FOR all his rantings and ravings over the years, all his moralistic pronouncements about the state of the game in Scotland and the supposed dodgy behaviour of the people who run it, it is Vladimir Romanov who stands accused of the most grotesque conduct, a coward’s retreat from the capital without so much as a word of explanation.
If there is one good thing that has come out of the fiasco at Tynecastle it is the reaction of the club’s supporters, who have been remarkable. No doubt there is anger in them, but the way they have gathered themselves and concentrated their efforts not on bitterness but on trying to raise the money that needs to be raised has been uplifting. The reaction of the people to shore up his failings should shame Romanov, but it won’t, because it’s not just his cash he’s withholding now, it’s respect.
Sergejus Fedotovas has been doing his bidding for some time, but in such a crisis, and with all due respect to Fedotovas, you don’t want to hear from the monkey, you want to hear from the organ grinder. And we have heard nothing. Everything that has come through has been second or third-hand. There is a suspicion now that even Fedotovas doesn’t have the kind of access to Romanov that he once had. The supposed “right-hand man” is now talking about speaking with “Mr Romanov’s companies” as opposed to Mr Romanov. He says he has been in contact with his associates.
Despite the pathetic lack of communication from the only man capable of answering the questions the supporters want to ask, there are a few things that have been relayed loud and clear. Firstly, Romanov no longer wants to “waste cash”, as Fedotovas put it last week, “waste” being a word that might have infuriated all those who have in the last few days parted with savings in an effort to stave off the threatened demise of the club. They don’t see it as a waste. They see it as a necessity. They know they’re being emotionally blackmailed by Romanov but their love of the club is more powerful than their resentment for the man who has driven them to this point, so they contribute what they can.
Secondly, and this is where Romanov’s behaviour almost reaches the point of being deliberately antagonistic, Fedotovas revealed on Friday that Romanov has asked for a set of fixtures so he can plan his next visit to Tynecastle. He doesn’t know the fixtures already? He can’t find them out for himself? His club is on its knees. It’s supposedly days from going under. The fans are running around raising money left, right and centre and yet they are presented with a picture of the man who caused the alarm running his finger through the list and going “oooh, Celtic at home, I think I’ll drop in for that one!” He should be in the city now. If not here, then visible and audible and explaining what the hell is going on in his head.
If the fans fall short of the £450,000 due to HMRC on Friday will he make up the difference? If so, on what terms? If the share issue falls short, will he make up the difference? If so, on what terms? What is the medium to long-term plan? What is his own financial position? How much of the £24 million debt due to UBIG does he realistically think can be recovered? Would he forgive that debt in the interests of the club and in an attempt to facilitate a sale? If not, is the sale of Tynecastle inevitable to his exit strategy?
The fans are freaked. They found something in the order of £200,000 since last Wednesday but that’s cash-generation at a sprinter’s pace. They can’t hope to keep that up, surely. It’s estimated that to get to the end of the season, whereby the crisis may ease with a fire-sale of players, the fans need to stump up in the region of £10,000 a day, every day from now until season’s end. That’s a Mo Farah-type endurance. A financial long-distance run. Even if they manage that feat, the future is still clouded with uncertainty.
The outrageous thing – or one of the outrageous things – is that no matter how much money they raise – £100,000, £500,000, a million, two million – they still won’t have a say in the running of the club, they still won’t know what is really going on because Romanov doesn’t want them to know. Via Fedotovas, he states that every last penny of the share issue is going to go into developing the academy and bolstering the team and then a few weeks later we hear that Hearts have pleaded for time to HMRC in the settlement of unpaid VAT and PAYE because they might have all this share money coming in, share money they vowed publicly would not be used to pay tax.
The fans are told that the winding-up order came out of the blue, but how could it? The club should know how things work with HMRC by now. This is not the first time the club and the taxman have clashed. Not the second or third or even the fourth time. They have had more dealings with HMRC than most clubs. As far as the tax authorities are concerned, they have a target on their back, just as Rangers did under Craig Whyte. And so when they fail to pay VAT and PAYE what do they expect? An invitation to pay? A polite reminder? You have to be cynical about Fedotovas and his supposed shock at HMRC playing hardball.
The message from on-high is “Don’t ask questions, Jambos, just give us your money and quick. Better still, give us cash. The club might die, remember. Hurry!” Meanwhile, Romanov is calling for a fixture list.
It’s not just the supporters’ hearts that have been messed with here; their minds have been played around with, too. They could have staged protests outside Tynecastle. They could have vented their spleen with Romanov and the unholy mess he has created, but to their credit they got their heads up and started looking for a solution rather than wallowing in the problem. Some still think that Romanov is bluffing and that he would never allow Hearts go to the wall, that he is merely frightening the fans into parting with their money to fund the thing so he doesn’t have to part with his own, if indeed he has any money nowadays.
Whatever the truth, the fans are not taking the chance. Romanov should be mortified by the sight of a young boy turning up at Tynecastle last week with his savings in a box and handing it across the counter. Amid the despair, there is plenty to inspire.