HEARTS will have to be debt and liability free at the time of a handover or the proposed fans’ ownership scheme simply won’t work.
Germany’s Bundesliga has been held up as a shining example of how giving control back to the supporters can offer clubs stability and ensure the game remains fan-friendly in terms of ticket pricing but, having played there and seen how things operate on a practical level, Steven Tweed says the most important thing is being able to start afresh, with a financial clean slate.
Which is why he fears such laudable ambitions will not be met at Hearts. With the club debts amounting to more than £22 million, owner Vladimir Romanov would need to write off the vast majority of the sums due, but his personal fortune is not considered sufficient to cover such an extravagance while his UBIG investment vehicle is already struggling to maintain its current share price and is therefore unlikely to sanction any such benevolence when it knows it would see the company’s value plummet further. It points to something of a stalemate.
Tweed, who spent three years in Germany with MSV Duisburg after spells with Hibernian, Stoke City and Dundee, said: “When Bundesliga clubs decided to go down this road, the clubs all started from scratch, with no debts. They had to have a store of money to get things up and running and then every season they had to show their budgets and prove that they had the funds to make it through the entire season or they don’t get allocated a licence.
“It is supposed to be about offering more stability to clubs and the league. But it’s still not fail-safe and that’s even with them starting from a point of no debts. It just wouldn’t be possible for Hearts to get started while shouldering the burden of debts. It would only be possible if they were starting from where, say, Rangers are just now.
Foundation of Hearts, the non-profit group negotiating with Romanov’s representatives in the hope of finding a way forward, know that large obstacles remain. But they say they have been delighted with the response from the Tynecastle fans since they launched their website this week, and believe they are generating a level of pledges to stoke their hopes of assuming a majority shareholding in the Scottish Cup winners. They also concede that their dealings rest on the writing off of all existing debts and liabilities and the transfer of all assets, including Tynecastle.
“We haven’t spoken to [Hearts director] Sergejus Fedotovas since our initial offer was rejected,” said Alex Mackie, the chairman. “But we are making ourselves available and making it clear that we are happy to go back to negotiating
“I have a big working paper on the way the 51 per cent shareholding for fans works in Germany and we know that there is so much we can learn from them in terms of governance but we are hoping that if we are successful then it could be a panacea for Scottish football.”
He reiterated that the club should not be sold off in pieces, with the ground going to developers and the football assets then being transferred to the fans.
“Tynecastle is wrapped up in the equation,” Mackie said. “We want to stay at Tynecastle and want to develop it and we feel that is possible. With the current owners, I think we can all see now that it was always to do with not having the finances to do it.”
Mackie was also quick to make it clear that the supporters would not be happy to see Romanov replaced by former Livingston owner Angelo Massone, whose time at the Almondvale club was fraught to say the least.
“You can bet your bottom dollar that we would be against that,” Mackie said.
“I think better of Sergejus than that and I think it’s fair to say that we would take a dim view of Sergejus if he was negotiating with him and I’m confident that the fans would take a very dim view of that as well. We just need to keep the negotiations going and hope that we are the ones who can come to an agreement. I think that’s what the fans want.”