Wallace Mercer takes over at Hearts
I4 June 1981 N the business of knowing what you want from life and working hard to get it, the man who yesterday won the controlling interest in the Heart of Midlothian Football Club is already time-served and a proven success.
Archie Martin’s comment from the chairman’s position that “Wallace Mercer has not won today but Hearts have since no man is bigger than the club” was spoken with conviction at the Tynecastle press conference.
But anyone with a 51 per cent shareholding in any business is the boss in spite of what anybody says. And from being totally unknown at Tynecastle before May 22, when he was telephoned by his ally and former Hearts player, Donald Ford, in the London hotel used as his base for the England-scotland match, Mercer has assumed that leadership in 12 days flat.
Ambition and application have been two of his characteristics throughout Wallace Mercer’s life. When Mercer was 10, while living in Glasgow, his father died. Mercer made it nevertheless to Strathclyde University for a year before realising, at the age of 18, he could not afford to pay for full-time education.
At this point he decamped to London, started earning a living and studied law and economics in the spare time of his evenings. His Saturdays were taken up playing rugby for London Scottish.
At the age of 25, though, he had amassed sufficient capital to return to Scotland, and two years later left his native west coast to establish in the east Pentland Securities, the company which effectively holds the 51 per cent shareholding in Hearts.
Mercer is now 34, and Hearts for the next six months, are his club – his rival, Kenny Waugh, having conceded victory in a 1am telephone call to Mercer at Edinburgh’s Press Club. Mercer gave those directors who cared to stay and watch him take office (Bert Mckim declined the invitation) his assurance that he would willingly scale down his shareholding to a minimum of 25.1 per cent within half a year after describing their decision to pick him as being “morally right.”
But there is no guarantee that anyone will now feel compelled to raise the money to buy up the shares on offer from him, either in total or as smaller pockets.
At any rate Wallace Mercer, who sat in session with his co-directors at Tynecastle last night, believes the time is right for someone with his business acumen to accept control of Hearts.
The position of chairman remains, in the words of Archie Martin, “the same as it was for the moment” but even he conceded that Hearts had been lacking any sort of financial expertise.
“It is only a pity that Bert Mckim who, for 12 months of his directorship has worked tirelessly to properly organise the club’s lottery, is not here,” he added, “because Hearts now have someone (Mercer) who can guide this project and others in the right direction given that a sound financial base had been set up”.
There is, in fact, something of the Phineas T. Barnum to be observed in Mr Mercer. At his appearance before the 700 shareholders in the Tynecastle Hearts’ Supporters Club at the beginning of the week he had been announced from the front stage by Donald Ford, but entered from the back of the hall throught the assembled throng like a presidential candidate. Yesterday at Tynecastle the man who employs Allan Wells as his public relations consultant showed no disinclination either towards posing for photographers in every way except dressed as a Hearts player in the dug-out.
Showmanship is never allowed
“Cash must be used to create custom. Without spectators the game has nothing to offer” Wallace Mercer
to get in the way of the hard-nosed businessman though and under Mercer’s guidance Hearts and Tynecastle will shortly become recognised as more than football club and stadium. “In order to prosper we must create cash and that means using methods other than merely putting eleven players out on the field once a fortnight for home games.
“The cash must then be used in turn to create custom, because without spectators the game has nothing to offer.”
Mercer is already committed to a sponsorship package with the Skol brewing company valued at £150,000. The appointment of a commercial director is also proposed. A sports complex has been mooted.
To summarise the last two paragraphs of the paper he presented before the Hearts board at his final interview with them, these moves would be taken to “ensure that the club is run in the best interests of the community, the supporters and the shareholders and to create a new interest in its continuance and future.”