Hibernian supporters may have been dreaming of pounds flooding into the club’s bank account when news filtered through this week of Ron Gordon’s takeover, but for Leeann Dempster the excitement comes from the money that will no longer be lost from the coffers.
The United States-based businessman has not only bought out the majority shareholding of Sir Tom Farmer and Rod Petrie but has also reached an agreement to wipe out the Easter Road outfit’s debt, which was owed to Farmer at £500,000 per year in the form of a “mortgage” that was not due to be settled for another six years.
Hibs have been seeking “the right man, with the right plan and the right finances” to assume control for some time now and, although 63-year-old Gordon, who was born in Peru but has ancestors from Tomintoul in the Highlands, meets those criteria and has pumped in a seven-figure sum, there is unlikely to be much of a change from the club’s previous canny approach under Petrie.
An influx of big-money signings is certainly not on the agenda but, with Gordon singling out a new indoor facility at the club’s already impressive training centre and investment in the youth academy, chief executive Dempster believes there is still plenty to be excited by.
“I’m really looking forward to the future,” she said. “We’ve been in a very good place, I think, for a while, and I think we’re going to be in a better place, and that can only be a good thing.
“I don’t want to underestimate what we do at the minute. I’ve said a few times that our football budget is certainly at the highest it’s ever been. I don’t think we should underestimate the commitment the club has got at the minute.
“Ron’s determination, and he’s bringing that across loud and clear, is that the club is in a great position but he wants to make it better. I think that means making a lot of things better and that hopefully means we’re going to make the football as good as it can be.
“Not having the mortgage and being debt-free is a magnificent position to start from. The numbers are in the public domain, it puts us £500,000 ahead before we kick a ball. To be able to go to supporters to say ‘we’ve worked over a period of time and the club is entirely debt-free’ allows us options and opportunities. There are lots of great things you can pick out here, but I think the two things are a transitional ownership and being debt-free.
“That should drive the excitement. I don’t think you should underestimate what that means.”
Gordon and Petrie first had contact at the tail end of last year and the new executive chairman was the guest of the club in March for the visit of Rangers. It was a night that brought shame on the club when a supporter jumped pitchside to confront James Tavernier on the stroke of half-time. Yet Dempster insists the knock-on effect for the proposed buy-out did not enter her thoughts as she swung into action.
“It was irrelevant that anyone was sitting in the stand, to be honest. That was not a consideration when that happened,” she added. “I know folk will say ‘she only went on the telly because…’ But it was nothing to do with that. It was first of all to say how unacceptable it was, but also to defend the club and to show the club is absolutely diligent and determined to stop this.”
Meanwhile, Dempster admits she is “watching on with interest” after speculation linked Manchester United with a possible £50 million move for former Hibs hero John McGinn. However, she is adamant the sell-on fee due to the Easter Road club is secondary to the pride felt at the midfielder’s success south of the Border last season with Aston Villa.
“I’m watching with interest, just because I think John McGinn is a phenomenal talent,” she said. “There’s an immense amount of pride associated with John and, for me, it’s actually nothing to do with money, it’s just because we’re so proud of him.
“I’m so fed up of people comparing the game in Scotland to something else. The game in Scotland is thriving and the people in Scotland are thriving through football – and John’s a massive icon for that.
“Of course, should he move at a point in the future, I’ll get my calculator out and make sure I get the right number. But Aston Villa, to date, have been superb to deal with, so I’m sure there will be no need for me to send an invoice!”