Hearts support sad over move but willing to be persuaded

PROMINENT Hearts supporters have reacted positively to yesterday's launch of a questionnaire about a possible move away from Tynecastle - although in many cases it is the manner of the consultation exercise, not the potential departure from the club's current home, which has elicited praise.

Both former directors of the club and office-bearers in supporters' organisations have favourably contrasted the questionnaire on the club's website with the attempt by former Hearts chief executive Chris Robinson to sell Tynecastle and move to Murrayfield. After prolonged protests from supporters, that planned move was cancelled when Vladimir Romanov, the current majority shareholder, bought Robinson's shares.

This time round the club is anxious to be seen to be consulting the fans on every aspect of a possible new stadium, and the survey includes questions about location, facilities and the possible use of the ground by other sports or for concerts. The club has said it has not ruled out staying on at Tynecastle, but has briefed supporters' groups on what it believes is the compelling economic case for a move.

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Former chairman Leslie Deans welcomed the chance for supporters to have input into how a new ground might look, and suggested that with careful planning it could incorporate some of the aspects which have made fans so fond of Tynecastle. "Emotionally I'd be sad to finally move away from Tynecastle," Deans said.

"It's been our home for 125 years, and so many people have said how atmospheric it can be. But if we do leave, who's to say that atmosphere could not be recreated elsewhere?

"When it was built all those years ago, Tynecastle was a greenfield site, but it certainly isn't that now. There are so many things Hearts can't do there now because of the tight nature of the ground and the surrounding area. I think any new stadium would also have to be a greenfield site, probably to the west or south of the city where so many Hearts supporters live.

"Turn the clock back to the farce of a few years ago when we were told Murrayfield was the way forward. This time is different, because the fans are being consulted - they're the club's lifeblood and without them it's nothing."

Iain MacLeod, a leading member of the Save Our Hearts group which campaigned against the proposed move to Murrayfield, said he thought the bulk of supporters would accept that it was futile to insist on staying at Tynecastle whatever the cost.

"Our aim in Save Our Hearts was the long-term survival of the football club, and if a new stadium is a necessary part of that survival I don't think anyone would complain," MacLeod said."If we stay at Tynecastle and die, that would be ridiculous, so I don't think a move to a purpose-built stadium would have too many fans up in arms.

"This is a completely different approach to the one taken by Chris Robinson. Then he said 'We're moving to Murrayfield, and there is no Plan B'. At least this time the fans are being consulted, and there are multiple-choice questions.

"We've managed to stay at Tynecastle for another five or six years after Robinson would have had it sold. If it has come to the end of its useful life and there is a better option to be the club's home for the next 100 years or more, of course it has to looked at.

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"There is a question where the money would come from - only so much will be raised from the sale of Tynecastle. So things are a bit vague at the moment, but in general a move is something that has to be considered."

Derek Watson of the Hearts Supporters Trust suggested that Romanov had deserved more help for his previous plan to redevelop Tynecastle, and also praised the club for consulting fans. "My preference would be to stay at Tynecastle, but the club may well have no alternative but to look into a move," he said.

"Vladimir Romanov has thrown a lot of money at trying to redevelop Tynecastle and has not had any support from the council or the planning authorities. He must have spent a couple of million at least on consultation and planning.

"We're in the same position now as we were in six years ago, but at least we're not going down the Robinson route of being told we're going to Murrayfield. If there does have to be an alternative to Tynecastle it's got to be the right alternative. What that is I don't know at the moment, but this consultation with fans is certainly preferable to what was done the last time."

The questionnaire will be online until 1 July, when the results will begin to be analysed by Hearts and the City of Edinburgh Council in what the club has called "a joint study". The council has yet to commit any resources to the project other than agreeing to participate in that study, but yesterday deputy council leader Steve Cardownie, who is himself a Hearts fan, said he understood why the club felt a move could be necessary.

"Things in the development world have moved on, so I'm not surprised if Hearts have come to the view the best solution is to move to a new stadium," Cardownie said.

"Tynecastle is a stadium built for the last century - no car park, surrounded by tenements. It will be a shame if we have to go, but I know they genuinely wanted to stay at Tynecastle, so if they deem it necessary to move, it will be necessary."

Hearts have not specified where they want to move to, but former club chairman Lord Foulkes suggested the intention was to work with Sir David Murray, who owns land on the edge of the capital."My initial reaction is to support staying where we are, to feel we are part of the community there and the ethos of the club depends on being there, but it depends on where the alternative site is. I suspect what is being planned is David Murray wants to breach the green belt and has been trying for some time to get a development on the site he owns on the outskirts of the city. I'm not keen on breaching the green belt and I'm not keen on a peripheral site."

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A Hearts spokesman said that the club had not ruled out working with the former Rangers owner, but insisted the consultation exercise was a genuine attempt to ask fans what kind of new ground they might like if they have to move.