Hearts must find another £250,000 to pay players

The Tynecastle club have a December deadline to avoid SPL action
The Tynecastle club have a December deadline to avoid SPL action
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HEARTS must raise an additional £250,000 by the middle of next month in order to avoid further disciplinary action from the Scottish Premier League, The Scotsman understands.

The money is required to pay two months’ salaries to playing staff, who agreed to defer their November wages until next month,

The Tynecastle club yesterday thanked their supporters for their fundraising efforts over the past few weeks, which have seen more than £600,000 paid into the current share offer.

But they insist they still have a long way to go before they are clear of all their current financial ­worries.

“The supporters have been phenomenal in the way they have backed the club in recent weeks,” a Hearts spokesman said. “While their efforts are greatly appreciated, we urge those supporters who have yet to contribute to help in any way they can.”

By raising that figure of more than £600,000 since the launch of the share offer on 27 October, Hearts will be able to pay the sum of just under £450,000 to Her Majesty’s Revenue & ­Customs by 3 December. HMRC had earlier been granted a ­winding-up order against the club for non-payment of that sum but subsequently agreed that payment could be made in two instalments.

Hearts are also currently in dispute with the government body over a tax demand of £1.75 million. But, with no date yet set for a tribunal to hear the club’s appeal against that demand, the immediate need is to raise that quarter of a million pounds by 16 December – the day the

players’ salaries fall due.

Many members of the playing and coaching staff have bought shares and taken part in other fundraising activities and all agreed to defer this month’s wages. The SPL, which has already placed a transfer embargo on the club, has accepted that agreement and decided not to discipline Hearts for non-payment of November salaries. But it can re-examine the matter should Hearts fail to keep their pledge to pay two months’ wages on the next payday.

Hearts have been gratified by the supporters’ ability to raise so much money since the share offer was launched and announced yesterday that a fans’ rally on Sunday raised £27,500 – all of which will be used to buy shares to be donated to the Hearts Youth Development Committee. But the club are also aware that they are still behind schedule if they are to sell the full allocation of shares by the closing date of 19 December.

Parent company Ubig, owned by Vladimir Romanov, have put ten per cent of their shareholding up for sale at 11p per share, meaning a complete sell-out would raise £1.795m. As the halfway stage of the offer period

approaches, the sum generated so far is still only about a third of that total.

“Hearts would today like to thank every supporter who has contributed to an excellent start to the club’s fundraising efforts as the club’s Share Offer reaches the halfway mark,” the club said on its website. “The Share Issue has now broken through the £600,000 mark after the first three-and-a-half weeks and this shows the dedication and love that we all have for Heart of

Midlothian Football Club.

“There is still a great deal to be done and we must keep up the good work that is happening in order to maintain our recovery plan and see us through to the end of the season. Only with your help will we deliver a positive outlook for the club.

“Your commitment so far is all the more impressive given the stern barriers that we have had to overcome along the way, whether that is demands from tax authorities, opportunism from those interested in making a quick profit for themselves, or the self-publicists and dreamers who value themselves more than the club.

“Our message to them is step aside, we have work to do and this work is for the club and nothing but the club. Anything else is simply an unnecessary distraction. The next four weeks are crucial now for us to navigate the club into safer waters. We do believe this can be done but it will not be done at any cost. We will not allow this club to fall into the hands of people who may have ulterior motives. This is as important to us as the value of the club.”

Hearts have turned down two offers for the club over the past week – one from the Foundation of Hearts group and another from former Livingston owner Angelo Massone. Although in dire need of new financing, they are confident that they can hold out in search of a suitable bidder – ideally, one who would give the supporters a substantial role.

“The responsibility that comes with running a football club that has more than 100,000 people backing it at key moments is not taken lightly by us and must not be taken lightly by those thinking about purchasing the club,” the statement continued. “Until the day we are convinced that such a person or group exists, then we will maintain our stated objectives of developing a club based on the best young players competing at the highest level for Hearts and their respective countries.”

The Hearts board have yet to decide what kind of fan involvement they think would work best for the club in future, and yesterday director David Southern held talks with Paul Goodwin of Supporters Direct Scotland, the government-funded body which promotes greater involvement of fans in the running of the game. “It’s like building a house,” Goodwin said of the talks.

“First you get planning permission – that’s when a club says it would like supporters to get involved. Then you start work on the foundations, and that’s what this meeting was about. Hearts have expressed an interest in community involvement, and I outlined various routes they could go down. We’ve not gone into any detail at this stage, but it was a positive meeting and a step forward. At our next meeting we could perhaps put a bit more meat on the bones.”

A date for that meeting has yet to be set, but both sides are happy to continue discussions. Goodwin has also had a meeting with representatives of Foundation of Hearts, but only on an advisory level. Supporters Direct want to avoid giving explicit backing to any one group of would-be owners, even a group such as Foundation of Hearts who have said their aim is for fans to take control of the Gorgie club.