Hibs takeover raises concerns over fans’ stake in club
There have been many ?nervous afternoons spent watching Hibs for Jim Adie, but none more so than when he sat at a game with £225 of someone else’s cash stuffed in his pocket.
An elderly fan with no access to computers wanted to join the Hibernian Supporters Ltd group and so Adie arranged to meet him outside Easter Road. He was surprised when the supporter pushed an envelope into his hands containing the membership fee and explained he had “saved up” and just wanted to help his club.
“When me and my fellow directors became involved, we wanted to make sure the ordinary fan’s money is given the same respect as anybody else’s, including the rich man’s, particularly since it is being gifted without the prospect of being returned,” said Adie, pictured, the chairman of Hibernian Supporters Ltd – or, HSL as they are known by most fans
In the case of Hibs, the identity of the rich – or at least most powerful – man has changed within the last month. Just over two weeks ago, and for 28 years previously, it was Sir Tom Farmer who pulled the strings. Now it’s an American-based businessman called Ron Gordon.
In the time it took for his signature to be scrawled across the sale and purchase agreement, HSL saw their stake in the club drop from around 18.8 per cent to approximately 15.4 per cent.
This does not appear to be good news for a group founded with the principal aim of acquiring enough shares to have sufficient clout to ward off any threat to the club’s existence. The ultimate target was to reach 25.1 per cent, the magic number required to have a meaningful vote on major issues, such as the potential sale of the stadium.
Instead, HSL – conceived in partnership with the club – appears to have taken a step backwards. With no new shares being issued at the present time, it’s been suggested the project, launched over four years ago, is now moribund.
Not surprisingly, Adie disagrees. He argues recent events at Hibs demonstrate why it’s vital such a platform as HSL exists. While two fans have cancelled their direct debits since the club was sold, seven others have joined.
There’s an argument to suggest that without HSL’s investment to date, Hibs might be in a very different position. The much-celebrated Scottish Cup win of 2016 came after an injection of funds into the club by HSL helped buy St Mirren’s John McGinn, among others.
Gordon can ill afford to ignore them, and hasn’t. Adie stresses he is not suspicious of the new owner’s intentions. Having met the Peru-born businessman twice, the second time in the company of former HSL director and Proclaimer Charlie Reid, he’s confident this is a man with the best interests of the club at heart.
But football fans in Edinburgh have as much reason as any to want to be doubly sure about safeguarding their club’s future. There are plenty reasons for caution within living memory.
HSL are planning a series of consultation events designed to ensure supporters know exactly what’s still at stake. Fresh investment is required to ensure they are in a position to purchase shares when they become available in order to reach a shareholding of 20 per cent, which would mean HSL can nominate a director on to the club’s board. Adie reveals they have continued to receive donations of shares since the takeover was announced.
Another incentive to sign up is news a third strip next season will feature the names of all HSL members as at the end of September.
“Our infrastructure is robust and flexible and can take care of everyone’s needs. If you can’t, or don’t want to provide additional financial assistance to our club that is fully understandable,” he said. “If you have no interest whatsoever in any ownership matters it is still worthwhile visiting our website and donating to our club. Simply click the donate button rather than the membership button and we will pass on your funds to the club.
“For those that want their funds going to the playing budget – that will happen,” he added. “For those that want their funds going to infrastructure projects – that will happen.”
The outlook remains positive. But there’s still a sense of the rug being pulled from under the supporters’ feet. Strength in solidarity, an HSL manifesto, is all very well providing that the 33 per cent of shares not held by Ron Gordon can and indeed are exercised by the ordinary fans.
Adie can’t be overly critical of the Farmer regime. He argues fans were given every chance to reach the 25.1 figure at a reasonable price – 4p a share. A comparatively modest investment of £1.2 million is all it would have taken.
Hearts supporters, meanwhile, have raised nearly £10m since 2010 through the Hearts Foundation, which is set to gain outright control of the club early next year.
“We fans have to accept the offer has been on the table for four years,” said Adie.” I am very grateful to the 2,500 who committed their money and gave us a fair hearing and understood it, I am just disappointed we could not get the message to other fans who say they want to put a protective arm around our club.
“Let’s suppose we got to 25.1, we can’t stop. If you want safety and security, you have to keep paying an insurance premium. What comes with ownership is obligation.”
There’s fan ownership and there’s fan ownership. Different models exist, something Adie is keen to stress. “The jury is out on majority fan ownership,” he said. “There are a number of clubs where majority fan ownership exists but they are small clubs, so it is difficult to say if it has been successful.”
“Our friends across the city are probably going to be the guinea pig,” he added. “They will be the first ones where you can say they have majority fan ownership and it is a reasonable sized club. Let’s see how that unfolds.
“We have an opportunity to have a different structure that involves private and fan support. We have an opportunity to show that can work. It’s a second bite at the cherry.”
l For more information visit www.hiberniansupporters.co.uk