Next few days critical in battle to save Hearts

Hearts managing director David Southern leaves Hampden yesterday. Picture: SNS
Hearts managing director David Southern leaves Hampden yesterday. Picture: SNS
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HEART of Midlothian managing director David Southern yesterday admitted the club’s financial position was worse than first feared and said it would require a “significant effort” for them to survive beyond the close season.

As Hearts released a statement detailing the scale of their crisis and placing all of their players up for sale, Mr Southern was at Hampden to attend a general meeting of Scottish Premier League clubs.

He made no attempt to play down the scale of the problem, revealing that a 20 per cent drop in season ticket sales and the collapse of parent company Ubig in Lithuania had been major factors in Hearts having to issue another plea to supporters for financial support.

He admitted: “What we do over the next few days is going to be very important for the future of the club.”

Mr Southern said: “It’s a bad place we are in at the moment. We’re just going to have to try to get through the situation and reach the start of the season, when the income streams will hopefully start flowing again.

“Most of the season ticket money is accounted for. We always knew there was going to be a dry spell through June and July. But, for us, it’s a difficult, difficult time at the moment.”

The Hearts players are due to receive their monthly salaries today but, not for the first time, the club looks set to default on that commitment.

“A day is a long time in football, so we will cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said. “It is a doubt at the moment, yes. We would be hopeful of the club getting through the summer, but it will require a significant effort. It’s something every single person at Tynecastle is working hard on, trying to get through to the start of the season.

“Ubig’s position hasn’t been so much of an issue for us in terms of the statement that was given by them yesterday, providing a bit of reinforcement to our efforts to preserve Heart of Midlothian Football Club.

“However, the overall uncertainty has hindered our revenue streams. That’s why we’re in this position today and why we’ve put out the statement today.

“We just wanted to make sure that those who are in a position to aid the club could potentially step forward and do that.”

With fans having already raised more than £1 million from a share issue last December, many may be reluctant or simply unable to dip into their pockets again.

“I can absolutely understand why fans are holding back,” agreed Mr Southern. “No-one would try to force the hand of a supporter to buy a season ticket, merchandise or hospitality. All we’re doing is just letting the support base know that we could do with their assistance, we could do with their support out of season to help us make it to the new season. The key thing is to make sure the club goes forward unscathed. That’s what we’re trying to do.

“Can we keep asking fans for more? That’s a question best directed to the supporters themselves. All we can do is be honest and let them know the position of the club. The board of directors have issued a statement that is as trans­parent as it can be to supporters and partners.”

Mr Southern said no player would be sold at a knockdown price. “We will only sell the team if there are offers for the players,” he said. “What we did want to do is make it known that the squad is a revenue stream.

“First and foremost, we need to look at Heart of Midlothian Football Club as a business. And one of the main revenue streams for a football business is through transfer incomes.

“If there is any club prepared to make realistic offers – and I must stress that they would have to be realistic, we wouldn’t sell any player for next to nothing – then we would sell.”

Asked if Hearts are now closer than ever to going into administration, Mr Southern said: “I don’t want to predict where we are in terms of that. But I’m looking at what we can do to aid the club, to get the message out there that this is a difficult time. What we do over the next few days is going to be very important for the future of the club.”

Hibs chairman Rod Petrie offered qualified sympathy to his Edinburgh rivals. “It’s a concern for every­body connected to the club that there is such uncertainty at this time,” said Petrie.

“The situation is one where decisions have been made and those that made the decisions are accountable for where they are.”