SITTING in Tynecastle’s newly-launched Bobby Walker Suite, Hearts legend John Robertson is surrounded in history. Photos and remnants from one of the finest players of his generation adorn the walls. The past is everywhere. Yet Robertson is far more concerned with the future.
Tomorrow, a meeting in another of Tynecastle’s hospitality venues, the Gorgie Suite, could decide whether the club continues to exist. Creditors will gather to vote on the Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) proposed by the fans’ group Foundation of Hearts, which will take the club out of administration if accepted by the creditors. Robertson, for all the vital goals he blasted in a maroon shirt, knows the stakes are as high as ever.
Administrators BDO are hopeful of a positive outcome, but they need the backing of 75 per cent of those who choose to vote at tomorrow’s meeting. Hearts’ biggest creditor is Ukio Bankas – owed £15m – but are in administration themselves and are being asked to accept a £2.5m CVA from the Foundation. Ukio Bankas Investment Group (UBIG) are the biggest shareholders with 50 per cent, but will get nothing as the bank are the only secured creditors.
If the vote goes in Hearts’ favour, the process of exiting administration can begin. That in itself will take several weeks to complete as it goes through the courts. If the CVA is rejected, the possibility of liquidation looms large for the Gorgie club.
“What happens this week is going to be one of the biggest days in the club’s history,” said Robertson. “I don’t think it will be the biggest, I think there have been other things in the past. It would be nice to finally get the club back on an even keel.
“I think virtually from the first day I walked in here, the club had been struggling when Kenny Waugh and Wallace Mercer started their bid for the club. Since then, there has always been some sort of problem and debt of sorts and it has caught up with us. It has come to a head. Hopefully tomorrow will be the first day of the road back. There is still a lot of hard work to be done and I think everyone connected with the club is thankful for the work that has been done. The fans just want their club back.”
The Foundation of Hearts have put over three years’ work into this attempt to gain control and run Hearts on the behalf of supporters through a members’ scheme. “It’s been frustrating for the Foundation as well because it’s the lack of information coming back, the lack of progress coming back, but they’ve kept chipping away and chipping away,” said Robertson, mindful that Hearts remain under a strict registration embargo whilst in administration.
“Hopefully we can get some players in January, but if the worst case scenario is that it takes longer than that, then fine. It’s about the club surviving long-term, not just this season. If you run into the financial situation that Hearts run into, you deserve your punishment. But I don’t think they look at the embargo deeply enough. They just look at the first team and think, right that’s what you’ve got, get on with it, you can’t sign any players. But we’ve still got to play in an Under-20 league.”
With most of their under-20 squad now first-team regulars, Hearts are resorting to asking high schools to release 15 and 16-year-old boys to play under-20 matches. It is almost a perfect illustration of the mess they have been left in by former owner Vladimir Romanov. “Most of these games are played in the afternoon. What if the schools said, ‘no, you’re not getting these boys out of school?’ Who do Hearts play in these leagues? It’s only through the good grace of the schools,” said Robertson.
“That’s why Friday is very important going forward because it gives the club the next focal point about how it progresses. You can’t run up debt anymore. One of the first things that the banking industry collapse proved is that every business has to be transparent and has to run itself properly.
“When Wallace Mercer and Kenny Waugh were battling for the club, the debt was around about £200,000. You have Chris Robinson, it was about £22m when he handed it over and Romanov took it up a bit. My only disappointment is that you hear Vladimir Romanov spent £60m, it’s just a pity it was not spent in the right way.
“If someone came to me and said, ‘I’m going to invest £60m in Hearts over ten years, how do I do it?’ You pay £5m a year for five years and pay off the debt, you spend another £5m on a new main stand. Then you add another £3m a year to the budget and you have the third best budget in the league and you’ll be up there challenging for trophies and Europe. That’s what any club would look for going forward. You have a model in place.”