HEARTS directors were today urged to resign by a leading fans’ representative, who pleaded with the Tynecastle hierarchy: “Don’t kill our club.”
Steve Kilgour, secretary of the Federation of Hearts Supporters’ Clubs, opened fire on the current regime over the financial mismanagement which leaves the Edinburgh club entering administration, unable to pay player wages and tax bills, and drowning in £25million of debt.
Kilgour petitioned the board to do the honourable thing and take responsibility for their actions, although he confessed he does not expect any show of remorse.
The Hearts board currently comprises chairman Roman Romanov plus Sergejus Fedotovas and Vitalijus Vasiliauskas as non-executive directors. A vote of no confidence in Romanov at last month’s Hearts AGM was overruled by Ukio Bankas Investment Group (UBIG), the club’s parent company which is on the brink of insolvency.
Kilgour summed up the feelings of many supporters by calling for directors to step down. It will be down to administrators to decide whether season tickets already bought for next season are honoured, whilst those who invested in last year’s share issue are now unlikely to receive certificates or be refunded. Hearts will also start next season minus 15 points as a result of entering administration.
“I don’t know if these people on the board would even apologise,” said Kilgour. “I’d like to think they would do the honourable thing and step aside because it’s their mismanagement that’s caused this. They’ve got us into this mess but they don’t have to kill us off.
“That’s what I’d say to them: ‘You’ve made a mess of it. For once, put your hands up and admit you’ve made a mess of it. Don’t kill our club’.
“I think certain people in that group would never apologise for anything. Some of them didn’t apologise to the fans for dynamic pricing last year. Whether they would say sorry for this, I doubt very much. I don’t think that’s in the nature of these people.
“Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some good times along the way, but it’s painful at the moment. Really, they should do the honourable thing. They should step away and let others sort the financial issues.
“Administration actually might not be a bad thing in the circumstances, as long as we’re in control of the process. It’s possibly the best thing that could happen to us right now because of the uncertainty over who has the right to sell us.
“I’ve had so many messages and calls and I think most people are quite happy with it due to the predicament Hearts are in. It’s probably the club’s best avenue, albeit people are disappointed it’s come to this.
“Hopefully it moves the sale of the club on quickly so that we could get somebody in place to stabilise the club before the start of the season. We are going to need some players in to overcome a 15 point deficit but I don’t know how that’s going to happen with a transfer embargo and new owners.”
The previous controller of UBIG and Hearts, Vladimir Romanov, remains in hiding under the protection of the Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov as Lithuanian authorities look to question him over £12m embezzlement allegations. Yet he has been an increasingly absent figure at Tynecastle in recent years.
In his place, his son Roman, and Fedotovas, have acted as link men between Edinburgh and Lithuania. Romanov Junior in particular has proven an unpopular figure by ranting at AGMs and offering hollow promises on Hearts’ financial health.
“Roman Romanov sat at the AGM a few years back and said, ‘the debt is with us, what are you all worried about?’,” continued Kilgour. “He reacted angrily when he was quizzed about the debt by fans. We were told not to worry about the debt, it was a debt to ourselves, apparently.
“We were told the debt was to Romanov and he owned Hearts so there was no hassle.
“That’s the annoying thing, they seem to have been lying to us. We always suspected things, but we had to believe them because we were kind of powerless as supporters. We were wholly owned by Romanov, his banks oversaw everything so there wasn’t a bank putting pressure on. We had to take them at their word and, if they haven’t been lying, they certainly weren’t telling the whole truth.
“Whether it be Mr Romanov or his board, there has been complete and utter mismanagement; foolhardy management of the funds. The alleged £50m-£60m they’ve put in could have, and should have, been spent so much better and we’d be in a far better state than what we are. They could’ve wiped the debt out and had a far better infrastructure. Now, everything is collapsing round about them and they still seem to think everything is okay.”
Hearts owe £15m to Ukio Bankas, the Lithuanian bank currently controlled by an administrator. A further £10m is owed to UBIG, who have claimed insolvency but have yet to have that made official.
“Every Hearts fan is very worried,” said Kilgour. “The biggest thing is we don’t know what the hell is going on in Lithuania and if anyone is in a position to sell the club. There seems to be some buyers and at least there are administrators to deal with at Ukio Bankas. Nobody knows what is going on.”
Kilgour extended sympathy to non-footballing staff at Tynecastle who may lose their jobs as a result of administration. “There are plenty hard-working people behind the scenes at Tynecastle,” he explained. “Footballers can maybe afford to miss a month’s wages, but these people can’t. They will be living week to week and month to month. Mr Romanov’s idea of being skint will be totally different from the normal fans.”
The supporters’ umbrella group Foundation of Hearts will now accelerate their bid to gain control but the club’s murky ownership structure and the fact Ukio Bankas have a claim over Tynecastle Stadium make their task an onerous one to say the least.
“I think the fans need to get behind the Foundation of Hearts,” said Kilgour, with the Federation one of the groups under the Foundation’s umbrella. “Although there are plenty rumours of consortiums, we can’t rely on other people. Even if someone bought the club, I’d like the Foundation to stay in place to offer support through pledges or a membership scheme.
“New owners could come in, maybe as Fergus McCann did at Celtic, and plan to stay for a certain period of time, during which fans pledge money to the Foundation and the cash builds up. Then the owners could hand the club over to the fans in a fit and healthy state and we have full supporters’ ownership. What’s happened in Lithuania has overtaken the Foundation a wee bit because we’re still trying to get things in place. Hopefully we’re not too late. If every Hearts fan pledged even £10 a month, we’d be in a far stronger position.”