Hearts face indefinite transfer embargo over failure to pay players

Today's decision is the latest blow for the troubled Edinburgh club. Picture: Neil Hanna
Today's decision is the latest blow for the troubled Edinburgh club. Picture: Neil Hanna
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HEARTS have been hit with an indefinite transfer ban by the Scottish Premier League as a result of failing to make bonus and appearance payments to their players.

• Hearts seek legal advice over indefinite embargo

• Previous ban was due to run out on Sunday

The blow, which appears to rule out the return of Rudi Skacel to Tynecastle, came on the day the club confirmed that their share offer had raised a seven-figure sum.

A brief statement from the SPL did not specify the period to which the non-payment related but it is understood that all money due is from this season. Hearts are thought to have taken an unusually long time to make all bonus payments due from their Scottish Cup final victory in June but have now settled that matter. Non-payment of salaries and bonuses is the subject of stricter regulations introduced by the SPL in the summer.

“The Scottish Premier League have been informed by Heart of Midlothian that the club has not paid a number of bonuses and appearance payments due to players, a Remuneration Default,” the SPL statement said.

“As a result, and as described in SPL Rule A6.23, Heart of Midlothian is subject to an embargo on the registration of players until such time as the SPL board is satisfied that the remuneration default no longer continues. Heart of Midlothian will also be required to attend a disciplinary hearing before the SPL for prima facie breaches of SPL Rules A6.21 and A6.22. Details about that hearing will be announced in due course.”

Hearts responded with a brief statement on the club website. They said they had been notified of the embargo, and added: “The club is consulting with its legal advisors and will make no further comment at this time.”

Any legal dispute is expected to concern the contractual nat-ure of appearance and bonus money. It is widely understood within the profession that clubs are obliged to pay both monthly but Hearts could argue that payment was at their discretion, and that SPL rules had not been breached. Until a hearing takes place, however, the ban will remain. That will affect not only Skacel, but also Arturas Rimkevicius, the Lithuanian striker who has been on trial with the Edinburgh club. Skacel’s current deal at Dundee United expires at the end of next month, but manager Peter Houston said last week he was confident that the Czech would extend his stay at Tannadice.

Hearts were initially placed under a 60-day transfer embargo on 24 October for failing to pay their players and some staff their monthly wages on time for two consecutive months. That sanction was due to end on Sunday, as the outstanding November wages were paid earlier this month, and the December salaries were processed last week, two days earlier than normal.

That led manager John McGlynn to express the hope that the embargo had been lifted. It would have been lifted automatically if all outstanding payments had been made, but in the process of assessing the matter, the SPL learned that other payments had not been paid.

The inability to strengthen his squad will clearly come as a blow to McGlynn, but it also damages the credibility of club director Sergejus Fedotovas, who announced just weeks ago that the share offer was going so well that the club should be able to move into the transfer market at the turn of the year.

That statement, which came not long after Hearts had revealed they faced the threat of closure, caused considerable disquiet in some quarters within Scottish football.

While being hit with that new difficulty yesterday afternoon, Fedotovas was at least able to celebrate a successful conclusion to the share offer. After only going above the £800,000 mark late last week, the offer went over the million-pound mark on its closing day as the result of a late surge of interest. That took the total to well over half the maximum which would have been raised had every share been sold.

“Over £1.05m was raised through share sales to mainly general Hearts supporters and as a result of a wide range of associated fundraising activity,” the club announced. “This figure may rise as final applications are processed in the next few days and, due to supporter requests, the club will also accept completed applications and payment at the Hearts Ticket Centre until after the game against Dundee United this Sunday.

“The club is still in a perilous position with a near £800,000 shortfall between now and the end of the season. However if supporters rally at games at Tynecastle in the numbers that the club is clearly capable of generating then this in itself would make up almost the entire shortfall. Much of the rest could be generated through ticket sales for the Scottish Communities League Cup semi-final against Inverness.”

Fedotovas added that talks would continue with Supporters Direct Scotland over the planned sale of the club, which was put on the market by owner Vladimir Romanov late last year. “We cannot thank all the 4,000 and more supporters who bought shares enough, together with all those who bought tickets and raised funds for the club,” he said.

“They have given the club a lifeline in its darkest hours. There is still significant work to be done but this time there is a tangible focus that simply involves fans getting back to what they do best and that is supporting the team at Tynecastle in great numbers.

“We will continue to raise funds through our donation telephone line and online through the club website as well as encouraging more fundraising events. However the best way that we can all push through this difficult situation is by supporting the team and buying half-season tickets and match tickets.

“Together we can emerge a leaner, stronger football club and I expect that the supporters will be the ultimate beneficiaries as we progress towards making Hearts a club that is one of the most progressive and supporter-centric in the country. With your support and only with your support will this club survive and thrive.

“With this in mind we have progressed discussions with Supporters Direct, the official recognised government-backed organisation, in order to establish how best Hearts supporters could take their club forward. We are now working on the most suitable model that will give the club the best long-term chance of development under true supporter control.

“We expect to announce further details of this in the early part of 2013. Long live the Hearts.”