LEE MAKEL knows only too well the excruciating waiting game Hearts must play for the next seven days. He endured every moment of it at Livingston, watching team-mates and colleagues made redundant after the West Lothian club entered administration in 2004. Makel does not believe the same fate will befall another of his former clubs.
The Cowdenbeath assistant manager offered some comfort to Hearts fans today by outlining positives that can emerge from a financially-stricken football club. At Almondvale, high-earning players waived salaries and agreed to pay cuts to allow other members of staff to remain. A united front took hold, and Makel expects something similar at Tynecastle.
He does not dismiss the troubles affecting Hearts and knows better than most how devastating it is to have the club’s very existence threatened by a £450,000 tax bill. Makel spent three years there between 1998 and 2001, his midfield performances making him popular with supporters to this day.
He believes Hearts will survive, that supporters will rally and that investors will be found to avoid Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs proceeding with the winding up order they served on the Edinburgh club.
“I went through it myself at Livingston and it’s not nice when you see boys losing jobs,” recalled Makel.
“It can actually have a positive effect in the sense that it brings the whole club closer together. That’s what happened at Livingston.
“We got a little bit closer to one another and helped each other out, whether it was on the field or off the field.
“We had relative success when we went into administration because we won the League Cup soon after that. But I don’t predict Hearts will go into administration. I’m sure something will turn up in the next few days. The top earners at Livingston did waive some of their earnings and they agreed to take a wage cut to allow the club to keep going.
“That helped certain individuals stay at Livingston like staff members, groundsmen and caterers. I think that’s what made us stronger together. We had a fantastic cup run and won the final at Hampden and we managed to finish high up the league as well.
“If the club had been paying the wages week in and week out then the players might give something back to help them stay. You would want all the players to help out as much as possible and I’m sure they will.
“They’ve got the club at heart, plus you have some fantastic supporters there. The fans will turn out in numbers over the next few games to help them out.”
Hearts are putting every effort into convincing supporters to participate in their recently-launched share issue and to buy tickets for next Saturday’s league encounter with St Mirren. The danger is that the visit of the Paisley club could be Hearts’ last-ever match, and fans have already responded in their thousands.
Makel explained the difficulties involved in trying to play for a club in such a precarious position. Football, at times, can be the furthest thing from the minds of those responsible for playing it.
“At the minute, the Hearts players will just want to concentrate on putting performances in every week,” said the 39-year-old. “You can understand why their performances have been up and down of late but they have a fantastic squad there. I’m sure someone will come in and help them.”
Players displayed their loyalty last season when wages were paid late on several occasions during the winter months. The reward for their togetherness was a historic Scottish Cup final against their city rivals Hibs, which ended in a 5-1 romp and a place in folklore for those involved.
Makel stressed that the Hearts players, many of whom have already bought shares in the club, will continue to show their commitment. “You just need to look at how long these issues have been there,” he continued.
“Looking from the outside in, they weren’t getting paid on time last season but they did manage to put on some fantastic performances. Those eventually led to them winning the Scottish Cup.
“This year, they maybe don’t have as much experience as they had last year. You’re looking for the more experienced lads to help bring the young boys on and that maybe hasn’t quite happened.
“If investors come in, they will look at the squad and realise it’s one of the best squads in the league.
“Hearts should be challenging but you can appreciate why things are going the way they are going at the minute.
“It’s disappointing but I think the club has been in this predicament and almost waiting for this to happen for a wee while now. I don’t think it will be any surprise to the fans or the players or the coaching staff. I’m sure something good will come in the end. Hearts is a fantastic club.
“I saw the statement on the Hearts website saying they need investment. It’s been the case for a wee while now that they needed fresh investment so I wasn’t really surprised. It’s not a nice situation for the players to be in when all they want to do is concentrate on their football and their performances.
“When things are taken out of your own hands, you tend to look over your shoulder. It’s not a great predicament for players to be in because they want to concentrate on playing week in and week out.”