The Scottish Premier League have acted according to their rules and disciplined the Tynecastle club in a way which seems fair and appropriate.
It certainly could have been worse. Yesterday’s Evening News revealed how at least two SPL clubs wished for an 10-month embargo to be applied through to September 2013. Such a severe sanction would almost certainly have been appealed but Hearts will not contest yesterday’s judgment, made by an SPL sub-committee of chief executive Neil Doncaster, secretary Ian Blair and the Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson.
Two hearings in three days at Hampden Park have seen the club reprimanded for September’s wage delay and now banned from signing players for two months for re-offending in October. That the SPL have not over-reacted shows, to an extent, that they are willing to understand the circumstances surrounding the cashflow troubles at Tynecastle.
Now is the time to ensure there is no repeat. Sanctions will only increase from now on if Hearts continue to fail to pay players on time. It is imperative that funds are in place to pay every member of the football department at Riccarton on November 16, and on the 16th of each month thereafter. That may be easier said than done but this week’s actions by the SPL must be viewed as a wake-up call in Gorgie, if not in Kaunas.
Ukio Bankas Investment Group, Hearts’ Lithuania-based parent company, are no longer providing the club with funds to meet shortfalls in income. The reasons and wisdom behind that decision could be debated until the new transfer embargo expires in two months’ time. The fact is, when the maroon well runs dry, it really runs dry now. Club officials are commendably attempting to balance books and ensure funds are in place to pay players and coaching staff each month.
Like any business, Hearts rely on income from third parties such as sponsors and other companies. All of this was made clear to the SPL this week and perhaps led them to refrain from a more severe sanction.
“I don’t think it is unfair and I accept there had to be sanctions to some degree,” said former Hearts chairman Leslie Deans. “Equally, it is a little bit disappointing because the people at the club have tried as hard as they can to rectify the situation.
“While I can accept that Hearts should not be able to go into the transfer market to sign anyone, it would have been nice if we were able to sign somebody who is not with another club at the present time. In terms of the severity of the punishment, whilst I realise it could have been worse, you have to consider that the offence Hearts committed is not the most severe. They have rectified the situation on both occasions that it (delayed wages) happened.
“If you were to draw a parallel between Hearts and what happened at Rangers, then the Rangers case is far worse. They have gone, leaving a trail of debts which are highly unlikely ever to be paid because the company went into liquidation. Their creditors, large and small, will never see a penny of the money that is due to them.
“Contrast that with Hearts’ situation. Hearts have paid every penny that was due. Partly, I think the club has been treated slightly harshly although I accept it could have been worse. As a result, we maybe just have to take this on the chin and get on with it.”
There is a feeling within the corridors of Tynecastle that the financial situation is bottoming out right now. Hearts were left to go cold turkey by UBIG at the start of the year and have muddled through despite a wage bill which was 116 per cent of turnover in the latest club accounts released in May (wages £8.03m, turnover £6.9m). Only senior officials can be blamed for allowing salaries to reach such an unsustainable level but everything is now being done to reduce those costs. “It is well known that huge efforts have been made at Tynecastle to ensure financial obligations can be met every month,” added Deans. “Hearts were well aware of the need to do that. Up until recently, Hearts had funding from their major shareholder but that is no longer available.
“That is not a criticism of UBIG, who have consistently funded the club over a period of years, it’s simply reality of where we are right now. The club know this and the club have been making great strides towards financial accountability over the last year or so.”
Some high-earning players will leave when their contracts expire at the end of the season and youth academy graduates will be promoted in their place. The long-term aim is that some of that home-grown talent can be sold at a later date once they have developed into assets. Other operational costs will continue to be cut as Hearts do everything in their power to stay self-sufficient and avoid incurring the SPL’s wrath again.
Yesterday’s statement from the league’s governing body read: “A sub-committee of the Scottish Premier League Board today considered a charge against Heart of Midlothian Football Club under SPL Rule A6.21, which concerned the club’s failure to pay coaching staff and players on time in October. The club satisfied the sub-committee that all outstanding wages from October had now been paid and, accordingly, the player registration embargo, which arose from that failure, has now been lifted.
“The charge under SPL Rule A6.21 was admitted by the club. The decision of the sub-committee was to make Heart of Midlothian Football Club immediately subject to a further player registration embargo of 60 days. The club will be embargoed from registering any professional players up to, and including, 23 December 2012.”
Hearts confirmed their decision not to appeal, with a club spokesperson saying: “We are satisfied that this matter has now been resolved and accept the sanction imposed by the sub-committee.”