CHAIRMAN Rod Petrie last night rejected claims that debate over a proposed share plan had been stifled at Hibernian’s Annual General Meeting and accused one supporters’ group of “aggressive guerrilla tactics” against “key figures” at the club.
Some shareholders were left frustrated when their pleas to extend the time allocated to discuss the share scheme at Wednesday night’s feisty AGM were rebuffed. A protest against the share offer, which will allow the newly-formed Hibernian Supporters Ltd (HSL) to buy 51 per cent of the club’s shares, also took place outside Easter Road before the meeting.
The Hibernian Supporters Association, Shareholder Association, Former Players Association, BuyHibs and Hands On Hibs have all raised opposition to the scheme and they are expected to gather together next week to consider their next move.
However, Petrie told The Scotsman last night the Hibs board has been encouraged by the response to the board’s plan to widen fan ownership and while he called for “constructive dialogue” to continue, he singled out the group Hands on Hibs for criticism over the way they have voiced their opposition.
Petrie said: “The club has consulted widely with supporters and supporter groups and all have been invited to meet with directors. It started in June with Simon Pia, Paul Kane, Kenny McLean and Mike Riley and has continued up to the AGM held on Wednesday evening.
“The club welcomes calls for constructive dialogue between supporter groups, including Hibernian Supporters Limited, to get behind the share issue announced in December last year.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS
“It has to be hoped that the call for talks from Hands on Hibs, a group which directors have met on more than one occasion, will be matched by a cessation of their aggressive guerrilla tactics which has included making false and defamatory accusations against key figures involved with the club and deriding other groups of supporters. Now is a time for unity amongst everyone who cares passionately about the club.
“It is disingenuous to suggest that discussion of this issue has been restricted to a few minutes at the AGM. We have at all times welcomed those who have wanted to speak with us and engage with us. Some have chosen to do so, and others have not. That is their right. But to suggest there has been no opportunity to engage in constructive conversation, to learn more about the plans, and to be reassured on any aspect of them, is simply not true. We are very encouraged at the response to the board’s plan to widen ownership from within the Hibernian support.
“The share issue opens for applications on Monday. We would be very happy to have everyone on board at the start of the journey, but we accept some people may not participate or may take more time to get on board.
“We have already received completed applications to purchase shares direct, and are aware that hundreds of people have already noted their interest via the Hibernian Supporters website.”
While the club have indicated that around 700 have expressed an interest in supporting Hibernian Supporters Limited, the vehicle set up to buy shares on behalf of supporters, a handful of groups have hit out at the plans.
Their concerns centre on a perceived lack of influence fans would have under the scheme and the move that saw £9.3 million of debt due to the bank and holding company amalgamated into one £5 million mortgage that is payable, interest free, to HFC Holdings, a company owned by Sir Tom Farmer and Petrie.
The groups contend that the debt has been built up through mismanagement at boardroom level and that fans should not have to pay back the money to Farmer, a multi-millionaire.
Hands on Hibs (HOH), yesterday repeated the call they made at the agm for the share scheme to be postponed to allow further discussions.
Making a plea for “calm heads and common sense”, HOH said: “Hands On Hibs today call on Tom Farmer and the Hibs board to pause their HSL scheme and enter into dialogue with all supporters groups with a view to forming a working group to address the legitimate concerns many supporters have over the lack of transparency regarding the £5 million debt to the holding company, the fact that Farmer holds Easter Road Stadium as security over this new debt and the structure of the HSL scheme.
“Hands On Hibs believe we are on the precipice. The club’s decision to launch the HSL scheme as a fait accompli was an error. That error was compounded by insisting on opening the scheme within days of the agm with no meaningful dialogue with supporters. It is important the club get this right, not that we get it quickly.
“The board’s actions are dividing the support. Hands On Hibs are asking for a pause so calm heads and common sense can prevail.
“Let us get everyone around the table and find agreement on how the club moves forward – together. Hands On Hibs urge Tom Farmer and the board to think again. Take a pause and consider the possibility that an inclusive approach could produce a better deal for Hibernian going forward.”
It is understood the dissenting fans’ organisations will now come together early next week and, although likely to remain as separate groups, are expected to discuss collectively how best to take their campaign of opposition forward.
HSL will start gathering members, who will have to pay a minimum of £18.75 a month or £225 per year, from Monday, with the aim of eventually attracting the £2.5 million needed to purchase a 50 per cent stake in the club.