JUST days after the launch of a share issue aimed at raising £1.79 million, Hearts goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald admits he believes majority share- holder Vladimir Romanov’s financial backing has been taken for granted.
The Tynecastle club have appealed to supporters to take up the offer to invest, with Romanov willing to dilute his 98 per cent stake.
Depending on the success of the initiative, Hearts have admitted it could eventually lead to Romanov, who has been in control through his private investment group UBIG since 2005, selling up to the fans.
The request for financial support comes in the wake of Hearts being handed a transfer embargo by the SPL until 23 December for failing to pay players and staff on time in September and October.
Romanov has made it clear he wants the club to become self-sustainable and has scaled back his funding. A quick browse of the most recent financial results, for the year ending June 2011, would suggest just how much Hearts have been leaning on the businessman.
The £12 million drop in debt to £24 million was achieved courtesy of the £10 million debt for equity swap with UBIG, and an £8.8 debt forgiveness and MacDonald admits it is imperative the club learns to stand on its own two feet.
“In the past we’ve had a lot of funding from UBIG and, I suppose, taken it for granted a bit,” said MacDonald, who will attempt to chalk up successive clean sheets for the first time this season at home to Ross County today. “The players, fans take it for granted that the money is going to be there. Now – and not just us – with these Uefa fair play rules (clubs must break even over over a three-year period to be allowed to compete in European competition), you have to work to your turnover and it’s about implementing that.
“I think Mr Romanov still has the club at heart, but teams in Europe are going to have to work to financial fair play models and we are no different. Everyone is aware of that and you have a bit of worry in the back of your mind. That’s just natural. But overall we are quite comfortable and we believe that nothing bad will happen to the club and that Mr Romanov has the club’s best interest at heart.”
After being hailed as the saviour who dramatically halted the sale of Tynecastle when he assumed control from Chris Robinson seven years ago, Romanov has, at times, polarised opinion among the Hearts faithful over some of the decisions made at boardroom level.
But manager John McGlynn has stressed that the share offer, which would see the fans take up a collective 10 per cent stake if successful, is a real chance for the supporters to make a difference. “When Mr Romanov came in, everyone could see the players he brought in,” said McGlynn. “It was very easy to accept that. Now we have had two Scottish Cup victories in six years – some clubs can’t even do that in 111 years (referring to Hibs’ barren spell in the competition). That is quite an achievement.
“I am not the brains of Britain but you just have to look all over the place like in Spain and Greece that there are financial difficulties. Hearts find themselves in a similar situation so it is a rallying call to buy into the club when it needs it. It could be difficult to get fans on board but I am promoting it as something for the short term and the long term. Whether it is the last throw of the dice, I am not really sure.”
McGlynn is all too aware that the club can expect a more punitive sanction from the SPL should their wages problems subsist. He added: “If it helps us in the short term in regards to paying wages, then it will help in that regard and save the club being hit with penalties which makes it more difficult to win football matches.
“And hopefully there wouldn’t be a points deduction kicking in at some point which would make life very difficult. You have got to think about that, although not in the immediate future.”
Motherwell have moved a step closer to fan ownership through their Well Society and McGlynn believes there could be a desire for a similar structure at Tynecastle.
McGlynn, who admitted he will be without Dale Carrick for today’s match after the young striker underwent a hernia operation on Tuesday, added: “I think the fans would like that to happen. Motherwell are going down a similar route right now And on the continent in places like Germany, there are a few clubs doing that.
“I think the club are trying to see if there is an appetite for it. Over the course of time, they can look into more share issues and the fans can take control of the club eventually.”