The chaos ensuing at Hearts this week and over the past few months is one which is becoming increasingly more familiar. As a club’s financial situation begins to spiral downwards and an irresponsible owner is frequently found missing, fans step in and pledge to take over from the failing administration. Hearts are burdened with debts totalling nearly £25 million owed for tax and general running costs, with £500,000 needed just to keep the club running through the summer.
It has forced the board to put the entire playing squad up for sale and issue a statement which said any offers would be considered for any player, such as Jamie MacDonald, Jason Holt and Ryan Stevenson.
MP, Ian Murray is the head of the Foundation of Hearts group of 4000 Hearts fans who are all pledging money to take control of the SPL team and rescue it from the clutches of Vladimir Romanov. The Lithuanian has also overseen the bankruptcy of UBIG and Ukio Bankas, the two firms which have a controlling stake in the club which makes the takeover situation even more difficult.
If Ian Murray and FOH do manage a takeover of Hearts then they will join Macclesfield Town in becoming another member of the growing list of fan owned teams. The Silkmen were taken over by a local Community Interest Company, which was given the controlling shares of the club from the former board, and their Moss Rose ground was acquired by the Cheshire East Council.
Macclesfield Town fans undoubtedly feel happier now that they are in control of a club which has its ground secured through a partnership with the local council and who have had all their former loans written off by the outgoing chairman Amar Alkhadi, who will sit on the new board.
However, the situation is not so clear or simple for Hearts fans. Unlike fan takeovers which have taken place at lower league or non-league clubs, a takeover at Hearts would require the new consortium to deal with pay offs for Romanov’s firms, tackle eye-watering debts and replace an outgoing squad capable of competing in the top division.
With Britain in the grip of a financial sinkhole it is difficult to see where FOH can guarantee a monthly pledge from thousands of fans totalling between £10 and £100, not just for the next few months but in the long term.
Maroons’ fans can look to SPL rivals Motherwell who have made successful progress towards their aim of total fan ownership. Former chairman John Boyle set aside the majority of his shares to be given to the fan run Well Society, made up of supporters who pledge money and fundraiser to help purchase and run the club. This is the kind of handover of power Hearts could only have wished for.
Whereas Barcelona, Real Madrid and most German Bundesliga teams are held up as the shining examples of fan ownership, the stark reality is that in this country most fan owned teams exist in the lower divisions, such as Wrexham, AFC Wimbledon and Chester FC. Could a team owned solely by fans remain at the top?