It was against this background of desperately needed change that the Foundation of Hearts was created in 2010 by a group of lifelong Hearts supporters. For three years, it has worked on the potential of creating a structure which would allow the fans to take over the club.
The thinking and planning which has been under way within the group since 2010 has been comprehensive, exciting and, potentially, life changing – in terms of both diehard Hearts fans and the entire structure of the professional sport in Scotland. While removing the club from any further management by overly optimistic owners has been the Foundation’s principle aim, a lot of excellent ideas have also been discussed which will be put to member clubs regarding the future state of the game in Scotland. It has been clear for years that skill standards have fallen, far fewer youngsters are taking up the sport, quality of coaching has declined and an inevitable drop in attendances has resulted. Little or nothing – aside from argument or disagreement – has been done to try and resurrect the situation before it is too late.
Most importantly, at Tynecastle the position is now dire. The facts are that the company has been technically insolvent for several years and recovering the deficiencies of cash which have built up is impossible. In the current market place, no increase in income will ever be enough to make the slightest dent in the amount by which the debts of the club exceed its assets. In the current financial climate, borrowing from banks is both non-negotiable and unsupportable. The only possible solution is for a “new” concern to take over control and run HMFC on an affordable annual budget.
If the Foundation plans can reach a stage of maturity with Hearts supporters which would allow this to go ahead, there is an opportunity to a) revolutionise the ownership and running of the club b) begin the establishment of a wider base of youth football in Edinburgh and the Lothians to increase the feeding of the best players to Tynecastle and – crucially – c) present and urgently discuss the possible restoration of the game within Scotland to other member clubs before any more time is lost.
Much time has been – and is being – spent on the structure of a possible fan “buyout”. This is clearly important, but the new shape of ownership still needs to display leadership as well as enjoying (and being aware of) input from the many groups which make up the Hearts support. While the new ownership should encompass every Hearts supporter, it is still essential that there should be integrity, honesty and leadership shown by the board of directors which is eventually appointed to restore fortunes at the club. Otherwise, the new concern could become nothing more than a talking shop which is overloaded with suggestions and does not have the authority to finalise and drive policy for both club and country. The structure which the Foundation has put forward meets both of these fundamentals, though – like all new starts – the group is fully aware that some things will not be “right first time” and flexibility will be required as things develop.
This is a defining moment in the club’s long, illustrious history – and time is short. There are no guarantees that Foundation of Hearts can provide a magical solution to the current position of the company. With the right structure, courage and sound principles in both the financial and football development aspects of the club, however, the Foundation does have every chance of working. It is up to Hearts’ supporters everywhere to grasp this – perhaps one and only – opportunity.