HIBERNIAN remain on a sound financial footing despite having racked up a hefty loss for the second year in succession, chairman Rod Petrie has insisted.
Their latest accounts show that, for the year ending 31 July, they were in the red to the tune of £840,000 following taxation, the result Petrie said of choosing to maintain Hibs as a “Premiership club” despite being relegated at the end of the previous season.
Collectively we have made some smart decisions and come out in stronger shapeRod Petrie
But that figure is a drop from the £1.2 million loss in the previous financial year, even although staff costs fell by a “modest” eight per cent to £3.4m in comparison to the £3.7m spent in the last year in the Premiership.
However, while admitting most eyes will be drawn to the profit/loss figure, Petrie insisted a closer reading of the accounts – copies of which were dropping through the letterboxes of shareholders this morning – revealed the club’s finances were strong.
A combination of debt restructuring, £6.3m owed to the Bank of Scotland having been cleared and replaced by a ten-year £5m interest-free mortgage from the parent company which had previously been owed £3m, and a successful share issue resulted in a cash balance of £2.7m, up by £1m.
In the six months from its launch in January to the end of July the share issue raised £500,000 with a further £40,000 brought in during August, lifting supporter ownership, including that owned by Hibernian Supporters Limited, from less than two per cent to a little more than 19 per cent.
Petrie told The Scotsman: “I think if you’d asked anyone looking in May 2014 at what was staring us in the face, to come out of it by July 2015 with the strength and financial security of the balance sheet we have, no-one would have predicted that – even me.
“So the people who have contributed and helped deserve a lot of credit for having rallied to support their football club in a very positive way and because of that we have been able to do the things we have done.”
Although the Hibs player and management team was leaner at the year end, 54 compared to 64 a year earlier, Petrie argued that under Alan Stubbs the squad contained greater quality while pledging to continue to support his head coach to strengthen further.
The sale of Scott Allan to Celtic, following a protracted pursuit by Rangers which disrupted Hibs’ start to the season, isn’t included in the latest figures nor are the arrivals of John McGinn, from St Mirren, and Dylan McGeough, from Celtic, all those transactions having taken place after the year end.
Petrie said: “We talked when we launched the share issue of the sporting ambition of the club and it’s a matter of record we paid training compensation to bring John to the club and obviously we agreed a fee with Celtic for Dylan.
“So we have been able to do things in support of Alan and the coaching staff, supporting the strategy we have to be that Premiership club in waiting.
“When you talk finances some people’s eyes tend to glaze over but the fact is Alan has been able to strengthen and enhance the squad and we have been able to deal with the difficult situation that was facing us.
“Collectively we have made some smart decisions and come out in stronger shape and that has given us the benefit of performances that have delighted everyone in the last few weeks. We are looking forward to that continuing and having a truly competitive finish to the season.”
Having missed out on promotion at the first time of asking, Hibs ending the season in second place in the Championship but unable to negotiate their way through the play-offs, the aim, naturally, is to regain Premiership status at the end of this campaign.
Petrie admitted Hibs had been left with the choice of “two ways to go” when confronted by that shock relegation.
He said: “The parachute payment [of £500,000] that was introduced as part of the play-off arrangement was there to try to avoid the worst ravages of being relegated but that payment in itself would not have been big enough to sustain a club like Hibernian through that process.
“So the contribution everyone has made, supporters in turning up to games, by buying season tickets, shareholders and new shareholders subscribing to shares and the financial restructuring have added to the strength of the football club and enabled us to do what everybody wanted, to maintain the vitality of the club, which is a major and important club in Scotland, to fight our way back to the Premiership.”
To that end, at a time when half-season ticket sales are said to be going well, Petrie added: “Without the exceptional level of income that comes from reaching a cup final or through significant transfer fee income, it is not possible for Hibernian to break even as a Premiership club outside the Premiership.
“We need to get ourselves promoted and people need to continue to help the football club by coming to games at Easter Road, Attendances have a double impact, helping the club financially but more importantly, helping the players on the pitch win games.
“That’s what we need to do, win games. Buying season tickets, half season tickets, contributing in any way they can to help the football club in this joint mission we have to get ourselves promoted.”
Hibs’ annual shareholders meeting is at Easter Road on Tuesday, 15 December.