Hibs' survival is my desire

HIBS owner Sir Tom Farmer has told fans he wants to see the club remain at Easter Road, insisting there was no hidden agenda to remove it to the city outskirts at Straiton.

In a passionate address to around 300 supporters who have formed "forums" as part of the Leith outfit’s consultation process, Sir Tom hit out at what he described as the "snidey" comments aimed at him and the club’s board.

The fact that the multi-millionaire partially owns the land upon which a new stadium could be built has led to heated debate about Sir Tom’s role since it was revealed almost three months ago that Hibs and Hearts were in discussion about the possibility of sharing a ground.

The clubs decided to think the unthinkable given the burgeoning debts both are suffering - Hibs expect theirs to peak at between 16 million and 17m this season while Hearts are some 15m in the red - prompting the belief that moving in together while selling their respective grounds could be the answer.

But in a rousing speech at Easter Road last night, Sir Tom challenged his critics to say whether or not they believed him when he said: "Let me assure you there is no plan to go to Straiton, there is no hidden agenda, there is no secret game.

"There’s only one game and one game only, to ensure Hibernian Football Club survives. It started in 1875 and it’s my desire to make sure it’s there in 2075."

Since rescuing the club from receivership in 1991, Sir Tom has made it clear he is no football fan but, as a Leith boy, he recognised it’s importance both to the local community and Edinburgh in general.

He said: "Make no mistake, I passionately want Hibernian Football Club to be at Easter Road but even more passionately, I want Hibernian Football Club to survive.

"If you do not believe what I have to say tell me now and I will walk off this stage. There would be no point in me carrying on having any involvement in this club if people won’t accept what the board say and what I say.

"There is no hidden agenda."

However, as the Evening News predicted on Wednesday, fans expecting Sir Tom to use last night’s meeting to formally announce Straiton was "dead" were left disappointed as he resolutely refused to declare so even when former chairman Malcolm McPherson claimed the uncertainty caused by the affair had led to a reduction in season ticket and hospitality sales.

Pointing out that gates had plummeted 11 per cent last season even before Straiton became an issue, Sir Tom said: "There’s only one interest, to find the ways and means to stay at Easter Road.

"It would be wrong, however, not to look at Straiton. Football is in a tremendously difficult position and I would be the first to criticise the board if they had not said ‘let’s keep all avenues open’.

"The one thing I have always prided myself on is that I have never said ‘No’ to anyone who has come up with a proposition until I knew what was going to be the benefit or the disaster position of that proposition. It would be wrong not to look at Straiton but let’s not waste too much time talking about that because no-one evens knows if it’s viable.

"In 1993 we were going to talk about moving to Straiton but it never happened because it would not have been viable for a single club to go there. There was only one way it would ever have been viable and that was if it could have been shared.

"It never happened, the decision was made to refurbish and rebuild Easter Road and I’ve been proud to be involved in achieving that."

Making clear that any decision would be a matter for the board - both McPherson and his predecessor as chairman Tom O’Malley confirmed he had never interfered in the work of the football board - Sir Tom made an impassioned plea for supporters to work together to find a way to achieve their shared goal of staying at Easter Road.

He said: "Let’s work together to make sure we are here not next year, not in five years time or 55 years time but definitely in another 125 years time.

"No-one has a crystal ball, no-one knows what the future holds but we can learn from the best and do our best to direct what is going to happen in the future.

"Often there are things outwith our control but all I ask is that you work hard with the board. I will give as much support as I can.

"It is up to you and me to do whatever we can to protect this club’s heritage and to maximise the facilities we have here to ensure the viability of this club."