HIBERNIAN’s new share offer to supporters received the backing of most shareholders at the club’s annual general meeting last night – although some members of the audience protested about the short length of time allowed to debate the issue.
The scheme to allow the newly-created Hibernian Supporters Limited (HSL) group to buy up to 51 per cent of the shares in the club was not put to a formal vote, having been approved by shareholders in a written resolution two weeks ago.
It was in any case sure to receive the approval of an overwhelming majority of the shareholding, as between them Sir Tom Farmer and club chairman Rod Petrie control around 98 per cent of the club. But many of the individuals in attendance in Easter Road’s Forthview Suite – a total of around 400 – also supported the motion.
Reporters were barred from the section of the meeting dealing with the share issue, because of new Financial Conduct Authority legislation according to the club. But some of those who have campaigned against the scheme spoke of a brief but ill-tempered debate between themselves and Petrie. In the end, Sir Tom intervened, and a proposal to allow more time to debate the matter was rejected.
“I think the overwhelming mood within the meeting was that they were behind the proposals for wider supporter ownership,” Petrie said after the meeting. “At one point in the discussion Sir Tom came to the microphone and made an impassioned speech, full of emotion.”
At that point, according to Petrie, a member of the audience asked for the debate to be extended for another half-hour. The chairman said he then asked the meeting whether they wanted to do so, but their mood was to call it a day.
Simon Pia, a campaigner against the board, said that Sir Tom’s speech was “rambling”, and suggested that more time should have been allowed to discuss the scheme. “They squeezed in 15 minutes for questions, which people felt was very little time at the end of a meeting which had lasted about two hours,” he said.
“I think they were rattled and unconvincing.”
Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster said earlier this week that around 700 people had already expressed an interest in HSL. The share issue scheme will go live next week, with individual supporters becoming subscribers to the new body, and remain live until the end of August – although the club can extend that period if it chooses. HSL will accumulate funds, to be used to buy shares once they have reached a certain amount.
Earlier, the audience – the biggest attendance for many years – heard Petrie introduce the top table then sum up the last eight months at Hibs. Apologising again for the club’s being relegated at the end of last season, Petrie recalled the protests against him that were launched then.
“Images of hatred were beamed around the world from Easter Road stadium,” he said, before contrasting the state of the club then with how he sees it now. “We are once again a quality Premier club, albeit in the wrong division.”
Petrie also praised manager Alan Stubbs and thanked majority shareholder Sir Tom Farmer “for everything he’s done for our community and our club”. Both remarks were applauded.
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Non-executive director Bruce Langham introduced the accounts for the year ending 31 July 2014, in which Hibs suffered a loss of £815,000. These were approved without opposition.
Dempster then outlined some of the changes the club has undergone since she joined last summer, and said she believed things were moving in the right direction. “We’ve got a lot to look forward. We are confident that we’ll finish the season much stronger than we started it.”
Head of football operations George Craig followed with a lengthy speech explaining how the structure of the club now looked. “It is beyond a Premiership club structure in my opinion,” he said.
Stubbs followed with a resume of the season so far, in which he admitted that his playing squad had not been in the best shape at the start of the campaign. “The players weren’t in the condition they should have been in,” the manager said. “I believe we’re the fittest team in the league now.
“Where we are at this moment in time, to be sitting two points behind Rangers, I’m happy. Now we want to get into second place and put pressure on the team that’s at the top.”
Outside, before the meeting, around 30 supporters of the Hands On Hibs campaign group protested again the share issue. An advertising trailer proclaimed the message: “It’s not community ownership, it’s a shakedown. It’s not an investment, it’s a donation to a multi-millionaire.”