THE Foundation of Hearts has cleared any number of obstacles since it was originally established in 2010, but yesterday represents its biggest success to date.
The vote by Hearts’ creditors and shareholders in favour of a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) has taken the Foundation two steps closer to its goal of running the club, and its chairman Ian Murray, while quick to point out that the process still has some way to go, was pleased and relieved by the progress made.
“I’m delighted to get this far,” Murray, the Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South, said after the two meetings voted in favour of a CVA. “In any administration process there are significant losers, particularly in this one, so we’ve got to remember that today. But in terms of taking the club forward, these were the two biggest hurdles and now we are over them it’s a case of getting the rest delivered.
“I don’t want to raise expectations, but if you’re putting a gun to my head and asking if I’m more confident than this time yesterday, then I suppose the answer is yes. But there’s still a long way in this process to go.
“We’re keen to make sure fans’ expectations don’t get too heightened on the basis of what’s happened today, as we’re dealing with a different jurisdiction and who knows what’s going to go on over there,” he continued, referring to the fact that Lithuanian firm Ukio, Hearts’ largest shareholders, still have to reach agreement with their creditors before selling out to the Foundation. “We just need to take each stage as it comes.
“Our biggest doubt at the minute is the Ubig creditors’ meeting, but they’ve only gone into official administration recently so that will take some time and that’s a process they need to go through. Given they’ve not done anything today other than abstain, we’re pleased they’re on board.”
Since being founded by a group of Edinburgh business people, prominent among them being Alex Mackie, the Foundation has grown almost out of recognition. The most significant change came earlier this year when the original group was joined by every other Hearts supporters’ organisation - the Federation, the Shareholders’ Association, the Supporters’ Trust, the Youth Development Committee and Save Our Hearts.
The appointment of Murray as an independent chairman ensured the more harmonious running of the organisation, and a first-rate public-relations campaign then began to attract a mass membership. Around 7,600 people are now members of the Foundation, contributing a monthly amount by direct debit.
Murray expressed his gratitude to all those who have signed up so far, but pointed out that the more people who join, the more secure the future of the football club will be. “We’ve got 7,600 already, and we’re collecting [direct debits] each month at 99 per cent. You’ll always have one or two failings as it’s a difficult time of year for everyone in the run-up to Christmas, and the economy’s still in a difficult position and job security is undermined by the economy.
“So we’re really pleased with what we’ve got. Hopefully we’ll be able to increase those pledges as that makes the deliverability easier.
“We reached 4,000 and everyone thought that was a great milestone. Then we reached 5,000, then 6,000, then broke through 7,000 and we’re now at 7,600.
“We’ve stabilised there since we began collecting in September, so we’re pretty pleased with where we are, but I can’t really put a figure on where we’d want to go. If we get 25,000 it’s easy. If it’s 10,000 it’s slightly easier [than at present]. Anybody who’s not pledged yet should do so.”
As well as urging more supporters to commit their cash to the Foundation, Murray knows that Hearts administrators BDO may make their own appeal for funds if they are still in charge of the club when their current budget runs out some time in late February or early March. He refused to commit himself when asked what the fans’ priority should be.
“That’s a fluid situation that BDO will need to answer. A draw or a win on Sunday [against Celtic in the Scottish Cup] makes the finances better. A win in the semis of the League Cup” – where Hearts play Inverness Caley Thistle – “makes it better.
“If the fans will continue to buy tickets, merchandise and the other stuff, that keeps the club going. BDO got a real ribbing right at the start of the process by saying it [the exit from administration] could be January or February, but it looks as if that might be the case. So one step at a time.”