HEART of Midlothian Football Club has severed all ties with sponsor Wonga in a bid to distance itself from the controversial payday-loan company.
The club’s corporate team is understood to be seeking new sponsors for next year, two months after unveiling a new home kit featuring a blank maroon strip in tribute to members of the 1914 Hearts team killed during the First World War 100 years ago.
Wonga said it had agreed to break the partnership with Hearts following talks with the club, despite having years left to run on its contract.
It is understood perimeter boards advertising Wonga’s name will be removed from Tynecastle ahead of the first game of the season, while the new away kit was also revealed to be sponsor-free – sporting a Foundation of Hearts crest in place of a sponsorship logo as a “thank you” to fans for helping keep the club alive.
Hearts, under new ownership in the form of majority shareholder Ann Budge, came out of administration on Wednesday.
“It sends the signal out that things are moving forward and that things have changed,” a source close to the club said.
“Given that the club has just come out of administration and wants to grow its fan base and get the team back to where it wants to be in terms of football, they would prefer a more acceptable shirt sponsor.”
Ian Murray, chairman of Foundation of Hearts and Labour MP for Edinburgh South, said the new kit represented a return of a respected family club.
He said: “The club needs to lead by example and our shirt sponsors should reflect the aspiration to be the best family club in Scotland. Our supporters deserve nothing less.”
It is believed Wonga had already drawn up a draft deal for the away strip before being asked to break the sponsorship agreement it has held with Hearts for the past four years.
Wonga, the market leader in the payday lending sector, said it had agreed to walk away from the contract at the end of the season when the decision to remove all logos from the strip offered a “natural point” for the partnership to end.
The firm has come under fire over the high interest loans it offers to cash-strapped customers, with its sponsorship of Hearts sparking complaints from parents who told club officials they did not like their children wearing the Wonga logo.
Unveiling the home strip in April, Hearts insisted the blank shirts were a “mark of respect to the team which went to war” – echoing the plain tops which would have been worn at the time by the team who joined McCrae’s Battalion following the outbreak of the Great War – and claimed that Wonga was “fully in tune with our views”.
A spokesman for Wonga insisted it would not rule out a new partnership with Hearts in future years, pointing to its support of the club when it was under financial pressures.
“The club was clear that it wanted to have no sponsor on the shirt for the season,” said a Wonga spokesman. “That provided a natural break for our sponsorship. We have an open mind about future sponsorship opportunities and working together, but this seemed like a natural point for us to stand aside.
“We had rights to extend the deal, but the club was very keen to take the sponsor off the home shirts, so we agreed to end it.”
He added: “We are aware some people have strong opinions [about Wonga] but we are proud of our years with the club. We have always been very supportive of the club and advanced them sponsorship money during the administration period.”
Payday lenders have faced heavy criticism in recent months for targeting vulnerable people and charging interest which can exceed 5,000 per cent a year.