JOINT administrator Trevor Birch has appealed to the Scottish Football Association to refrain from hammering another nail in Heart of Midlothian’s coffin.
With the SFA set to rule later this month on a punishment to be meted out to Hearts for entering administration, Birch, of the firm BDO, has called on the governing body to concentrate on tracking down the real miscreants rather than hamper the club’s survival efforts by imposing a fine.
The joint administrator has experience of clearing up after reckless financial management has brought a football club to its knees. Birch was an administrator at Portsmouth after the club collapsed in debt while owned by Vladimir Aleksandrovich Antonov, a Russian-born banker who had business interests in Lithuania.
Hearts have been issued with a notice of complaint by the SFA for breaching disciplinary rule 14, which covers insolvency events. The club have until Monday to respond and a hearing has been set for Thursday, 18 July.
However, it won’t be Vladimir Romanov who turns up to help plead the club’s case. Little has been heard of late from the Russian-born, Lithuanian-based former owner of the club, whose financial collapse precipitated Hearts’ severe struggles.
He deserted the club long ago, and even those Lithuanian directors he left in charge quickly disappeared after signing the administration papers just over a fortnight ago. Of the old regime, only David Southern remains, and he sat by Birch’s side yesterday as the joint administrator called for the managing director’s former colleagues to be banned from football for life.
“The club is dying,” Birch said. “It needs help, it needs support to recover from the position it’s in. What it doesn’t need is another whack on the head.”
Bryan Jackson, Birch’s colleague at BDO, has already described the possibility of a financial penalty as amounting to a “disaster” for the club. A year ago Rangers were fined £50,000 for breaching the same rule and entering administration. Dunfermline, however, avoided a fine when they entered administration earlier this year, and instead were handed a registration embargo on players over the age of 21 until 31 December.
“If you go to the extreme and say, actually, we’ll just get rid of Hearts and go right until the end and obliterate them, well what does that do for Scottish football?” asked Birch, who urged the SFA to apply some sound judgement when the case is heard. “You’d hope they [the SFA] would look at each administration on the basis of facts and circumstances,” he said. “Here, we are left with a club which was technically or physically the victim of the perpetrators who have done the damage and then disappeared.”
Asked to explain who exactly he meant by “perpetrators”, he added: “Well, we are here now, we are in administration. Something has happened, hasn’t it? Whoever were the directors of the club, that is who I am talking about in terms of perpetrators
“Go and fine them and ban them from football for life,” he added. “But to actually punish the club which is left and which has done nothing is a very difficult thing.”
Birch has not spoken to Romanov, he confirmed yesterday. The main communication channel with Lithuania is through the lawyer of the administrators for Ukio Bankas, the club’s largest creditor.
“There is no problem there,” said Birch. Romanov, though, is long gone. “There’s no communication, no need,” said Birch. “The administrators in Lithuania will be handling it all.
“Its not my job to look at what happened historically,” he added. “It’s my job to keep the club afloat.”
With this task in mind, the administrator yesterday applauded the continuing efforts of the fans, who have bought 2,800 season tickets in the two-week period since the administrators were appointed. Birch described the response as “fantastic”. The cash injection has been boosted by the £30,000 raised by the supporters at a rally at Tynecastle on Sunday, while the readiness of several players to take wage cuts means the administrators now have the confidence to sit down with prospective buyers.
The deadline for bids is 12 July, and then a preferred bidder will be selected. Discussions with interested parties are still on-going.
“We’ve had interest in terms of people picking up the phone – about ten or 12,” said Birch. “But we’re in regular discussions with three or four [parties].”
Significantly, BDO have permitted one of the interested parties, the Foundation of Hearts supporters’ group, to hold a media event at Tynecastle today.
The Foundation are expected to give further information about their efforts to buy the club, while an e-mail from the group will also be distributed to 50,000 supporters via the club’s database this morning.