HIBS have hit back at what they claim is “baffling” negativity from supporters’ groups, saying that instead of sniping from the sidelines, the likes of BuyHibs could have been the driving force behind the move towards fan control if they had agreed to meet with board officials.
Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s annual general meeting and the official launch on 2 February of a scheme which could see supporters take a majority stake in the club, Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster said that she had been disappointed by the reaction from fans’ groups.
The newly-created Hibernian Supporters Limited (HSL) is a vehicle which could allow fans to buy 51 per cent of the shares in the club, which is currently owned by Sir Tom Farmer, who has a 90 per cent stake. However, supporters’ groups claim the scheme will not lead to genuine community ownership.
Dempster said: “Supporters have the opportunity to take a controlling interest in their club. We have a much better overall debt position and money raised will come directly back to the football club, with supporters on the board and new people around the club. I do find it quite hard to contemplate where the major angst is coming from.
“BuyHibs’ position is that they should have been the vehicle and it could have been them, but they refused to speak with us. I made an open invitation. We wrote to them on two or perhaps three occasions, but they refused to speak to us. Their position was that they would only speak to Sir Tom and would not speak to the club. They didn’t want to speak to us, so at the end of the day we had to do it another way.”
The fact that HSL is being championed by many who had previously been critical of the way things had been done at the club offers Dempster some solace.
BuyHibs is one of three bodies who claim to represent the rank and file fans who have become disillusioned by the current club hierarchy and have come out in opposition to the proposed share issue, but Dempster claims they are the vocal minority.
“I think supporters in general are happier at the moment,” she said, adding that there had already been 700 expressions of interest in the HSL scheme, but with £2.5 million required to give the fans the controlling interest, there is still no quick fix. She said she understood the fans’ concerns over the leadership of the club in recent years.
“There is an element of suspicion and, look, I said in my statement I know that people are hurting and have been hurting and I absolutely get that. Supporters will always want to know more, but sometimes a good thing is a good thing. Supporters can buy shares in the club, they can contribute to the Hibernian Supporters Limited and that money will go directly to us and help with the football. It means we can do more for our young players, we can do more with our academy, we can continue with the backroom staff we have brought in this season and the additional resources we have brought into play in this back-to-basics approach, and I’m really happy about that.
“I understand the question around personalities. The supporters are going to get something back here, they get an opportunity to take a controlling interest in the club or take a significant minority interest until they get to that.
“At some point you have to start that journey. You don’t go from zero to 51 overnight.”
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