THE recent transfer embargo imposed on Hearts by the Scottish Premier League is not the club’s first. September’s late payment of wages triggered an automatic signing ban which the SPL did not announce publicly, and which remains in place after another salary delay this month. Yet Tynecastle fans of a certain age will recall an identical scenario over 30 years ago.
In June 1982, the Scottish Football League banned Hearts from registering players for the first time following a complaint from Dundee United over unpaid transfer fees for Willie Pettigrew and Derek Addison. Remarkably, that embargo was imposed in secret too.
“We wanted to keep this quiet,” said Jim Farry, the Scottish Football League secretary at the time, “but I can only confirm that no further registrations for players will be accepted from Hearts until their indebtedness has been cleared.
“There was a complaint from one club which is owed money by them and that is why the management committee have taken action.”
Hearts owed £85,000 in total in June 1982 – £65,000 to United after Pettigrew and Addison moved from Dundee to Edinburgh in September 1981, and £20,000 to Celtic for centre-back Roddy MacDonald, who had arrived two months previously. Celtic were content to wait for their money but United lodged a complaint which prompted Farry and his committee to act.
Wallace Mercer, Hearts’ chairman at the time, was unfazed about the embargo as the club, much like today, was being prudent with finances and had no plans to sign any new faces.
“The Hearts board had already made a decision to refrain from buying any new players at the moment, so the League are not doing anything more than the steps we have taken ourselves,” he said.
“We have been in constant touch with both clubs and they realise our position.
“There is simply no money going round at all in the football market.” However, Mercer took a swipe at Farry, saying: “I am bitterly disappointed that Jim Farry chose to comment on strictly confidential business between Hearts Football Club and the League management committee.
“It shows a distinct lack of courtesy that he didn’t choose to speak to the chairman of the club before saying anything.”
Hearts’ transfer ban lasted a full 12 months until peace broke out between the boardrooms of Tynecastle and Tannadice.
Instalments were paid to United throughout the 1982/83 season until a final amount of £12,500 was settled in May 1983 and the embargo was lifted. Hearts celebrated by signing Donald Park for a second time from Partick Thistle.
Club finances received a significant boost only weeks later when Mercer secured a £60,000 sponsorship deal with the Edinburgh car firm Alexanders.
“Our deal with Alexanders means approximately £1000 per week to us,” he said in June 1983. “That kind of money could make the difference in terms of breaking even or not.”
It proved to be a pivotal deal as finances stabilised and Hearts began to prosper on the field having been relegated twice from the Premier Division in the late 1970s.
Fast forward to the present day and the club is again attempting to find its feet amid tight finances. Funding from its Lithuanian parent company, Ukio Bankas Investment Group, ceased at the beginning of the year. UBIG are still providing debt facilities but Hearts must now generate their own income and survive without assistance from overseas.
Any shortfall can cause problems paying wages, as the last two months have shown, leading to sanctions from governing bodies. After a warning for the late payment of September’s salaries, Hearts face the SFA again tomorrow to learn their punishment for October’s delay.
How long the current transfer ban will continue is unclear. The embargo for September’s delay was lifted yesterday as the SPL declared themselves satisfied that all payments for that month were up to date. However, the embargo for October’s breach remains in place ahead of tomorrow’s meeting to discuss that specific issue.
The SPL want to be satisfied that wage delays are a thing of the past at Hearts. Once that is demonstrated, only then will the embargo be lifted.