August 2013 Dinner Meeting
As our guest speakers for the August Dinner Meeting we were delighted to welcome Trevor Birch, partner at accounting firm BDO who have been appointed as administrators at Hearts, and Garry Locke, Hearts Manager. Our objective was to give our members and guests an insight into the progress being made at the Club both on and off the field. It was very encouraging that over 225 members and guests came along to listen and learn.
During the Q & A session it was clear that Trevor was optimistic that the Club would survive with new owners. He said that the Club has the cash resources to last until January next year (season ticket and match ticket receipts have been good) and was hopeful that Hearts will, by then, be in the hands of Foundation of Hearts, the current preferred bidders.There was still work to be done to persuade UBIG / Ukio Bankas that the FOH bid was the best they would get. He advised that we would have a better idea by the middle of September when a deal will take place but he is confident that it will happen. He was hopeful of exiting administration by 31st December via a CVA which would allow the Club to bolster their playing staff during the January window.
Garry was very realistic in his prognosis for the season ahead. We have had a very decent start to the season but we do have a very young squad and limited numbers. He has absolutely no complaint about the enthusiasm and the skills of the squad and indeed has to teach them the importance of resting. Losing Ryan Stevenson as one of the elder statesman was a bitter blow and he hoped to have him back in 5-6 weeks. One member asked if Garry was worried when Jamie MacDonald had to be replaced against Raith Rovers. No, said Garry, while not wanting any player injured he stated that we have three excellent goalkeepers at Tynecastle, Jamie, Mark Ridgers and Jack Hamilton. Asked about supplying 6 players to the Scotland under 21 squad he said it was ironic that we were unable to sign players but the authorities were happy to take our players away on international duty, but he was unwilling to stop the players going. It is an honour to play for your country and the players deserved it. Gary (as was Trevor) was unstinting in his praise for the fans for their support of the team both financially and at matches.
One thing Garry does not have to worry about is the players staying too long in the pub. Most of them he laughed are too young to get in in the first place!!
While it is clear from listening to Trevor and Garry on the night that Hearts are not out of the woods yet, a lot of progress has been made on the way to financial stability. Both emphasised the solidarity amongst the management, players and fans. It is quite clear that there is an openness and honesty about the place, which is very refreshing. We are very lucky to have these two guys at Tynecastle
Player of the Year Dinner- April 2013
At our last meeting of the season on April 25th we were delighted to welcome players Andy Webster, Darren Barr and Jamie Macdonald for our Player of the Year Night.
It was with great pleasure that we presented the award to worthy winner Andy Webster, although it has to be said that Darren and Jamie (and Marius Zaliukas) ran him close. Despite having received a number of these awards over the years Andy was clearly delighted to take possession of our trophy.
After the ceremony all three players took part in our usual Q and A session. A large audience came up with some great questions- Unsurprisingly the Cup victory against Hibs was first up when the players were asked of their memories. Andy just loved the day sharing the joy with players and family, Darren was delighted to get the first important goal while Jamie felt lonely in the second half playing in front of an empty Hibs end!! Other highlights of their careers at Hearts were the EUFA Cup matches against Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool. All of them would like to get into coaching after their playing days are over (what else can I do said Jamie!) while they all agree that the youngsters at Hearts are of a high calibre with good careers ahead for a number of them.
In a light-hearted and enjoyable evening these guys were a joy to have in our company and we thank them for coming along.
As we know Andy Webster and Darren Barr have now left the Club. We shall miss them both as people and players and we wish them well with their future careers. Jamie is staying with us, of course, after having taken a cut in wages, and we are sure he will play a major part in galvanising the youngsters in the difficult coming season.
March 2013 Dinner Meeting
Our guest on the night was Neil Doncaster, Chief Executive of the SPL. This was a second visit by Neil to an Association meeting. Many of you will remember the last time he joined us was in the middle of a threatened referees’ strike. Fortunately there was nothing quite as pressing this time although as always there were plenty of issues to discuss concerning Scottish Football.
The first topic to be discussed was unsurprisingly league reconstruction. Neil is very keen on 12 12 18 set up although concedes that is impossible to please everybody. The larger league of around 16 clubs that many fans support simply does not provide sufficient revenue. Neil pointed out that only the larger European countries like Spain, England and Italy had larger leagues and Scotland should be much more in line with countries of similar size to ourselves. The 12 12 18 set up would give more matches for the Clubs and therefore more revenue as well as being more competitive with the top two leagues splitting into 3 leagues of eight. It would also give much needed income to the second tier (first Division). More competitive leagues should also mean more money from sponsorship, attendances and broadcasting. Neil also mentioned that it was very unusual to have only one team relegated from a league and having perhaps two relegation places and play offs would make for more interesting and meaningful games for the fans, plus, of course, extra income.
On the question of the punishments handed out to Hearts by the SPL for not paying wages and taxes timeously, Neil was quite adamant that the fines and player signing limitations were quite clearly in the SPL rule book which was formulated and agreed by the Clubs themselves. There is no question of Hearts being treated differently from any other Club and no question of any vendetta against Mr Romanov.
Another excellent question from our members concerned the falling attendances for the League Cup and Scottish Cup attendances and could we look at different or more interesting competitions. Neil answered this by saying that new competitions were being looked at, citing examples of an Anglo Scottish Cup or European Leagues which were well within the current rules.
One member asked Neil what had attracted him to come to Scotland to work. He answered very easily that it was the passion for the game in Scotland. After graduating in law and working as a solicitor for four years he had joined Norwich City and quickly got the football bug. An interesting statistic he mentioned was that Scotland has the highest attendances at football matches per head of population in Europe. He loves living and working here and his family have now joined him in Scotland.
Goal line technology is a topical subject again after the goal not given in the recent derby despite the ball clearly being over the line. While there is no doubt that goal line technology would put an end to such controversies, Neil warned that the cost to each club to install it would be around £250,000.
A number of other topics came up in a busy night. Referees for example are often paid more than the players they are supervising and therefore we have a right to excellent refereeing. Neil advised that the SFA are happy with the standard of our whistlers. There was not much agreement from those present unsurprisingly!
It says a lot about the man that Neil takes time out from a very busy schedule to come and join us and answer our questions. It has to be said that the questions asked were of a high standard and were answered very concisely and clearly by Neil. It made for a most interesting night for all those who have the interest of Scottish football at heart. At the end he talked of the obvious passion we have for our Club and he would be delighted to come whenever he was invited. We shall certainly be taking him up on that.
February 2013 Dinner Meeting
We were very fortunate to have as guests for the evening Brian McLauchlin, BBC football reporter and Alan Preston, former Hearts star and radio pundit. Brian and Alan regularly work together on BBC radio and quickly proved to be an excellent double act. Brian has been reporting on football in the east of Scotland for ten years and therefore has been there during the whole of the Romanov era. Alan, a self-confessed Hearts supporter, was of course a footballer with Hearts and other football clubs before moving into management with Livingston. What was very interesting was that he was instrumental in bringing both Michael Ngoo and Danny Wilson on loan from Liverpool, both of whom have made their mark at Tynecastle. Alan works with a sports management company who manage both Michael and Danny. They also manage Gareth Bale and we all agreed it was a pity he could not have come to Hearts as well!! Alan mentioned that the goodwill created by Hearts and their fans remains in Liverpool after our match there, and was a major reason why the two players have come to Hearts.
Not for the first time at our meetings, referees came in for a lot of stick. Both our guests agree that the standard of refereeing in Scotland is very poor. Many examples were given but the one that sticks in their minds was a perfectly good goal disallowed against Ayr United which cost Hearts the result in a League cup match a couple of years back. Ayr United went on to the final that year. Who knows how much Hearts lost financially because of that decision? They both agreed, however, that the problem is bad refereeing and not that the referee starts a game with a preconceived bias against any Club.
Having seen the departure of Manager John McGlynn on the morning of the meeting, there was speculation about who would be appointed the next Manager. While many felt that Gary Locke should be given a chance, Alan was very keen to see John Robertson back at Tynecastle. He argued that his experience, his love for the Club, and the lift it would give to the players and the fans made him the best choice.
There was much talk of the current financial crisis at Hearts. Brian had some very informed views on the way the crisis will play out. He had personally been advised by Serje Fedotovas that the Club would be sold by the end of the season. However, he doubts that the Club will change ownership this year, believing that there will be serious difficulties in disentangling the financial mess that is Mr Romanov, UBIG and Ukio Bankas, and any potential new owner will have to do due diligence before completing the deal. He thinks that there is now sufficient working capital to reach the end of the season but the Club will need money for June and July. He also stated that there are twenty three players out of contract in the summer.
Another interesting point made by Brian was that the Clydesdale Bank’s sponsorship of the SPL finishes at the end of the season. There is no new sponsor as yet which will have major financial implications for all SPL Clubs. Perhaps Neil Doncaster will be able to update us on this issue at our next meeting.
After some disappointing results on the field, it has to be said that Brian and Alan lifted our spirits with their informed thoughts on the future of Hearts intermingled with some very amusing anecdotes. It was a great evening.
Perhaps the happiest moment for the Chairman was when Brian took over the drawing of prizes for the raffle and made a considerably better job than he ever does. Hopefully he has learnt how to do it properly for the future!!