HEARTS could go out of business before next summer if their current share issue fails to raise enough cash, John Robertson believes.
The club’s record goalscorer, speaking at Tynecastle yesterday after being unveiled as a 2012 Share Offer ambassador, said he was confident that Hearts had a workable cost-cutting plan to be implemented at the end of the season. But to be sure of getting there, he insisted, they had to come very close to reaching the target of £1.78million in share sales.
Hearts’ parent company Ubig, controlled by Vladimir Romanov, has put ten per cent of its shareholding up for sale to supporters. The club is already struggling to meet its obligations to staff and, as a result, has been placed under a transfer embargo by the SPL. The position could worsen if it loses a forthcoming tax tribunal over a sum of £1.75m and Robertson is in no doubt about the gravity of the situation.
“This is a call to arms for Hearts fans,” he said. “Because if the club can’t get very, very close to the full subscription then they’re going to struggle to see out the end of the season.
“It’s as simple and straightforward as that. For a few months now, possibly going on a year, there has been a shortfall in general. Hence the late payments and the embargo.
“This money will see the club keep its head above water until the end of the season, and then, when the next range of cuts come in, the club will be in a self-sustainable state. And then, obviously, they are in a much better financial situation, But the club needs to get to that situation. It is very, very grave.”
Having priced the shares at 11p each, Hearts are offering a minimum package of 1,000 shares. Robertson pointed out that if every supporter who was at the Scottish Cup final bought that package, the offer would be significantly oversubscribed.
“That’s the hope, that we can get as many people on board as we can to do it. And I also think it’s a bit of market research for Vladimir Romanov – he’s looking to see if the Hearts fans have the appetite to get involved more in the club and be part of running it. I’m pretty sure if this subscription is successful he’ll look forward to meeting more people and taking it forward.
“Will the fans ever own the club? I don’t know. You can only deal with one thing at a time, and the first thing is to show Vladimir Romanov that the Hearts fans have the appetite to back the club. But we need to do it now and we need to do it quickly, because if the club doesn’t get to the end of the season with the share issue, then it is in serious trouble.”
Robertson added that he had bought shares himself and that one of his sons had asked for some for Christmas. But he urged would-be purchasers to accept that it was not the sort of investment they should expect to yield a return. “My oldest boy told me he didn’t want money for Christmas, he wanted Hearts shares instead, because he wanted to do his bit. It’s great. I was very happy when he said that, because it showed that he’s got a wee bit of appetite in it as well. Hopefully, other people can do the same. The money I’m putting in is not thousands. It’s what I can afford to lose – because this is not a financial investment, make no bones about it. This is more of an emotional donation.
“I was fortunate to be here for 18 seasons. The club have asked people to put a little bit back in, and this is a chance for me to do that off the pitch.
“I just call on all Hearts fans to get together. We stand or fall together and this is when we need it. The club need it, and unfortunately need it quickly. I’m only going on the fact of what the cub needs to keep Tynecastle running and to continue to pay the staff. We don’t know the big picture from Vladimir.
“If this issue is successful and gets the club to self-sustainability on the player budget, there is still the £22m debt. We are where we were when he first came in. Whether you like or dislike the way Vladimir Romanov has gone about his business, the last years here have been a bit of a rollercoaster for everybody.
“He has thrown money that he could afford but the club couldn’t at players. He’s funded the players and it’s been a real rollercoaster ride of emotions.
“Was it right? Possibly not. I think his genuine dream was he felt he could not just challenge but overtake Celtic and Rangers. We all in Scotland know it was an impossible task, but he believed in it and he threw all this money at it.
“I think now he’s realised it was never going to happen, so he’s backed off. And he’s now looking for people out there, and saying, OK, I’ve done my bit to get the club back towards self-sustainability, let’s see how you take it forward.”