Hold on to your Hearts /Fan ownership must wait says Murray
● Former director believes ownership change would be wrong in midst of financial crisis
Former Hearts director Ian Murray MP has advised Ann Budge that now is not the time to hand ownership of the club over to the fans, writes Barry Anderson.
Current owner Budge is due to transfer her 75.1 per cent stake in the Tynecastle club to the Foundation of Hearts later this year.
But as Hearts enter a financial crisis and face the prospect of relegation to the Championship amid the coronavirus pandemic, Murray, a former chairman of FOH, says a fresh approach is needed as it would now be unwise for the fans to assume control of the club for the first time.
“There has got to be some significant succession planning,” he said. “I think handing over the ownership of the club at this particular stage might not be the best thing to do, both in practical terms and also just in legal terms.”
Former Hearts director Ian Murray MP believes Ann Budge should not hand ownership of the Edinburgh club to Foundation of Hearts during the coronavirus crisis.
Murray was Foundation chairman during 2014 and 2015 and feels now is not the right time for fan ownership at Tynecastle Park due to impending financial troubles across the globe.
Budge, in set, is due top ass her 75.1 per cent stake in Hearts to FOH later this year but the club are destined to be in the Championship by then.
Murray admitted he feels sorry for fans, who have pumped in more than £10 million to Tynecastle Park in recent years only for their team to be left staring at relegation from the top flight.
Murray said a fresh approach is needed given the situation. However, he stressed now is not the best time for supporters to be gaining ownership of the club for the first time.
“There has got to be some significant succession planning, I would have thought, to begin with,” he told Sky Sports.
“I think handing over the ownership of the club at this particular stage might not be the best thing to do, both in practical terms and also just in legal terms with where the club is at this moment in time.
“Everything has been satisfied. The Foundation of Hearts and the supporters will own the club to the tune of over 70 per cent. So they are now the owners of the club, but they are the owners of the club going into a crisis.
“The biggest problem we always had when dealing with governance, with fan ownership and all those big issues around supporters being involved in the running and managing of football clubs is:
When they take that ownership on and a crisis hits, what do you then do? A lot of questions now have come to reality that we were posing six or seven years ago when we were putting this project together.
“I think those are the big questions that the board at Hearts and the board at the Foundation are going to have to realise before they take ownership of the club.
“Certainly, I think a fresh approach is needed and some significant succession planning is needed, but all of that can only be done when the uncertainty of this crisis has lifted.
“Of course, the uncertainty could have been partially lifted by a temporary or permanent reconstruction of the leagues, which would have helped every club in my view.”
Hearts are eager to avoid relegation from the Premiership and Budge was heavily involved in a task force looking at expanding the top flight as part of league restructuring.
That collapsed on Friday when several top-flight clubs made it clear they were not interested in the idea and would not vote for it.
Hearts now face dropping into the Championship as Scottish Professional Football League officials prepare to end the Premiership season based on average points per game.
Murray believes there are serious questions to be answered about how the club went from European qualification to bottom of the league inside four years.
“I am desperately sorry for all our supporters – I am an avid and passionate one of them –forwhat’shappenedat the club,” he said. “When [former head coach] Robbie Neilson left [in 2016], we were sitting very well in the Premiership, we had got back into European football, the finances were looking great, proposals to complete the stadium were all there, and then it’s all gone dreadfully on the basis of some decisions.
“Now, some decisions are made for the very best intentions, of course they are, but the amount of money that seems to have been wasted on reshaping the club time after time, with changes of manager and changes of personnel, the money that’s been put into the stand – well, well above what was initially proposed. Where are the [cash] reserves?
“Nobody could have foreseen that this pandemic was going to come. Anybody who did would have been lying to you, but there do seem to be some massive questions that have to be asked about succession planning, about where the club is going.
“We are back, potentially, in the Championship, trying to come out of a major financial crisis because of this pandemic, and with the future not looking very bright now.
“The future, a few years ago, was looking potentially the brightest of any club in the Scottish Premiership, so there is a real problem at Hearts.
“There are real big questions to be asked, but all we are trying to do at the moment as supporters is support the club as we always have done in every possible way we can to make sure they can see through this crisis and rebuild. “Every single person must be looking at the moment and going: ‘How do we make sure that no club, of the 42 members we have, is disadvantaged?’ “The best way of doing that would have been to reconstruct the leagues and finish this league season now so people could plan properly for when football kicks off again, hopefully very soon.”
“We are back, potentially, in the Championship, trying tocomeoutofamajor financial crisis because of this pandemic, and with the future not looking very bright”
IAN MURRAY MP