ACCORDING to director Sergejus Fedotovas, Vladimir Romanov’s reign at Hearts has brought the club full circle. Sadly, this cannot be viewed as a commendation.
Eight years on, the club are back where they were when Chris Robinson, the then Hearts chief executive, hatched his desperate plan to sell Tynecastle stadium and move to Murrayfield, something that prompted a supporters’ revolt. Romanov’s intervention saved the day then.
According to Charlie Mann, his one-time PR representative, he has since spent an estimated £60 million on his Hearts project. Little of this investment has helped improve the infrastructure at the club. Instead, it has been splurged on high wages for players who have given the fans a brief glimpse of league title success, and two Scottish Cup final triumphs.
Fedotovas’ sought to make the point that although the club remains as heavily in debt as then, the money is owed to Romanov – or at least, his companies. In addition, Hearts still own Tynecastle, something that would not be the case had Robinson remained in situ. But then, what good is a football ground without a football club? Fedotovas realises the stakes are now as high as they have ever been.
“The companies of Mr Romanov have cleared around £20 million of debt from the balance sheet of the club,” said Fedotovas. “The wage bill has been reduced from £8 million to around £4.5 million.
“We find ourselves in a position that this club was in before Mr Romanov’s investment – with the benefit that we are still playing at Tynecastle and that we are seven years away from the point that the club was going to have to leave Tynecastle and face an uncertain future.
“I think that, looking forward, we need to find a solution and, in the view of the management of the club, the best solution would be to invite supporters to join this drive and to secure the club’s longer-term future.”
As ever, the price of excess is set to be borne by the supporters. As ever, many are responding with vigour to the call. The burden has been transferred into their hands in the form of a share issue that Fedotovas acknowledged was simply another term for a “donation” to the club, who can offer little in return. Understandably, some fans remain cautious. Others, however, are intent on saving the club now, and leaving the recriminations for another day. This is the course of action Fedotovas was encouraging yesterday as he sat down at Tynecastle with reporters.
It was possible to feel some sympathy for the director, who has been forced to be the bearer of bad news on probably too many occasions. At a time of such crisis, one would have thought that Romanov might be drawn back to Edinburgh. After all, he made it to Anfield for the club’s high-profile Europa League clash against Liverpool earlier this season.
Fedotovas revealed that Romanov is “definitely looking to come to Edinburgh”. He has even apparently asked for a “schedule of games”. The trouble is, there might not be too many left to pick from.
According to the official statement released by Hearts on Wednesday, there is “a real risk” that the club could play their last game next weekend against St Mirren.
“This isn’t a bluff, this isn’t scaremongering, this is reality,” the statement added. Fedotovas took a few steps back from this bleak pronouncement yesterday. He described himself as “confident” that the first tax bill of £449,692.04 will be paid next week, possibly with help from Romanov. However, he remained keen to promote the key figure of £2 million that the club stress is required to cover the capital shortfall for this season. The deadline for subscribing to the £1.79 million share issue is 19 December.
Asked yesterday whether the purchase of shares is really the equivalent of making a donation to save the club, Fedotovas answered: “Pretty much it is, yes”.
“But I won’t be able to say that they [the fans] are not getting a say,” he added. “We’re regularly meeting with the fans’ groups, listening to the fans’ groups.”
It is not about the club’s value, it is not about the financial calculations, stressed Fedotovas. It is about survival.
He criticised the actions of HMRC but admitted that this week’s announcement of the share issue was “probably a month late”.
If it had been launched, as hoped, in October, “then we would probably not be discussing any court petition at the moment”.
However, this revelation confirms that the share issue has always been designed to cover the outstanding tax bill, something which the club had been coy about when the new share issue was launched.
Rather, it was stated that the funds raised would be invested in the club’s “renowned youth development system”, while also providing working capital “as required”.
The club were taken by surprise by the winding up order received earlier this week, at the behest of HMRC.
“The petition was something that was really unexpected for us,” Fedotovas said. “We know the people at HMRC well, we keep up a constant dialogue and we were aware that a bill was coming, and we were aware that we were overdue with our share issue plans.
“They were aware that we were planning the share issue, we updated them on the situation.
“Their decision was not totally unexpected and I cannot understand the logic or the motivation behind it, when we showed that our solution in fixing the situation could work. Then, suddenly, we are facing this petition – and facing it two or three days after launching the share issue. You could say that possibly it might have killed the effort.”
Fedotovas hopes the opposite is now true; that it helps motivate those with the club’s interests at heart. And what of Romanov, he was asked? Does he feel any guilt?
“I’ve already mentioned, if we take the history, he came in here and made the decisions required to keep Tynecastle,” said Fedotovas.
“He made the decisions required to keep the club alive. That was seven years ago.
“Over those seven years, he’s invested a lot of money in the club. Wages have gone up, we’ve seen many great players, and we’ve seen many great games.
“We’re back in a situation where, in today’s reality, we’re sitting here with two Cup wins, European runs, Tynecastle as the home of the club – and seven years have passed.”
As we now hear of heroic efforts to bail out the club, the question for the Hearts supporters to ask themselves is: have the achievements of the Romanov years been worth it?
What is certain, particularly on this weekend of all weekends, is that a great club, a great institution, is worth saving. Head down to Haymarket tomorrow, Remembrance Sunday, and even non-devotees will understand why this is so.
Concern over the club’s own plight will be set aside as Hearts officials, players and supporters gather to remember those who fell in the Great War, a vast number that includes an entire team’s worth of valiant footballers from Tynecastle.