His group offered to pay the £450,000 tax bill to fend off the winding up order in exchange for control of the club. Romanov said no.
He also rebuffed Italian businessman Angelo Massone when he offered £4.5m. Both offers were derided by directors as opportunistic and not truly reflective of the value of the club. Clearly, Romanov wants a reasonable return for his investment and will not just hand Hearts over to supporters without serious recompense.
Eventually, payment plans were agreed with HMRC for the £450,000 and the £1.75m, and the share issue ended on a positive note when it was announced over £1m had been raised.
That, allied to other fundraising efforts by groups of fans, removed the threat of liquidation. Directors are still eager for fans to back the club wherever possible as they try to make up the remaining £800,000 funding shortfall. They are also contesting the SPL’s decision to keep the transfer embargo in place indefinitely, which was taken because some Hearts players are still without bonus payments although wages were paid on time in December.
Safeguarding the club’s future coincided with an upturn in results on the field. After the low point of McGlynn’s reign saw Hearts crash out of this season’s Scottish Cup, ironically at the hands of Hibs, at the start of December, the manager, under severe pressure from fans, was effectively forced into a change of approach.
Since altering his formation to 4-4-2, seven points out of nine have been garnered against Aberdeen, St Johnstone and Dundee United despite Danny Grainger suffering a knee ligament injury, sidelining him until next summer. The team is exciting to watch once again and there is hope for the second half of the campaign.
Regardless of what awaits in 2013, there is no doubt 2012 has been one of the most tumultuous in Hearts’ 138-year history. There have been as many lows as highs. Most fans wouldn’t be able to overlook their club being threatened with extinction in any given year. The Hearts support, though, will focus on a certain day in May which eclipses every other event.