Hibs fans' group HSL encourage more pledgers as Leeann Dempster confirms donations will go towards player budget

Fundraising effort will help bring new recruits to Easter Road

By Matthew Elder
Wednesday, 1st July 2020, 7:30 am
Hibs midfielder Stevie Mallan with a Hibernian Supporters Limited scarf. Pic: HSL
Hibs midfielder Stevie Mallan with a Hibernian Supporters Limited scarf. Pic: HSL

Hibs fans may have been reassured over any urgent need to dip into their pockets to save their club, but their fundraising efforts can still make a significant difference on the park.

That was the message from Jim Adie, chairman of Hibernian Supporters Limited, which has seen a significant surge in pledges over the past fortnight in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

The group's membership has rocketed from 2500 to over 3300 amid fears that the club was in danger of going out of business after warning of the "unsustainable strain" the pandemic was having on club finances.

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But having been comforted by chief executive Leeann Dempster's interview last week, where she quashed any suggestion that the need for cutbacks at Easter Road equated to any risk of the club going bust, the focus of the fundraising has now shifted firmly onto the need to invest in the first team squad.

Dempster met the supporters' group last week – she is herself a director of HSL and regularly attends their meetings – where it was agreed that any cash donated via HSL will go straight into the player budget for next season.

Adie hopes that the promise of having a direct impact on the funds available to head coach Jack Ross to strengthen the squad will push membership towards the 4000-mark.

Membership surge

"It's been nothing short of fantastic to have so many fans step forward and I think it's fair to say the surge in activity was in response to the club statement. Most fans were very concerned and it was just an urge to step forward and help," he said.

"As the club was able to communicate more widely and get its position much more clearer, the sense of urgency, while it's not dissipated, it's dropped back a wee bit. I think people have realised there's no imminent danger at the club.

"The clear message coming not just from existing members, but from new members and the wider support who have jumped on board, is that they are worried that the impact is going to be seen on the park.

"So they're desperately keen to have their money used to improve Leeann's budget, and she was able to confirm that this was absolutely correct. All donations we pass to the club right now will be supplementing the budget that she was planning to have, so it will absolutely have an impact on our squad.

Sense of urgency

"The thing we [supporters] are always most interested in is the product on the park. This initiative has got a part to play in that because if we can really drive this number up and increase the donations, and if I was able to say to Leeann, 'please expect an extra £150,000 coming in over the next 12 months', that's a player.

"In turn, she can say to Jack Ross, 'remember I said to you it's one in, one out, well actually I've got £150,000 extra in my budget, so that guy you've had your eye on, phone his agent'.

"The sense of urgency is now because the market is effectively open. It's not going to be a lot of help if it takes us until November to add on an extra 1000 members, because the window will have closed.

"We want a real sharp burst so we can quickly say to the club, 'this is the level of donation you can expect coming in over the next 12 months'."

HSL was initially set up with the purpose of acquiring a 25.1 per cent stake in the club in order to secure a meaningful vote on major issues, however, those plans have stalled under Ron Gordon's ownership, with the organisation stalled on their current stake of 15 per cent.

That issue will be tackled at a later date. For now, the group's full focus is on helping the club, with fans encouraged to sign up to a monthly £10 subscription.

Every little helps

"An individual supporter may feel their £10 doesn't account for very much – that it's not going to go very far. But when you add up the £10s by the hundred, and by the thousand, it actually does stack up to a lot of money," Adie added.

"You only have to look across the city and see what the guys there [Foundation of Hearts] have done. You get 8000 people paying a tenner a month and all of a sudden you've got some serious money.

"We're never going to get that number because they came from a different starting point. Their club was quite literally about to go out of business so there was a real serious catastrophic event that took place there.

"We've not had that – we didn't have it under the previous ownership and we haven't had it under the new ownership so it's always going to be difficult to generate the same level of interest as our friends across the city. But having said that, this recent event does have the potential to increase our numbers significantly.

"Player budgets have been severely curtailed, therefore the amount that we can raise will make a difference. It could be the difference between adding two players to the squad, or adding zero players to the squad."

Third-place chase

Adie hopes that another sizable increase in HSL pledgers – and a contribution towards an extra player or two – can help the club challenge for third place next season.

"Depending on the court case, it looks like Hearts are not going to be in the league, so in theory, third place should be a chase between us and Aberdeen. Now, we're all old enough to know it doesn't always work out that way, but we've got to be saying to ourselves that we need to knock Aberdeen off that perch," he added.

"The target is to get to Europe next season, and what's going to help us to do that? Better players. How do we get players right now given the board have got difficult trading conditions? Fans stepping forward - if they can.

"We don't want to alienate men and women who've just lost their job or about to lose their job, or struggling with their rent, that's not who we're talking to or looking to embarrass in any way. But thankfully there are still plenty folk out there who are in a comfortable position and really wouldn't miss a tenner."

Fans can pledge funds by going to www.hiberniansupporters.co.uk.