THE fans’ body hoping to assume control of Hearts say they will not walk away despite having their latest offer dismissed as “opportunistic”.
The Foundation of Hearts say they remain determined to “collaborate and connect” with the board as they seek to find the best way of convincing majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov to hand over the Tynecastle club free of debt and liabilities. Foundation chairman Alex Mackie says they have been given no indication that they are anywhere close to an agreement but are going into negotiations with “a hope and a prayer”.
“I’m not perturbed by any of the stuff that has been said,” claimed Mackie, who confirmed they had been working towards a fans’ takeover for well over a year but had yet to be given a realistic valuation by the Lithuanian banker. “We have to keep edging forward but we don’t know what would be seen as an acceptable offer. We have not actually heard from them what they are looking for other than the £50m that was talked about a couple of years ago.”
Independent football finance experts have ridiculed that figure, saying there is no way the club is worth anything near that amount, but there appears a lot of ground to cover before the Foundation of Hearts and the owner can find a compromise.
“We have made it clear that we want the club to be debt free and liability free. It would be helpful if they could signal precisely what they are looking for,” added Mackie.
With HMRC appeased for now, with the club being given until early next month to clear off the £450,000 due in PAYE and income tax, the immediate future of the Gorgie club has been secured, although the situation remains grave and Mackie says the Foundation will maintain dialogue with the club, but admits the process is moving slowly. Supporters Direct have been involved in the discussions with Romanov’s representatives but they have yet to secure a face-to-face meet with the majority shareholder.
“Communication can sometimes be difficult when dealing through intermediaries, and via emails etc. so maybe it would be good for him to meet with us,” said Mackie.
With Hearts fans digging deep to help bail the club out, Mackie and his colleagues involved in Foundation of Hearts believe the fans should have ultimate control of the capital outfit. He added: “The fact is there is not a white knight waiting to ride in and save the club, so we believe the best way of safeguarding the future of the club is to give control to the fans.”
But, that is likely to be a drawn out process, with Romanov making it clear he is not in the mood to accept a quick fix or cut his losses. The consortium comprising Edinburgh businessmen, local politicians and former player Donald Ford, is just as adamant that they are unwilling to entertain any price tag which exceeds the “low millions” and does not include all debts and liabilities being written off.
“The question is whether they are in a position to write off all the debt and, if so, then how much they would be looking for to give ownership to the fans,” said Mackie. “Once we know the scale of what they are looking for we can begin negotiating how that could be paid or whether they would be in a position to wait a period of time for some or all of it.
“We are determined to maintain dialogue but there’s no use in them just saying that our offer is derisory, when we have been asking them for a counter-offer
“But even if we were to acquire the club on behalf of the fans, we envisage a two to three-year period of stabilisation. We have an initial budget in mind, then we will have to find ways to expand the income base and look for trustworthy partners because we cannot allow the club to get back into this level of debt. We have to secure the future of the club.”
Having been operating beneath the radar for the past year, Foundation of Hearts are now launching their own website to keep Hearts fans informed of their intentions and their progress in the hope of getting the fanbase on board. They are also hoping that the fans maintain their generous backing for the club, and turn out en masse to support the team at the upcoming home matches, while they keep chipping away at the man who still controls the destiny of the club.