JOHN ROBERTSON has hailed the remarkable dedication of the Hearts support over the past few weeks, but has warned fans not to take their foot off the gas in terms of ploughing money into their financially-unstable club.
The Jambos’ record goalscorer is the ambassador for their share initiative, which inadvertently gathered momentum a week past Wednesday after the club was hit with a winding-up order if an outstanding £450,000 tax bill wasn’t paid by the end of this week. Agreement has since been reached with HMRC for Hearts to pay it up in two instalments.
But Robertson is all too aware that Hearts are far from out of the woods and has reiterated his call for supporters to keep backing the share initiative as the club bid to raise in the region of £2m to help them get to the end of the season, when they claim they would then be self-sufficient. The former striker feels that if the share sales are successful, it will smooth the way for supporters – such as the Foundation of Hearts group – to take control of the club from Vladimir Romanov.
“We told them how deep in the mire the club is and there’s been a call to arms, and since then the supporters have responded magnificently,” said Robertson. “We’re well on our way to reaching the figure that we want, so everything’s been very positive. If we can raise our target and get to the end of the season, the club will be in a far healthier state because it becomes self-sustainable.
“The share issue, tickets and merchandise are the main drive, and I’d urge everybody to keep getting behind that because if we reach the total we need, the board have already said they’ll sit down with Supporters Direct, who can mediate between the club and the Foundation or any other people who are interested in the wellbeing of the club. It’s all about getting the share issue pushed through and getting as much money as possible into the club otherwise there will be no club to fight for.
“From the talks I’ve had with David Southern, the club are perfectly happy to sit down with any interested parties, plus the Federation of Hearts Supporters and the shareholders to get the best long-term solution. I think bringing Supporters Direct, who are a government-backed body, in as a mediator is another positive step towards showing the fans that they are willing to push the club towards fan ownership.
“But the main focus for myself is to make sure the club raise the money they need by the end of the six-week period of share sales, make sure the club is safe and then step back and let the people who matter take it forward from there. I’m just involved to show the fans that there is credibility and transparency.
“The £450,000 bill that came out of the blue doesn’t change my stance at all. HMRC brought that out 24 hours after we’d launched the share scheme. It was strange timing from them but the main thing is that the club have arranged the two payments. If the fans keep donating, there’s real hope that we’ll raise the money we need.”
Robertson is expecting a “special” occasion tomorrow when Hearts host St Mirren at a packed Tynecastle, with players keen to thank supporters for their passionate response to the club’s troubles and fans ready to show their appreciation to the playing and coaching staff who have done their bit by deferring their November wages.
“There should be a rousing atmosphere. It’ll be a really special occasion,” he said. “A full stadium at Tynecastle will be fantastic and it’ll really raise the players’ spirits. It will show the players what the fans think of their club, although they should already be well aware of that.
“Sometimes a full house can put pressure on players, but equally it could help create a siege mentality. St Mirren will rise to the occasion and benefit from the atmosphere, but hopefully it will be passionate and hostile enough to drive Hearts on to a victory.
“The players have also done their bit by deferring their wages. That’s a magnificent gesture from them to help the club. Led by the captain, Marius Zaliukas, and Andy Webster, the players have shown by their actions how important the club is to them. The coaching staff and the players should be commended for what they’ve done because it can’t be easy for them.
“But the fans are the really important ones in all this – they are the ones that are going to really drive it on. The fans might get frustrated from time to time – and this season has been particularly frustrating in terms of results – but they will never give up on their team. It’s in times like this that you realise how important the club is to the fans.”