SELDOM can people have been so willing for money to be taken from their bank accounts. Yesterday, Foundation of Hearts began monthly direct debit drawdowns for more than 7500 Hearts supporters who have pledged cash hoping to keep their club alive. Now it’s real. The biggest supporter movement in Scottish football history is actually moving.
After the bluster and buffoonery of Bob Jamieson and Angelo Massone, there truly is only one show in town capable of taking Hearts out of administration. The Foundation are the favoured choice of administrators BDO, the fans, the players and manager Gary Locke. Their plan to run Hearts via a supporters’ membership scheme still has some questions to answer – mainly what happens if large numbers decide to cancel direct debit agreements – but there is no doubting their honourable intentions.
Fans should start to see cash leaving their banks within the next two days to go towards the common cause shared by everyone involved. “They are maybe the only show in town, but that’s the show you want,” Locke told the Evening News. “We all know that all the guys involved with the Foundation have the best interests of the club at heart. They aren’t in it for themselves, they are in it for the betterment of this football club. That makes a big, big difference.
“You can see the attitude of the players now. They are coming into work happy. They know everything that’s going on because [BDO administrators] Trevor [Birch] and Bryan [Jackson] have kept us up to date with everything. This is a massive step forward with direct debits being taken out. The more fans that are on board, the better. These are people we would all be delighted to work with and would look forward to working with.”
Of course, merely beginning drawdowns does not guarantee ownership. Far from it. Foundation officials, led by independent chairman Ian Murray MP, are currently embroiled in a game of who blinks first with the administrators of Ukio Bankas, Valnetas UAB, in Lithuania. Ukio are Hearts’ biggest creditor and are owed £15m. The are understood to want £5m to agree to a Creditors’ Voluntary Arrangement (CVA), the only method by which the Edinburgh club can exit administration.
The Foundation’s up-front offer stands at less than £3m and there has been no increase on that amount as yet. They are proceeding with direct debit drawdowns to ensure funding is in place if and when they assume control of Hearts. Much work is being conducted in the background, behind the scenes, on lunch hours and long into the night. Those leading the Foundation bid are nothing if not diligent, something which has not gone unnoticed in the Riccarton dressing-room.
“To a man, every player here knows exactly what is happening with the Foundation,” continued Locke. “They know the amount of work these people are putting in. Every single person on the playing staff and the backroom staff is very appreciative of everything the Foundation are doing and what they are trying to achieve. Everything we can do, we will certainly try our best.
“If they need players to attend things or if they need me to attend things then we’re only too happy to help. At the end of the day, this is the way our football club is going to move forward.”
The Foundation will pay back all monies they collect should they ultimately fail to gain control of Hearts. For now, they continue with all eyes on them. If they can agree a CVA and have their club out of administration by January, Locke could at least set about replenishing his ravaged squad during the transfer window. Sanctions from the Scottish Football Association mean Hearts could only sign under-21 players before February 1, but that would at least leave some scope for a winter recruitment drive.
“That would be nice. Although we could only sign under-21 players in January, it would be a massive boost if we can bring new faces in,” continued the manager. “All along, all we were worried about was making sure there was a football club here. If we come out of administration, we know there is a club and then we can maybe try and look to strengthen the team. That’s why we’re hoping the club can get itself sorted between now and then [January].
“Our target is to still be hanging in there in the league come January time, even if we are a few points adrift. We want to be close and by that time there could be a possibility of bringing in a couple of players. We don’t have a crystal ball and we don’t know what is going to happen.
“At the moment, this is the squad we’ve got. It’s not a big squad and that’s the worry. If you have injuries and suspensions or even loss of form, you don’t have a lot of scope to change things. I’m not overly worried about it at the minute because we’re playing well and playing with confidence. I can only influence what happens now.”
While the battle to keep Hearts going continues, the players have fared better than many expected during the opening weeks of the Scottish Premiership season. One of the youngest squads in Tynecastle history collected seven points from their first five league matches, leading to six being called up for Scotland Under-21 duty. Others must take the opportunity to rest during the international break.
“It’s important they do rest,” said Locke. “I know a lot of them will want to go to the gym and keep themselves ticking over if they get a couple of days off, but they need to rest if they get the chance early in the season. We’re going to give them that chance during the international break, although some of them will be away with the Scotland teams.”