AFTER 18 months of hand-wringing and nail-biting, it came without fanfare – just as the best surprises do. But with ink yet to dry on a deal to keep Hearts beating, a roar fit for the terraces was already echoing around Edinburgh.
News trickled online, eyes blinked at computer screens, grins stretched ear-to-ear and, as the realisation dawned, fists pumped the air.
Social media exploded and just hours after opening time Gorgie pubs thronged with fans “not wanting to be at home” on a momentous day when they reclaimed the club.
But this was no carnival announcement, instead it came like a whisper.
Hopes of a breakthrough had been dashed last Monday after creditors’ talks were scrapped at the 11th hour.
Time and money was running out and sources hinted that a delay was as good as a death knell.
With 50 per cent of the shares agreed, a deal was tantalisingly close but like so much of the club’s time under Lithuanian ownership, the expected D-Day ended in confusion – and cloaked in mystery.
And it is against this uncertain backdrop that administrator BDO has seemingly pulled off the impossible: escaping the threat of liquidation and steering a now debt-free Hearts back into Scottish hands.
The club could even emerge from administration within months under the stewardship of millionare IT guru Ann Budge. It is understood she would prefer to hand over the reins to fan-led consortium Foundation of Hearts “sooner rather than later”.
Today, FoH chairman Ian Murray MP admitted the club had been in “serious danger” of being liquidated as the creditors process with Ukio and UBIG in Lithuania dragged on.
But pending a final hurdle, he said it was a “deal done”.
“We are 90 per cent there, pending the successful completion of a sale and purchase agreement,” he said.
“This is absolutely fantastic news and a great development. It is vindication of our wonderful supporters’ decision to support the club during the most difficult times.
“Without them Hearts would not be here.”
One of those supporters was grandfather-of-three Niven Munro, whose supporters group raised £12,000 for the club last year when Tynecastle chiefs warned financial oblivion was “not a bluff” and “not scaremongering” but a potential “reality”.
A devotee for 50 years, Mr Munro had to keep a lid on his celebrations having discovered the news via a sly text in the middle of an important work meeting.
“I really had to control my emotions after reading the words ‘deal done’,” he said. “I just had a wee smirk but I celebrated properly afterwards.”
“This year has shown how the Hearts family can stick together. My dad took me when I was a boy, I took my two daughters to games, and I’ve now got wee grand-daughters who come to games. It means so much to the whole family and it means so much to all of Edinburgh that this appears to have succeeded.
“It was very worrying that they wouldn’t have a club to support. There were times when it all seemed hopeless. The Foundation of Hearts has worked so hard to get this far and I don’t know if the support fully appreciate that.”
Another stalwart, Steve Kilgour, general secretary of the Federation of Hearts Supporters’ Clubs, gave the news a “cautious welcome”.
“I will hold my celebrations back until they have signed and sealed the deal,” he said. “I just hope they stay true to their word.”
A lynchpin in efforts to drive talks forward was former Hearts chairman Lord George Foulkes, who is understood to have convinced David Hunt, the UK Ambassador to Lithuania, to assert diplomatic pressure on the club’s creditors.
He said: “It’s been a long hard road that we have all been travelling and I think the most important credit goes to the legion of fans that have stood by the club.”
“Hearts will become the biggest fan-owned club in the country which I think is a great step forward and other clubs like Kilmarnock and Rangers are looking at us with envy. I think today has been the biggest hurdle – until today it could have gone backwards but now we are at the turning point.”
Diehard fanatic Cllr Eric Milligan, one of Edinburgh’s longest-serving politicians who represents Gorgie at City Chambers, said Hearts chairwoman elect Ann Budge may someday become “the Joan of Arc of Heart of Midlothian”.He said: “It could be the start of a new dawn for Hearts but there is still much to be done. Hearts have a history that stands comparison with any club in the world – never mind Scotland. I have always felt Hearts should be owned and controlled by people that have the welfare of the city at their heart.
“This is just start of the process of rebuilding Hearts, we need to look at the stadium and what the realistic ambitions are for the club.”
And Dave McPherson, a defender in the Hearts 1998 Scottish Cup-winning team, admitted he had believed liquidation was almost inevitable. “I think everyone had that in the back of their mind,” he said.
“It’s a big step forward and the people that are involved now have the best interests of the club at heart, and that’s important.”
THE widow of Hearts legend John Cumming – the most decorated player in the club’s history – has told how survival “would have meant
everything” to him.
Jane Cumming said the influence of her late husband, below,
ensured her entire immediate family all remained Hearts supporters – despite being brought up in Lanarkshire.
The stirring words of the ex-Hearts midfielder – “Blood doesn’t show on a maroon jersey” – are inscribed in the players’ tunnel.
She said: “We’ll all be very pleased if they are safe. This would have meant everything to John. I’m so glad they’ve picked themselves up.”
June 19, 2013: BDO appointed Hearts administrators, club deducted 15 points from start of season 2013-14. Thirteen non-playing staff and four players are made redundant.
June 20: Joint-administrator Bryan Jackson pleads for supporters to snap up an additional 3000 season tickets to raise an estimated £750,000 and ease the club’s grave cash-flow problems. The target is surpassed.
July 12: Deadline for bids, offers received by fans group the Foundation of Hearts, former Hearts shirt sponsor and local businessman Bob Jamieson and controversial former Livingston owner Angelo Massone
July 15: It emerges Massone may fail SFA fit and proper person test after leading Livingston into administration in summer 2009.
July 18: BDO requests that the three bidders provide proof of funding.
July 31: A creditors report reveals that the club owe a total of £28.5 million to 200 creditors, with £15.5m and £8.2m due to Ukio Bankas and UBIG respectively.
August 15: Fans group the Foundation of Hearts named preferred bidder. Bryan Jackson said: “This is an important milestone.”
October 22: BDO given green light to push ahead with a CVA deal after Valentas UAB, administrators of Ukio Bankas, agree in principle to accept an offer from FOH. Ukio administrator Gintaras Adomonis said: “The zeal and tenacity of the fans have persuaded us the process of CVA should be launched as soon as possible.”
November 6: CVA proposal sent out to creditors and creditors date set for November 22. Ukio Bankas to receive £2.5m and all other creditors to receive zero pence in the pound deal. £535,000 football debts to be paid in full.
November 11: UBIG’s insolvency is finally confirmed by a Lithuanian court and Bankruptcy Administration Services are appointed administrators.
November 21: UBIG and Ukio Bankas request that Hearts’ creditors meeting be postponed for one week.
November 28: Conditional CVA agreed with UBIG and Ukio Bankas at critical creditors meeting at Tynecastle. Jackson admits obtaining UBIG’s shareholding remains the biggest hurdle to overcome.
February 3, 2014: Announced that UBIG has agreed to transfer its 50 per cent stake to the Foundation of Hearts for a reported five-figure fee. This paves the way the administrators to press ahead with sale and purchase agreement.
March 31: Foundation chairman Ian Murray warns that “liquidation is a possibility” should scheduled April 7 creditors meetings involving UBIG and Ukio Bankas not take place.
April 7: Creditors of UBIG agree to transfer the fallen investment company’s 50 per share in the club pending a 20-day cooling off period. A meeting involving creditors of Ukio Bankas does not take place.
April 16: The last major hurdle is cleared in the Jambos’ bid to exit administration as Ukio Bankas agrees to hand over its 29 per cent share in the club for £2.5m.
RALLY WILL BE A CELEBRATION
They are normally events where Hearts fans rally together and defiantly raise thousands of pounds in the desperate hope of saving the club.
But next month’s Fans Rally, on Sunday, May 11, will be nothing short of a celebration after yesterday’s news.
One of the rally organisers, Craig Wilson, said: “This one will be different because, with the good news, there’s not as much of an expectation to raise money.
“The pressure is off the fans who have done unbelievably to help the club get through.”
Two previous rallies have been held, in November 2012 and June 2013, in an attempt to raise funds for the club where a host of former players attended and donated items for auction.
The fans’ website, Jambos Kickback also raised more than £13,000 in donations last year while other fundraising efforts have included more than 500 season tickets being sold in 24 hours after a plea from administrator Bryan Jackson of BDO.
“There’s just been a surge in everyone wanting to do their utmost – I think it’s the beginning and we are in a unique position in that the fans are owning the club themselves,” Mr Wilson added.
“We are going to go ahead with next month’s rally and make it a celebration of the fans.”
For more information, tweet the organisers at @Heartsfansrally or search for ‘Hearts Fans Rally’ on Facebook.