Brian Kennedy has confirmed that he is “on the end of a phone line” should Gordon McKie, or even the Foundation of Hearts supporters’ group, require his advice as efforts to bring Heart of Midlothian out of administration continue.
The owner of Sale Sharks rugby club has already been in contact with McKie, who is fronting a group of several businessmen interested in bidding for the stricken club. Hearts signalled their intentions to appoint administrators a week ago yesterday, and BDO were appointed, after the intervention of administrators for Ukio Bankas, Hearts’ major creditor, last Wednesday. Over the weekend it emerged that McKie, the former chief executive of the Scottish Rugby Union, has been preparing a bid for the club with several potential investors, some of whom are said to be Hearts supporters.
The Edinburgh-born Kennedy grew up a Hibernian fan and the businessman tried to buy the Easter Road club in the late 1990s. He did, though, attend Tynecastle Secondary School and he has no qualms about offering the benefit of his wisdom to McKie, as efforts to save Hearts continue.
After his ultimately fruitless involvement in the long-running saga of purchasing Rangers this time last year, Kennedy is well-versed in the complicated business of dealing with administrators running football clubs. Now that Scottish football’s financial plight has impacted upon his home city, he is eager to help. However, he says he is drawing the line at joining McKie’s group of investors, and instead is encouraging the involvement of the supporters.
“Gordon has been looking for a bit of advice and hopefully I have been able to give him some, and I will continue to do so if he desires,” said Kennedy. “There are good enough people involved, and it does not need me to get actively involved, for sure. I have a lot of other things on as well. I just hope that they can sort it out, and the Foundation of Hearts can get it together and help get it resolved. Because I firmly believe that the supporters are an option in this.”
The fact Kennedy already owns a sports club also made him an obvious person for McKie to turn to for advice. “And he is a friend, as much as anything,” added Kennedy. “Please do not read too much into it. I understood the situation. In the case of Rangers, I just wanted the club to end up in good hands. That was always my objective.”
Kennedy pointed out that an emotional association to Hibs did not preclude him from bidding for Rangers, and it should not bar him from advising those preparing a bid for Hearts. “This is more to do with helping out in a community,” he explained.
“In the meantime I wish them all the best,” he added. “I just hope they can get it sorted out very quickly, because speed is of the essence. I will help anyone. I will help the Hearts Foundation, I will help whoever asks me in any way that I can.”
The Foundation of Hearts released a statement yesterday urging supporters to keep backing the group’s efforts to finance a bid for the club, with the closing date for offers expected to be a fortnight away. Ian Murray MP, the independent chairman of the Foundation, is open to joining forces with other bidders, such as McKie’s consortium. However, the statement stressed yesterday that they are committed to buying the club and “taking it into fan ownership”.
While encouraging fans to continue purchasing season tickets, match tickets and merchandise from the club in order to ensure short-term survival, they stressed that their formal registration of interest in Hearts can only be realised “if the Foundation can demonstrate significant ongoing financial commitment on the part of the fans” via a monthly direct debit scheme, where fans can donate as “little as £10 per month”.
“Over 6,000 fans have already pledged and 50 per cent of those have now converted their pledge to a monthly Direct Debit,” said the statement. “It’s easy to do and you get your money back if the bid is not successful. There is nothing to lose and every single converted pledge inches the Foundation towards purchasing the club.”
Five notes of interest have been made to the administrators, including those from the Foundation and McKie’s consortium. Bryan Jackson of BDO yesterday welcomed McKie’s decision to go public with his involvement. “Transparency helps take away the fans’ fears or concerns that the people interested might not have the club’s best interests at heart,” said Jackson.
Meanwhile, the administrators are negotiating with Heriot Watt university over use of the training facility at Riccarton, where Hearts have been based since 2004. The club owes substantial rent arrears but it is understood the administrators are hopeful a deal can be agreed, to solve a problem of where to train ahead of the new season.