Hearts: Administration a harsh reality, says Preston

Former Hearts star Allan Preston. Picture: SNS
Former Hearts star Allan Preston. Picture: SNS
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ADMINISTRATION was once dismissed as a “Hibs hope” by the Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov. Today, it becomes the biting reality at Tynecastle.

Documents lodged at Edinburgh’s Court of Session yesterday named KPMG as the nominated administrator for Heart of Midlothian Football Club. Monday June 17, 2013, will go down as the darkest day in the club’s history.

“I can categorically deny that this is not the case. It would appear to me that this is only a Hibs hope,” said Romanov in January 2008 as rumours of administration at Hearts circulated around Scotland’s

Capital. “The debt for the development of the main stand will be added to the club’s existing debt. However, this should not be a concern to supporters as there will be no problem with us dealing with this situation. Trust us to deliver.”

Except Romanov and his cohorts could not be trusted. Debts of £25 million, outstanding tax bills and unpaid player wages have proven too much to handle despite proclamations from senior Hearts officials that there was little cause for concern. The process of placing the Edinburgh club in administration voluntarily is under way and they will begin next season’s league campaign minus 15 points as punishment for suffering an insolvency event. As evidence of how crippling that sanction may ultimately be, last season they finished 14 points ahead of relegated

Dundee.

Job losses are inevitable, with more than 130 staff employed by Hearts. Only 26 players are currently on the club’s books, so cuts behind the scenes are likely once the administrators assess the situation. Hearts are currently banned from signing players due to two registration embargoes, running concurrently, for tax liabilities and failure to pay players on time.

For former Hearts winger Allan Preston, pictured, the last 24 hours rekindled horrific memories of Livingston’s descent into administration in 2004. Preston was first-team coach at Almondvale at the time and was involved in

deciding which players should be sacked. That job may become an unwanted part of Gary Locke’s remit when he returns from holiday later this week.

“When the administrators were appointed at Livingston they made us feel at ease,” said Preston. “They were very, very good, actually. Initially it’s like a plague sweeping through your club, but they are there to help you. The quicker you get that into your head and adjust your mindset, the better it is for you. They aren’t there to cause pain, albeit there will be pain.

“They told us we needed to keep Livingston going. We had the League Cup final against Hibs coming as well as a Scottish Cup tie against Aberdeen. We had to get a squad on the pitch. Myself, the manager Davie Hay and other coaches Billy Kirkwood and Paul Hegarty were told we had to get rid of eight or nine. We sat down and went through the list of players. We pinpointed this player and that player to leave. Some were harder than others.

“I remember Francisco Quino, who was brilliant at Livingston. He was one of the ones to go. Juanjo Camacho was another, as was Cherif Toure Maman, then there were a couple of younger boys. Make no mistake, it was painful. The administrators left it to the management team.

Administrators know nothing about football so they can’t pick your team. They left it to us to decide. The four of us sat in a room and put a team together and it was guys who were injured, not playing or out of form who suffered unfortunately.

“Then there were casualties amongst the office staff. There was Danny the kit man, the chefs had to go ... it was just dreadful. You need to account for every penny. If we needed light bulbs for the dressing-room, toilet rolls, soap powder to wash the kit, we had to go to the administrator with a price. Then he would say yes or no.

“I remember the feeling when we went into administration. We knew it was happening the night we beat Dundee at Easter Road with a last-minute goal from Derek Lilley to reach the League Cup final. I walked into the dressing-room and it was totally flat. Instead of celebrating and jumping for joy, it was flat as a pancake. We knew we’d be losing friends, colleagues, team-mates and work-mates. It was very difficult to take.

“Normally after winning a cup semi-final you would go for a couple of beers to celebrate your victory. I went home, had a cup of tea and a sandwich and went to bed. The next day, the administrator arrived.”

KPMG will be unable to make swingeing cuts at Tynecastle as Hearts’ playing staff has already been reduced to its bare minimum. “When Mark McGhee was interviewed for the Hearts manager’s job (in 2008), he was told his budget would be £12m,” recalled Preston. “Apparently it’s now down to about £1.5m and I think John Murray (director of football) deserves a lot of credit getting the budget down to what it should be. Hearts are now paying the price for not paying tax and not paying bills, but the football wage bill has fallen dramatically.

“There is 120-odd staff at Tynecastle, which is a lot to pay and sustain. Make no mistake, the administrator is the first person to be paid. There will be cuts, you just hope they are minimal because it’s a horrible situation. To be taken into a room and told you are being made redundant is terrible. Myself and Davie Hay had to sit players down and give them that news at Livingston and it was devastating.

“We need to hope Hearts can get a CVA (creditors’ voluntary arrangement) done quickly to exit administration. If they get it done before the end of July, they give themselves a fighting chance if the signing embargo gets lifted and Gary Locke can get players in. Then they would have to target an 11th-place

finish and a play-off place. Anything else is a bonus.

“It will be difficult for them starting minus 15 points, but remember how galvanised Dundee were after being deducted 25 points a couple of seasons ago? It provides a cause for supporters and players. Hearts now have something to aim at, there is a target for them. They need to win five games more than the team above them, that’s the bottom line. It can be done but it’s a big, big ask.

“The Hearts fans have been absolutely magnificent recently. They’ve had so much to put up with in the last two or three years from a club that’s been on life support for 18 months or so. They’ve already more than done their bit with the share issue and everything but here’s a chance for them to help galvanise the club. To stay in the SPL come next May would be a fantastic achievement. Hearts owe the supporters to try and stay in the SPL because the fans deserve to be there.”