SUNSHINE glared over Tynecastle, ironically on the bleakest day yet in Hearts’ history. The ground was shrouded in silence save for media ambling around outside. Behind the walls of the stadium office block, administrators BDO swung ruthlessly into action.
A total of 14 non-football staff were made redundant, given their fate individually by Bryan Jackson and his associate Trevor Birch early in the afternoon. Every few minutes, the staff car park gates opened and another employee sped out. Some were understandably in tears at having their livelihood taken in such brutal fashion. To compound the doom, four players will also be sacked. This is the legacy left by Vladimir Romanov. Administration is not a process with room for emotion.
Hearts are on their knees, out of options, out of money and £25million in debt. That means administration, clinical job cuts and, ultimately, lives wrecked. Romanov was nowhere to be seen as staff learned their fate, neither were any of his directors. Probably just as well. It’s doubtful they would have left Tynecastle alive had they had the front to show up there yesterday.
Jackson and Birch conducted their work efficiently but did not dispense with anyone high-profile. The most notable name amongst the redundancies was that of Konstantin Kornakov, Hearts’ head of football administration. The others were mostly office staff. They didn’t score goals, or pick the team, or even sign players. They kept the club going and their reward was the sack.
At 5pm, the end of an emotionally draining day for most involved, Jackson and Birch strode in to address the media in the Gorgie Suite – the very room in which Romanov received a hero’s welcome when his takeover was confirmed in 2005. Now the collapse of his empire had reached its nadir.
“This is as desperate a situation as I’ve seen,” said Jackson. “We have made 14 people redundant – nine full-time and five part-time staff. We have inherited a situation where there is no money and no income for the club because this is the close season. We urgently need supporters to buy season tickets to provide vital income and keep their club alive.”
The plan is to sell 3000 season tickets in the next 14 days to provide funds to see Hearts through until the new season begins and cash can be generated through matches. “We are aware that the fans have given and given, but there is no-one else to turn to,” continued Jackson. If that plan fails, players will need to be sold. Talks with manager Gary Locke have pinpointed four – two senior and two youth – who are due to be made redundant in the next few days.
“We had a good chat with Gary,” said Jackson. “He’s very realistic and he understands the financial constraints. Quite rightly, as the manager, he is trying to hold on to the whole squad and he wants to put out the best team possible.
“He’s also very mindful of Hearts being a very young team and the problems you have with just throwing a young team out on to the pitch. Physically and mentally, it’s very difficult.
“We’re trying to preserve and keep one or two of the older players if we can. Gary was very supportive and understanding of our position, which is simply a financial role. We are trying to maintain most of that squad for him.
“We see the benefits of doing that for the fans as well. That’s why, rightly or wrongly, we’re saying to the fans: ‘If you want us to keep your team, you have to help us.’ We don’t know how else to do it.
“There were 10,000 season tickets sold last year and 7000 already sold (which will be honoured by the administrators) for the coming season. If we can match last year’s season ticket sales and sell a further 3,000 season tickets within the next 14 days, then we will have sufficient funds to last the next four months and retain the remainder of the playing squad. I believe that by keeping the squad together the fans will retain confidence in the club and it will make the team a more attractive proposition for any potential buyers.”
Although extremely personable and polite, Jackson remained disconnected from any emotional involvement during yesterday’s harrowing scenes. He and his BDO associates took just a few hours to claim 14 jobs after meeting around 30 office and coaching staff at 12pm. “Our role has to be completely detached. We come in really cold to it,” he explained.
“We have to look at this in terms of, ‘do you have a reduced-size club or no club at all?’ As brutal as it is when you come in, this is day two for us and 14 people have been made redundant. We’ve already made a decision on a few players – still to be sorted out of course.
“It’s a very brutal job to do and you have to detach any emotion from it. People leave for financial reasons only.
“A person loses their job because it is their post which is being made redundant, not them. However, in my experience, people never take it that way. That’s understandable.
“A job is a very personal thing. It’s the job that is redundant in these circumstances because the cash flow is non-existent at the moment. It’s so tight that you can’t possibly carry a cost that you don’t need to carry.”
Having overseen administrations at Clydebank, Motherwell, Clyde and Dundee, Jackson is one of BDO’s most experienced men. He assisted Birch with Portsmouth’s administration, whilst colleague James Stephen was involved latterly at Rangers.
“I’m in my 34th year of doing this job and this is the one part of it you can never get used to. It’s always the most difficult when people lose their jobs. Even though you don’t know the people, it’s hard.
“We had tears and everything else that you would expect. It’s just the worst part but that’s the job.”
One positive for remaining staff was Birch’s assertion that Hearts can be salvaged. “I believe it is saveable. The key thing is a quick sale,” he said.
Also encouraging is BDO’s intent to preserve the club’s youth academy, based at Riccarton. “Initially, it is our intention to retain the youth side of things,” said Jackson. “It’s a really difficult one because the youth academy has ongoing value, however we are more concerned about staying alive at the moment.
“We are more concerned with the short-term, but we think we can probably manage to more or less get the youth side to break even. Some of the coaching might need to be funded or we might ask some people to take a bit less money. We are going to be talking to all those people on the youth side but our intention is to retain them.”
Some positive vibes at the end of a day that will never be forgotten for all the wrong reasons.