Hearts announce death of former chairman and chief executive Chris Robinson

Hearts have announced the death of chairman and chief executive Chris Robinson, who ran the club for 11 years.

Former Hearts chairman chad chief executive Chris Robinson has died
Former Hearts chairman chad chief executive Chris Robinson has died

The former catering entrepreneur was a controversial figure in the club’s recent past and is remembered by many supporters as the man who ran up a £20 million debt, tried to sell and move out of Tynecastle stadium and sold his shares to Vladimir Romanov.

But he can also be credited with rebuilding the stadium and moving the club’s training base and youth academy to Riccarton in partnership with Heriot-Watt University. Hearts also won the Scottish Cup in 1998, under Jim Jefferies, during his reign, ending a 36-year wait for a trophy.

Hearts said in a statement: “The club is saddened to learn of the passing of former chairman and chief executive, Chris Robinson. Everyone at Hearts' thoughts are with Chris' wife Elizabeth and their family at this time.”

Chris Robinson ran Hearts for 11 years

With the support of business partner Leslie Deans, Robinson paid £2.1m to buy out Wallace Mercer in June 1994 and eventually sold the club to Romanov 11 years and one month later after a turbulent period in charge.

Robinson rebuilt three quarters of the stadium over a four-year period to comply with the Taylor Report, and was also responsible for listing the club on the London Stock Exchange three years into his tenure.

But financial problems during his time in charge persuaded him to pursue the sale and demolition of Tynecastle. One of his ideas was to build and share a new stadium with Hibs at Straiton. But the one which nearly came to fruition was to play at Murrayfield as rent-paying tenants of the SRU.

He claimed Hearts had to leave Tynecastle was because it was “not fit for purpose”, citing Uefa regulations which deemed the ground to be unsuitable for European football.

Hearts fans gather outside an SPL board meeting in March 2004 to protest over the club's proposed move to Murrayfield

Club legend Gary MacKay was so appalled by the the plan that he even removed his Scotland jersey that had been been on display at Tynecastle for years.

The plan to leave Tynecastle could be traced back to a deal Robinson struck in September 1999 with Scottish Media Group (SMG), which purchased a 20 per cent stake in the club for £8million, but it started going sour within a year and the club’s debt mushroomed.

Under mounting criticism, Robinson appointed Labour politician George Foulkes as chairman to see if he could find any alternatives to manage the club’s debt.

Time was running out, however, and the bombshell agreement that Tynecastle was being sold to property developer Cala for £22million to cover the club’s £20million debt forced Foulkes to seek alternative buyers. Romanov was the only interested party and the club’s Lithuanian chapter began when he sold to the Russian-born businessman in September 2004 and left the club in June 2005.

Chris Robinson tried to sell Tynecastle to pay off the club's debt and move Hearts to Murrayfield

He sold his 19.6% stake to Romanov in September 2004 for £867,000, 35p a share, a third of the 1997 stock market valuation.

Educated at South Queensferry Primary School from 1956 to 1961 and subsequently at Bo’ness Academy, he was managing director of Wheatsheaf Catering Limited from 1978 to 1996. Robinson sold his catering company, Heritage Portfolio, to American giant Centerplate in January 2014. He became director at Chrysalis Scotland Limited in January 2015.