CHARLIE Reid has welcomed the prospect of greater supporter involvement at Hibernian while also expressing hope that the initial plan for a 51 per stake can lead to complete fans’ ownership.
“I’m a collectivist, I believe Hibs is best run by the support,” Reid, one half of the Proclaimers, said. A company created to acquire new shares in the club, called Hibernian Supporters Limited [HSL], was launched yesterday after an undertaking by Hibs to widen the club’s ownership base by issuing new shares worth £2.5 million, diluting the holding company’s stake to below 51 per cent.
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“My ideal would be that the entire club, 100 per cent, is run by supporters,” said Reid, one of seven founding directors of HSL. “That isn’t on offer at the moment but there is a change under way. For the first time in quarter of a century, Hibs is opening up.”
The initiative was hailed as “another significant milestone in the history of our great club” by Kenny MacAskill, the MSP for Edinburgh Eastern who was yesterday unveiled as the chairman of HSL. “Our objectives are simple. To buy and hold shares for the benefit of supporters of our great club.”
Supporters will be able to make contributions to HSL, which, in turn, will be used to acquire shares in Hibs. There is a binding legal agreement between HSL and Hibs that guarantees the transfer of shares on receipt of funds. These will be used to further what a statement described as the club’s “sporting ambitions” and will not be directed to current shareholders.
Fundraising will begin on 2 February, following the club’s AGM. Details of how to participate can be found here:
Annual contributions will be set at a minimum of £225 per annum or £18.75 per month. Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster, hired in the summer by chairman Rod Petrie to facilitate the move towards greater supporter involvement, stressed that no targets regarding uptake had been set.
“I think it is a proposition that will excite supporters,” she said. “We know this is what they want. They have told us that. They want a deeper relationship and we are offering them that. We have a good group of people on board to help us deliver that.”
Included among the seven directors of HSL are playing legends Jackie McNamara and Pat Stanton, as well as Stephen Dunn, a former Hibs director. MacAskill revealed he has held discussions with fellow politician Ian Murray, chairman of the Foundation of Hearts organisation which helped steer the Tynecastle club out of administration and into the hands of current owner Ann Budge. Plans are in place for full supporter ownership at Hearts within five years.
“There have been engagements with fans groups elsewhere, whether it’s what is going on at Hearts or other fans organisations like at Motherwell,” said MacAskill, who warned “there are no sugar daddies out there, but there are a lot of sharks”.
He did, however, pay tribute to Hibs owner Sir Tom Farmer, who stepped forward and “saved the club from being consigned to the history books, and from the hands of our neighbours across the city, acts for which all Hibernian supporters will be forever in his debt”.
MacAskill added: “I think Hibs are in a much better position than Hearts. We have not gone into administration with all the challenges that faced.
“We have an outstanding stadium and training facility, the challenge is to deliver on the park and to deliver the growing fan influence and ultimate fan ownership. Can we get to fan ownership overnight? No. But we can get growing influence.”
Reid urged fans to back the initiative and re-ignite a club where footballing ambitions have suffered in recent times.
“I would be lying if I said I thought there was a perfect model,” he said. “What Hearts have done is very interesting but their circumstances were completely different from ours.
“I would hate to see Hibs shrink as a club,” Reid added. “To be honest, I think the club has shrunk over the last couple of years. As much as there is that’s been put right, with a fantastic stadium and training facility, and as much as I think Rod and Sir Tom have done fantastic things with the club, I think the football ambition of the club has fallen backwards.
“If we want to change that – I would like to see Hibs competing for the Premiership title – then we need a very efficient club, but also a model where the fans put in money every month.
“They’ll do that because it’s going to the football club. If we want better goalies, centre halves or strikers, there is no point in sitting on the sidelines moaning about it any more.
“We buy into the club and, ultimately, we have the casting vote.”
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