Stuart Bathgate: Hearts stadium plan will benefit from asking club's fans what they want for the first time

WE have been here before. The late Wallace Mercer contemplated moving Hearts from Tynecastle during his time in charge; former chief executive Chris Robinson went as far as agreeing a sale of the ground and a move to Murrayfield; now current owner Vladimir Romanov thinks that leaving the place the club has called home since 1886 could be necessary.

For many supporters of the club, initial reaction to the news was one of sadness. Only a few short years have passed since Romanov triumphantly cancelled Robinson's plan at a general meeting, where his lieutenant Sergejus Fedotovas, now a club director, made an emotional appeal to the fans, quoting the words of the Hearts Song: "It's down at Tynecastle we bide."

But there is a significant difference this time, certainly compared to Robinson's scheme, and it is a difference which probably ensured that a lot of that initial sadness soon gave way to a more philosophical attitude. That difference is the consultation of supporters.

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Under the slogan "Tynecastle: Not Fit For Purpose", Robinson told those supporters that there was no alternative to making the short hop to Murrayfield. Now, by contrast, Romanov has said that he wants to listen to those supporters, that Tynecastle will still be considered as an option - and that there may well be many alternatives, in terms of the location of any new stadium and the facilities which could be on offer there.

That willingness to ask fans what they think is not only a welcome contrast to the high-handedness shown by Robinson, it also makes economic sense. There is no point in moving your address if your customer base refuses to move with you.

In that sense, if enough fans insist they would not follow the club elsewhere, it could still be the case that Tynecastle will remain the most financially viable home for Hearts.

But the club, after years of work on various regeneration plans for the current ground, have found that, provided the fans can be kept on board, a move makes more and more economic sense. And the questionnaire launched yesterday on the Hearts website makes that clear, albeit in fairly subtle ways.

"This questionnaire has been compiled to gather your views and preferences on the proposed redevelopment of Tynecastle Stadium," the introduction to the survey begins on But the headline of the article is New Stadium Questionnaire, and just about every question within it is about what supporters would like within a new stadium.

The ideal for many fans might be that they would like to see a 40,000 capacity, a bar, some restaurants, a library, an exhibition space and many other resources all contained within a completely rebuilt Tynecastle, but the implication is clear.If you want such resources, and if you want Hearts to have the kind of modern stadium that other clubs both within Scotland and further afield already have, please reconcile yourself to the idea that it may not be possible to house it all in that cramped space just off McLeod Street.

Beyond that obvious nudge in the direction of a move, the survey genuinely seems to be an open one.

Nothing has been ruled in or out, other than the insistence that Hearts, whether as sole owners or joint owners, would have the requisite control over any new venue - another fact which is starkly different to what would have been the case at Murrayfield, where rugby would have had priority.

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Vitalijus Vasiliauskas, the director who has been in charge of the planned redevelopment of Tynecastle, did offer the odd steer yesterday in an interview on Hearts TV, saying that a new ground should be very near to the club's present home.

"Walking distance" was the phrase he used, although it should be said that one person's walking distance is another's implausibly long trek. At present, it is impossible to think of anywhere within, say, a 20-minute walk of Gorgie where a new ground could conceivably be sited.

In that regard, the former chairman Les Deans made a salient point yesterday: Tynecastle, he said, was effectively out of town when it was built. If the club has to move westwards again, so be it. That sentiment is one with which most Hearts supporters appear to agree.