HEARTS’ share offer ends at 5pm this evening after almost eight weeks of fans battling tenaciously to save their club. The final total of funds raised is expected to hover around the £900,000 mark. That still leaves a funding gap to be bridged between now and the season’s end, with another £900,000 required.
The efforts of Hearts supporters since October 25, when their club made ten per cent of its total shareholding available at 11p per share, cannot be overstated. The initial aim was to raise £1.79 million – the amount by which expenditure exceeds income this season at Tynecastle. If that target was rather ambitious, achieving around 50 per cent subscription from fans is extraordinary in the two months preceding Christmas.
Kids emptying piggy banks, adults raking their savings, pubs donating takings; just some of the lengths loyal Hearts fans have gone to in order to safeguard their club’s future. Repeated statements warning what to expect if the share issue failed certainly worked. The fans have had every last drop squeezed from them and no-one can question their commitment.
Players, too, have invested in the share issue. Some started a trend by asking to donate the shares they purchased to the Hearts Youth Development Committee, and many fans followed suit. The overall response has been nothing short of staggering and proves conclusively that Hearts fans are as dedicated as they come.
“It started off with players buying shares and asking to donate them to HYDC to look after,” explained Calum Robertson, the HYDC chairman. “A lot of individuals and fans’ groups have done the same thing. We haven’t been given any numbers as yet because Hearts told us they wanted to wait until after the share issue finished. Then they will give us a batch of shares depending on how many people have asked to donate their shares to us.
“I believe that, because of data protection, Hearts need to ask these fans if they can tell us the names of those who are donating shares. Laws don’t allow Hearts to divulge anything to a third party. We will then get in touch with the supporters’ groups and the individual fans to thank them. They know our vote will always be for the future of Hearts with the youth in mind.
“I’m astonished that, in the present climate, the response has been so strong. I was sceptical about whether Hearts would get anywhere near half the amount they were asking for. I think the fans have been fantastic with the support they’ve shown through the share issue. From a youth point of view, I think it’s great so many fans have entrusted their shares to HYDC. It’s a realisation that the club is going to have to go forward with its youth players and the fans are beginning to appreciate that. It has to be acknowledged what the fans have done, both with the present financial climate in mind as well as the time of year. Christmas imposes a lot of burdens on families. Our gates have gone up and I’m sure there has been extra business done through the Hearts shop. However, it’s important to remember that we are still £800,000 to £900,000 short of the amount the club wanted to raise. We need to continue to support the club in any way we can. The share issue is now closed but that doesn’t mean that’s the job done or that our efforts are finished. We’ve got to continue.”
And continue they will. Nonetheless, there is an argument that supporters have stood up to be counted when it mattered most. They cannot continue to donate money at the rate of the last two months. So it’s now over to Vladimir Romanov, Hearts’ majority shareholder, and his board of directors. With £900,000 to find between now and next summer, they must balance the need to sell players and reduce the wage bill in January against weakening the team too much. It is a delicate situation.
Other than selling players, which could both generate transfer fees and cut salary costs, Hearts’ immediate options for raising cash are limited. They cannot earn money through a Scottish Cup run like last season as they are already out of the competition. They are in the semi-final of the League Cup, however, and will face Inverness next month for a place in the final, which would bring additional welcome income. Fans are understandably reluctant to see players leave, particularly those with whom they have developed a strong affinity. Fourteen Hearts players are out of contract next June and some will be targeted by clubs sensing the chance of a cheap deal in January. The Tynecastle board, though, are well versed in trying to secure true market value for their assets.
Eggert Jonsson swapped Tynecastle for Molineux, then an English Premier League venue, 12 months ago in a deal worth around £200,000 to Hearts. He was entering the last six months of his contract in Edinburgh and the club decided to cash in when Wolves made an offer. Jonsson was a promising young product of the Riccarton youth academy who already had full international caps and found himself in a similar position to that of Ryan McGowan this year. Ironically, Jonsson is now surplus to requirements at Wolves, who will listen to offers for the player when the transfer window opens.
“We would obviously like to keep as many players as we can but, realistically, I think there will be players leaving,” continued Robertson. “We’d be disappointed to see players who have come through the academy leave. Ryan McGowan, for example, is our current Young Player of the Year but I suspect he might be more likely than anyone else to go.
“This is a personal view, but if Hearts let players go then they will have to replace them. There is only so much they can do with academy players coming through. The players who are capable of playing for the first team are probably in the first team already. Certainly from a defensive point of view, there is a limit to the capabilities of the players who are coming through. We would still like to replace players who leave. Whether John McGlynn will get that luxury is up for debate. Although it would be disappointing if players left, we would understand the reasons why.
“What this share issue has done is show what Hearts means to the supporters and that the fans will back the club. The Hearts fans have done what they can do. Hopefully the board can now support that and realise the will for the club to go forward with youth having a strong emphasis in the future. It’s up to the board to back the Hearts supporters’ efforts.”