WATCHING iconic figures like Ian Black, Rudi Skacel and even Craig Beattie leave Hearts for nothing has hurt Leslie Deans. The club’s former chairman attends matches every week to support his team and fears repeat departures next year given the financial challenges facing Scottish football following Rangers’ demise. But Deans has a solution. A very simple one, in fact.
“If every Hearts season ticket-holder could get one friend, colleague or relative to accompany them to home games, we would sell out our stadium every week. Therefore we would have the Rudi Skacels, the Ian Blacks and the Craig Beatties as well as keeping the top players we already have.”
His plan may be more difficult to execute than to put together, but his point is bang on. Hearts and every other club need their supporters more than ever as the new SPL season prepares to commence. Financial prudence is essential, but life can be made much easier if fans are able to contribute with both vocal and monetary backing.
So far, Hearts have sold over 8000 season tickets – last term’s total passed the 10,000 mark – and Deans feels they deserve more support given their stance on the position of newco Rangers. Vladimir Romanov, the majority shareholder at Tynecastle, published a trademark scathing statement on why his club would vote against the Glasgow club being readmitted to the SPL.
Romanov went with the fans’ wishes and other clubs quickly followed suit, eventually resulting in Rangers being admitted to the Third Division of the Scottish Football League.
With that business now completed, Deans feels fans must return the favour and show their support for Hearts. “We’ve just come through a momentous period in Scottish football with all the issues surrounding Rangers,” he explains. “Look at Hearts’ position in this. Hearts, more than anybody, took account of what the fans wanted. Fans’ portals showed around 98 or 99 per cent of people wanted Rangers excluded from the SPL. Hearts’ board took that on board and they were the first SPL club to come out and say unequivocally that they would not vote newco Rangers into the SPL. I think they gave the other SPL clubs a lead and the rest followed.
“The club gave the fans what they wanted with the Rangers situation. More importantly, they gave the fans what they wanted with probably the greatest day in the illustrious history of Heart of Midlothian. May 19, 2012, may never be repeated and it was witnessed joyously by all of us who were there.
“Yet on the back of these two huge things, we face a future of financial uncertainty. Hearts, along with every other SPL club, are facing a drop in income as a result of the Rangers situation. It will make it difficult for clubs to operate at the same level. We really need Hearts supporters and sympathisers to stand up and be counted.
“I’ve got to say I’m slightly disappointed we’ve sold just over 8000 season tickets considering our friends across the city have sold 7000-plus. A lot of our fans like to consider us the big team and them the wee team, but we’ve only sold approximately 1000 more. I know Hibs gave fans who bought a season ticket have the chance to buy a cup final ticket so that might have allowed their figure to rise. I also know some Hearts fans are unhappy about the dynamic pricing structure and I can see why. But the bottom line is: if the club does not generate more income, it will go down in terms of the level it can perform at.
“We’ve lost Rudi Skacel, we’ve lost Ian Black, we’ve lost Craig Beattie, we’ve lost Suso Santana. These are all first-team players. We haven’t brought anybody in. If the income doesn’t go up then I can see other senior players leaving when their contracts finish because the club will not be able to afford them.”
Seeing Black defect to Ibrox causes Deans to feel regretful, but he has no qualms with the midfielder’s decision. “We have a guy who would have loved to stay at Tynecastle and who is a Hearts supporter – Ian Black – going to Rangers. Does anybody seriously believe he would rather play in the Third Division than the SPL? Of course not. He’s doing this because he has been offered a contract which gives him and his family some much-need financial security and nobody can criticise him for that. It’s an illustration of the present situation.
“Vladimir Romanov has said he will not subsidise Hearts on an ongoing basis. He has done it for years, he saved the club from possibly going to the wall when Tynecastle was to be sold and turned into a block of flats. He’s continued to put money in since then but he isn’t doing it now, so nobody is under any illusions. I do hope more Hearts people will get themselves out to Tynecastle on a regular basis.
“I’m not scare-mongering, I’m simply saying to the fans that this is the position. I would be delighted to see Tynecastle full on Saturday for the opening game of the season. It’s the first serious match the club has played since the cup final, and what a boost it would give the team to see 17,000 inside Tynecastle for a home game against St Johnstone.
“If these people would come back on a regular basis then it would transform the finances of the football club. If not, and if we have 8000 season ticket holders and a regular crowd of 9000-9500, then the finances will continue to be extremely difficult. The club will always be there but we will be playing at a lower level than we are capable of.”