JOHN ROBERTSON describes the moment Hearts entered administration as a knife through his own heart. Today, he reveals a list of former Tynecastle players who are buying up season tickets to help keep the club alive.
The tickets they purchase will be donated to the Big Hearts Community Trust, who will pass them on to underprivileged children and members of the local community. It is a gesture in line with the impressive response from Hearts fans, who spent the weekend rallying and fundraising.
Administrators BDO carefully explained last Thursday that they needed to sell 3000 season tickets within 14 days to help keep the doors open at Tynecastle. That sparked a frenzy of activity as 1000 were bought inside the first three days.
Robertson is eager to do his bit as Hearts’ record goalscorer and a living legend. He not only wants to help the club in whose folklore he belongs, but also the Big Hearts Trust which serves the community through a range of public programmes and initiatives. He and close friend Allan Preston are canvassing colleagues to encourage them to buy a season ticket and donate to Big Hearts.
Administration hit hard at Tynecastle last week when 14 staff were made redundant. Senior players have agreed to wage cuts of up to 50 per cent, whilst the remaining staff are working for free until enough funds arrive to pay them.
“For me, it was like a dagger through the heart when I heard Hearts were entering administration,” Robertson told the Evening News. “I’ve got a lot of affection for them and that’s why I got involved in the share issue last year. I’d do anything I could to help them survive. I’ve played, coached and managed at Hearts and the club means so much to me.
“I got a phonecall from Allan Preston, who was in Cyprus. He ran the idea about buying season tickets by me and I thought it was a great idea. We wanted to see what we can do as ex-players because we’ve all made a living from Hearts and we wanted to help in any way. Also, we wanted to do something for Big Hearts and help less fortunate children and families. The Big Hearts Trust also gives a pat on the back for kids who are doing well. It’s a very worthwhile cause.
“Allan and I decided to get as many ex-players as we can on board by asking them if they could donate money to Big Hearts, which would help buy season tickets. Some of the guys are buying tickets themselves, which is fantastic. Danny Wilson is buying four, Peter Houston, Eamonn Bannon, Darren Jackson and David Weir are all helping out, plus Allan and myself.
“Allan spoke to Craig Levein and he had no hesitation helping Big Hearts out. John Murray (Hearts’ director of football) is buying two season tickets, Derek Ferguson was on holiday but he’s making a donation, as are Scott Crabbe, Dave McPherson and Henry Smith.
“Mo Johnston has already instructed a family member to buy two season tickets on his behalf. Paul Hartley is donating his boots to the fans’ rally this weekend, and Donald Park is going to help as well. There is a lot of goodwill out there amongst the ex-players and we still have a lot of people to ask. The more former players we can get, the more it helps the club through season ticket sales. It also helps Big Hearts and less fortunate people than ourselves. Big Hearts will be given these season tickets to hand out to people in the community.
“Time is of the essence because the administrator said last week he needed 3000 season books sold in 14 days. We’re trying to push this through as quickly as we can. We’ve seen the fans raising phenomenal amounts of money over the weekend through Jambos Kickback. Gary Mackay is doing great work through his fighting fund and we don’t want to detract from anyone else’s fundraising. We just want to try and help along the way.”
Wilson’s gesture in buying four season tickets illustrates the goodwill available. The Scotland centre-back signed a three-year deal with Hearts which was due to commence at the start of July once his contract at Liverpool expired. However, once administration was confirmed, an automatic registration ban hit the Edinburgh club and Wilson effectively became a free agent.
“Danny was one of the first on the phone to help out,” said Preston, who works for the company which represents the 21-year-old. “He’s really disappointed the way the move to Hearts has worked out but he still wants to help the club.”
Others from the very recent past have been just as willing. “Former players all seem to have an affinity with Hearts,” continued Robertson. “Danny Grainger is auctioning his Scottish Cup final vest and David Templeton is handing in the boots he wore when he scored against Liverpool. It shows what the club means to them.
“The passion of the fans is something everyone relates to. Players always say Tynecastle is a great place to play. You saw how much Hearts means to the supporters last year when they got behind the share issue and raised £1.1 million. Now they’re doing it again. I’m sure every supporter of every club would say the same, but Hearts fans have been through it time and time again under the old Lithuanian regime.
“They’ve had to take the good times – winning cups and going to Anfield and White Hart Lane – but they’ve also had the negatives of winding-up orders because tax hasn’t been paid and now administration. They’re certainly rallying round and we knew they would.”