KENNY BLACK watched Hearts flirt with financial meltdown over the last fortnight. A blueprint for revival stares the Edinburgh club in the face this weekend when they visit Fir Park, where Black is assistant manager.
Fan involvement through the Well Society has brought Motherwell closer than ever to its local community and Black believes Hearts, with a far greater support base, would thrive if driven by their public.
The Tynecastle board is exploring the possibility of allowing supporters to influence or control Hearts through talks with Supporters Direct Scotland. The latest discussions took place yesterday, with Alex Mackie’s Foundation of Hearts waiting in the background, hoping to take control from majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov.
The Foundation want to run the club on behalf of the fans through a membership scheme, like the one which has allowed Motherwell to interact with their followers like never before. The Well Society was established to allow fans to participate in the ownership of the club in return for monthly subscription and benefits like discounted season tickets, hospitality and merchandise.
Black, whose playing career included five years at Tynecastle (right), reports that the plan is working well, if you excuse the pun. Motherwell’s dedication to consulting fans has taken the club deep into the heart of the community. Black is urging Hearts to follow suit and ensure that those who care the most are given a degree of influence in future.
“People talk about a family club and we really try to sell that idea here,” he told the Evening News. “The Well Society lets people pledge varying amounts of money. It’s not thousands and thousands of pounds supporters are asked to invest to get a say in how the club is run. From our point of view, Motherwell is a club that is very close to the community and we work extremely hard behind the scenes to make it work.
“If the fan ownership idea does take off, I think a number of clubs will go down that route. I think it is important financially that you’re trying to give a bit of the club back to supporters. If they are willing to invest, and as I said it doesn’t need to be huge amounts, they all get a little piece of the action. It’s a nice thing because it brings the club closer to supporters’ hearts.
“We are now looking at whether a fans’ representative will be allowed a seat on the Motherwell board and have a hand in making important decisions. The more people that buy into it, the more chance it can have an impact on families. We get loads of fathers and sons and mothers and daughters coming to games. Like every club, the more people we can get through the turnstiles, the better it is for everyone. It gives Motherwell a chance to compete with the bigger clubs in Scotland.
“I’m not an expert, but it’s certainly something that should be looked at. I’m sure the people at Hearts will be trying to cover all bases to see what the best way forward is. They need to generate money to keep them afloat. The fanbase Heart of Midlothian have is far greater than what Motherwell have. The idea is the same and I think a lot more clubs should give it consideration.”
Motherwell welcome Hearts for a 12.45pm kick-off on Saturday knowing their own home form has been “less than satisfactory”, in Black’s words. They won 5-1 in the Highlands last week to end Inverness’s ten-game unbeaten run, so confidence is high. There is always trepidation about facing a team with a cause to fight for, though. Hearts are that team right now.
“Everybody at Tynecastle is working behind the scenes with supporters and getting right behind the squad,” said Black. “The players have responded in the best possible manner by getting three points last weekend against St Mirren. There’s no question this is difficult times at Hearts. Even speaking as a neutral, ignoring the five years I spent there, I want them to come through this.
“Scottish football needs a strong Hearts. We’ve seen what’s happened to Rangers and I wouldn’t want to see that happen to a fantastic club like Hearts. It’s important everybody sees this through and the club gets itself out of the situation. You feel sorry for the players because there have been things going on behind the scenes that they have no control over. They’re the ones having to rescue the club.
“This will galvanise them. Once the game starts, sentiment goes out of the window. I’m sure Hearts will be equally as determined as us to get three points this weekend.”
Up until the middle of last week, there was doubt over whether Hearts would be able to fulfil this fixture. For Black, it was unthinkable that the club he served for five years between 1984 and 1989 would cease to exist. “It was a statement of intent when they said the St Mirren game might be their last and it sent shockwaves through me. You think to yourself: ‘Heart of Midlothian’s last game ever?’ The club means so much to so many people.
“It was a huge shock for them to come out with that. Hopefully everything will be fine and they’ll get themselves back on an even keel. It’s not a situation you like to see and the quicker it’s resolved, the better.”