Hearts: Fans will not let Tynecastle go easily

Hearts fans protest over the proposed sale of Tynecastle in 2004. Picture: SNS
Hearts fans protest over the proposed sale of Tynecastle in 2004. Picture: SNS
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THE appointment of auditing firm BDO as Hearts’ administrators raises questions over whether Tynecastle Stadium could be sold off. The ground is effectively owned by Ukio Bankas as levy against the £15million Hearts owe them.

Ukio’s administrators Valnetas pushed through the appointment of BDO yesterday as the club’s biggest creditor despite Hearts wanting KPMG to oversee administration.

BDO will now be obliged to conduct Hearts’ administration with Ukio’s own creditors the priority. Tynecastle is the club’s only real sellable asset aside from players, although expect fans to do everything in their power to prevent any sale. Foundation of Hearts have already indicated they could attempt to buy the stadium if it went up for sale. The takeover bid revealed in yesterday’s Evening News from a UK-based consortium would include the ground were it to be accepted.

However, the biggest objection could come from the general public. In 2004, when the then-Hearts chairman Chris Robinson proposed the sale of Tynecastle and a move to nearby Murrayfield, supporters reacted explosively. Protests on the McLeod Street tarmac conveyed a clear message that any move away from Gorgie would not be tolerated.

It left no doubt as to the depth of feeling fans hold for one of Scottish football’s oldest venues, home to Hearts for 127 years. Those at the club at the time will never forget the reaction. “I can remember the protests outside the stadium,” recalled Austin McCann, Hearts’ left-back at the time. “The Hearts fans never got on the players’ backs, their anger was aimed at people higher up at the club. I saw the scenes and I saw the passion in their faces – it was incredible.

“It’s the traditional home for the club and fans see grounds as part of their identity. When I was at Airdrie, they left Broomfield to go to a new stadium and I don’t think it’s ever the same. Dunfermline are also having issues over their ground, but Tynecastle and East End Park are part of the history of Hearts and Dunfermline. The fans can identify with that and you want both clubs to keep their stadiums.

“Some football fans are crazy because their club is such a big part of their lives and they are so fanatical about it. That feeling can pull Hearts through their troubles right now. I think the fans would rather have Hearts surviving at the end of the day, but the aim will be to keep the club going and keep Tynecastle as well. I fully expect them both to be saved.

“A club as big as Hearts in trouble will have a lot of fans behind it. It’s good to hear there is a group of Hearts fans interested in taking over. When you’re getting 12,000 and 13,000 through the turnstiles every week it makes a big difference. The fans were great last year helping Hearts stay alive with the share issue. Hopefully there is someone out there who can help out again.”

McCann was one of only three players – alongside Alex Neil and Eddie Forrest – to survive liquidation at Airdrieonians in 2000. He has also watched Dunfermline’s recent plunge into administration with interest after leaving the Fife club for Ayr United only last year. McCann recently moved into Junior football with his local club Clydebank, another whose supporters are familiar with so-called insolvency events.

Widespread concern over the greater good of Scottish football is shared by McCann after the demise of Rangers, Dunfermline and Hearts in the last 12 months.

“These are big clubs in Scottish football. It wasn’t that long ago I was at Hearts and it was us and Dunfermline fighting over third spot and getting into Europe. Now they’re struggling to survive. It doesn’t augur well for the future of Scottish football. Hopefully these clubs can stay alive because they’re a big part of people’s lives.

“I enjoyed my time at Hearts and, more recently, at Dunfermline. I was with Hearts for three-and-a-half years and Dunfermline for four. You get to know staff behind the scenes. Players can come and go, but for some staff it’s their job for life. They are the ones who bear the brunt of administration. I just hope Hearts come through it because they’ve got a lot of staff behind the scenes.”

As a teenager, McCann received a harsh education in the reality of football finances when Airdrieonians collapse. They would later reform as Airdrie United, but only after making almost their entire playing staff redundant. “Only me and two others, Alex and Eddie, were kept on and it was a difficult time,” recalled the player.

“I was in a different situation from a lot of the older boys, who had mortgages, kids and families to look after. I was about 18 and still staying at my mums paying 15 quid a week dig money.

“The administrators at Airdrie sacked everybody bar three of us, which I found hard to take. I saw all these guys who helped me come through into the first-team squad, plus all the boys I’d come through with, being told to go.

“Steve Archibald came in and built a new team and it was hard seeing the struggles my old team-mates had after leaving Airdrie. They had to try to find work to pay bills so it’s not a nice situation to be in. It’s happening too often at football clubs right now.”