HEARTS last night paid their first team squad’s outstanding December salaries but insisted it was not as a response to an order to do so by the Scottish Premier League earlier in the day.
A sub-committee of the SPL board, chaired by chief executive Neil Doncaster, set a deadline of next Wednesday for the overdue December wages to be paid to 14 Hearts players after hearing their official complaint at Hampden.
They also ruled that Hearts must pay interest on late salary payments from October, November and December as well as ensuring their January wages are paid on time on 16 January. The Tynecastle club were also told to pay the legal fees of the Hearts’ players and the SPL’s own costs of holding yesterday’s hearing.
The SPL made their announcement just before 1pm after the Hampden meeting, which lasted around two hours. Some five hours later, Hearts issued a brief response on their official website.
The statement was not attributed to any individual at Hearts but made it clear the club could yet contest the full terms of the SPL adjudication.
“Hearts will carefully consider today’s SPL judication [sic] into the matter of late payment of players’ wages and will decide on the course of further action,” read the statement.
“Meanwhile, the club has today received funds and has paid the outstanding players’ wages for December. The payment is the result of successful business conducted by the club and it is coincidental that this has happened on the same day as the judication by the SPL.”
Hearts have the right to appeal the SPL ruling to the SFA within seven days. If they fail to comply with the order to pay interest on the three consecutive months their players received their wages behind schedule, as well as meeting the legal costs of the hearing, they could be subject to further action from the SPL board.
Among a wide range of sanctions available to the SPL are cancelling the registration of the players concerned, effectively taking the first step to freeing them from their contracts, and ordering that Hearts are barred from signing players for any specified period of time.
Doncaster refused to elaborate on the possible punishment Hearts might receive but made it clear the SPL intend to take a firm line with their member club on the issue. “Today shows how seriously the SPL take late payments of wages to players,” said Doncaster. “I am not going to speculate about what might ultimately be the outcome in the event that any of those orders are not met in full.
“That would then be the subject of a separate process and I wouldn’t want to predict what the outcome could be. We’ve made very clear orders about what needs to be paid and by when and in the event of any of those orders are not met in full then that would come back to the SPL board to consider at that point.
“We will be monitoring the situation very closely to see if those orders are met in full or not. Players sign player contracts with the expectation that they will be paid.
“The situation may be different in other parts of Europe but clubs in the UK certainly have a proud record of paying on time. Where payments are not made on time, I think that’s a serious issue.”
The Hearts players were represented at yesterday’s meeting by PFA Scotland chief executive Fraser Wishart and lawyer Margaret Gribbon.
“We attended today’s meeting on behalf of our members somewhat reluctantly as efforts have been made to resolve the matter internally,” said Wishart. “Making a complaint to the SPL was always going to be a last resort but the members felt they had no option but to allow the governing body to adjudicate.
“We have no wish to be constantly asking the SPL to intervene, especially in cases where there are financial difficulties at a club. Our members, however, have been left with no option. We are delighted with the support given by the SPL.
“It is our hope that the club will fulfil what is the most basic of contractual obligations and avoid any sanctions that may be forthcoming should they be unable to so.
“At no point have our members asked for the club to be fined or for points to be deducted but should the SPL have to become involved again there are a wide range of sanctions available to its board.
“The players have to be commended for keeping their performances at a high level in recent weeks. I know they are appreciative of the great support received from the fans. Players’ employment is different from other employees’ in the sense that they cannot simply find another club because they have not been paid.
“In fact the hope of our members is indeed that the club is able to sell the players they require to bring in much-needed money from transfer fees. That money could then be used to finance the club in coming months but this can only be correct if the club is paying the players.
“We are always open to constructive dialogue and when the players are paid our members would welcome the opportunity to speak with the club to assist with any short term problems it may have.”