FANS will have to generate around £10,000 of revenue EVERY DAY this season for Hearts to survive its funding crisis, the club’s director has warned.
The true scale of the challenge facing the beleaguered club was laid bare by director Sergejus Fedotovas as he revealed Hearts could only stave off
liquidation by plugging a £2 million funding gap by investing in shares, selling out Tynecastle and making sizeable cash donations.
He delivered his stark financial thunderbolt at the same time as former
chairman George Foulkes exclusively revealed a consortium of businessman are quietly exploring options for a club buy-out and news swept Tynecastle that multi-millionaire Lithuania-based owner Vladimir Romanov is preparing to visit the Capital to hold crisis talks with club chiefs.
Against this tumultuous backdrop there has been a fund-raising boon among fans – with over £100,000 already collected through shares and ticket sales in just two days.
Hearts have been served with a winding-up order for a £450,000 unpaid tax bill with fans being urged to bail the club out by signing up to a share issue – costing £110 per holding – and pack into Tynecastle for every home game to raise sufficient funds to avoid extinction.
Club director Sergejus Fedotovas said: “If the fans raise £2 million that will see the club safe for the season. Next season is a fresh start.
“In my view, in the view of the management and the board, this moment is very important.
“The petition [from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs] is something that was really unexpected for us. We know people at HMRC well, we keep up a constant dialogue, we speak to them and were aware that a bill was coming, aware that we were overdue with our share issue plans.
“They were aware that we were planning the share issue, we updated them on the situation, and my understanding is there was some sort of understanding that we were progressing – we would meet the payment.”
But Mr Fedotovas said he failed to understand the “logic or motivation” behind the decision of the tax authority which was “totally unexpected”.
“We had an understanding that was positive, we updated them throughout,” he said. “Then suddenly we are facing the petition – and facing it two or three days after launching the share issue. You would say that could possibly have killed every effort.”
Questions marks still hang over whether owner Vladimir Romanov might be prepared to loan the club sufficient cash to meet the tax bill after his club director appeared to make contradictory statements in separate interviews yesterday.
Initially, Mr Fedotovas suggested there had been a “good response” from Romanov’s companies who “know the situation” and have promised “to help out”. But in a meeting in Inverness last night, he said the club could “not rely” on the help of Romanov’s firms.
In a letter to all Lothians MSPs, First Minister Alex Salmond revealed that Hearts have appealed for Scottish Government “help” and would speak with the tax authorities on their behalf.
He said the Government was “very conscious” of the “uncertainty affecting staff and fans at Tynecastle” and hoped for a “positive and effective solution”.
But Iain Mercer, son of former Hearts chairman Wallace Mercer, insisted the club’s financial woes were unlikely to be resolved by fan power alone and required significant investment from the business community.
“I think this is going to need an outside injection of cash, not solely from fans, but perhaps an investor to appear and inject a significant amount of money,” he said. “Whether or not those people are out there I don’t know but I think they have probably been waiting for an opportunity to come up.”
He said he was “deeply concerned” about the future of the club and was “convinced” Hearts chiefs were not “bluffing” about the seriousness of the predicament.
“All we can do is buy extra tickets or invest in share scheme because the other option is jut not thinkable. Mr Romanov still holds all the cards, all the fans can do is to be united and do what little they can. I would hope that some sort of plan can be agreed and if the club can survive until the transfer window then they can raise cash by selling players.”
And he said fans should not expect to see a return for the shares they buy, which he described as an “emotional investment”. “Administration has to be an option which has got to be considered to then reemerge on a stronger footing. Liquidation is a different ball game altogether,” he went on. “We will have to wait and see, the next seven to ten days will be crucial but people will have to do all that they can. Everyone accepts that the Romanov era is coming to an end. Whether he agrees to write off all or a portion of his debt to allow a new investor to come on board... there has to be a sense of realism but he just can’t recover what he hopes to. Valuing the club at £18m is fantasy when you consider assets but where that person is going to come from I really don’t know.”
But former chairman Lord George Foulkes, who resigned in 2005 in protest against Mr Romanov’s decision to sack Hearts chief executive Phil Anderton, offered an intriguing glimpse of the future by revealing he understood a consortium of businessmen were waiting in the wings and plotting a potential takeover.
He said: “There are lots and lots of people who are saying things that could be done to purchase the club. There are a lot of people now starting to talk about getting pledges from business people – not money at the moment but a pledge – so that an offer can be made.” Asked how tangible this move might be, he replied: “They are people who are all very reputable.” He refused to be drawn any further.
Meanwhile, fund-raising efforts are gathering pace with fans group Save Our Hearts hosting a rally at Tynecastle next Sunday and a city bar pledging a full day’s takings to help support the ailing club. In a snapshot of how widespread the issue is, supporters from England, Wales and the Republic of Ireland are also being mobilised to help the beleaguered club in their hour of need. Fans of Wrexham FC, who currently play in the Blue Square Premier League, were first to answer the call. There will be a bucket collection at next Saturday’s home match against Gateshead, the proceeds of which will be donated to the Hearts cause.
Wrexham fans have a strong sense of empathy with their counterparts in Edinburgh, having been through a similar crisis themselves.
FANS are set to descend on Tynecastle next Sunday for a seven-hour rally to raise funds for the Hearts appeal.
Ticket sales have been suspended amid huge demand for the November 18 event, which is set to be held in the Gorgie Suite at Tynecastle.
Details are at an early stage but it is thought BBC radio presenter Tam Cowan may be among the speakers confirmed to appear.
Former Hearts players are also expected to attend the rally and address fans.
Local businesses have been urged to pledge their support for the event. One organiser tweeted: “We are closing in on full capacity.”
What Hearts means to me:
Hearts-daft Stephen Cosgrove, 49, has held a season ticket for the last 25 years and sits in the lower east section of the main stand.
The Pilton resident was taken to his first match – aged ten – by his Jambo-supporting brother.
Asked what the Gorgie side means to him, Mr Cosgrove replied: “It’s my life, outside of my family, and it’s all my mates’ lives too. A really good friend of mine I met through Hearts because we both travelled to Paris for a match in 1984. There’s a large group of us who all go to the footall together, maybe a dozen of us who have been going together since the mid-80s.
“My favourite memory is the Scottish Cup final win against Rangers, which was the biggest high, and the biggest low is when Hearts lost at Den’s Park to lose the league – that was murder.
“I would never follow another football team. If Hearts didn’t survive I would be finished with football but I don’t think it will come to that.”
Website offers help to buy shares
FANS’ website Jambos Kickback has set up its own scheme to allow fans to split the £110 cost of buying official club shares – to open the process to a wider audience.
Instead of forking out the full amount each, fans can chip in smaller amounts - online. The fans’ site will then accumulate cash from donations to buy full shares.
JKB Collective Share Purchase can be accessed by PayPal, with shares held in the name of the site. Jambos Kickback said shares will be held and not sold, traded, or transferred.
A link to the scheme can be accessed on the main page of http://www.hmfckickback.co.uk.
More than £100,000 has already been raised from the purchase of game-tickets and the shares scheme.
Hearts legends stripped for action
A TEAM of Hearts Legends are doing their bit and offering a chance for fans to play them – with the fee going towards the Tynecastle fighting fund.
The Legends side field requests on a daily basis to play against eager fans, but turn the majority of them down. Now, however, the club said the squad are keen to do their bit and have cleared their heavy schedules to take to the pitch against one local football team.
Kick-off is 7pm Thursday at the Football Academy at Heriot Watt University and the side, managed by Alan White, CEO of the Big Hearts Community Trust, are looking for a generous donation from a local team starting at £5000. All cash raised will go towards securing the future of the club.
Entrants will pitch their skills against Hearts greats including former striker Scott Crabbe (pictured) - who made more than 100 appearances for the side between 1986 and 1992 - and Alan McLaren, who made over 180 appearances before moving to Rangers in 1994.
Bids should be made via firstname.lastname@example.org no later than Monday.
Pay cheque donated
A TEENAGE apprentice has donated a chunk of his first ever pay cheque to support his beloved club.
Die-hard fan Cameron Smeaton paid £110 for a share in Hearts FC, which amounted to 15 per cent of his first wage after two-and-a-half months training to be an electrician.
The 16-year-old, from Oxgangs, said that the survival of the club was more important to him than the money and he hoped other fans would be inspired by his example to chip in.
He said: “It took a lot of my pay packet but it’s worth it to save of Heart of Midlothian Football Club.
“My dad’s a Hearts fan and I’ve had a season ticket for over 10 years.
“I go to home and away games as much as I can.
“I don’t want to see the club die –I love them that much.
“I’d say just give as much as you can afford to the club. Hopefully, at the end of the season, we’ll get a buyer.”