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Scottish football needs two strong capital clubs

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Jim Spence | 10:05 UK time, Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The crisis at the capital's two football clubs is bad news for Scottish football.

The revolving managerial door at Hibs needs regular oiling, having seen seven bosses whizz through it in ten years.

Meantime, down Gorgie way, Vladimir Romanov's often zany stewardship of Hearts is surely heading to a conclusion.

Hearts and Hibs are two great Scottish institutions, who have underachieved in recent years.

Each has a potentially huge support base in Scottish terms, and given Edinburgh's financial status as a city, it is a surprise that neither has been able to mount a more robust challenge to the Old Firm.

A strong Hearts and Hibs is good for Edinburgh...and for Scottish football. Photo: SNS

A strong Hearts and Hibs is good for Edinburgh...and for Scottish football. Photo: SNS

They should both certainly be able to see off the challenge from the likes of Dundee United and Motherwell given their much superior resources, yet a look at the Scottish Premier League table tells its own story.

Only a few seasons ago I covered a game at Tannadice, where Hearts brought around 5,000 supporters with them.

That kind of backing matches anything the Old Firm bring on their travels and it is testimony to the pulling power of a Tynecastle side in its pomp.

Hibs, too, can attract a huge support when they are at the top of their game.

The support that both clubs can generate provides a huge economic boost for themselves and the game in general.

But, equally important, our game needs the atmosphere and passion that a packed Easter Road and Tynecastle bring.

When those two grounds are heaving with humanity there is a dramatic sense of occasion, which is as good as can be found anywhere.

For the sake of Scottish football, let's hope those in charge at the two clubs make sensible decisions in the days and weeks ahead to restore the two clubs to capital health.


  • Comment number 1.

    Two big clubs in the insanity zone for very different reasons.

    Petrie should hang his head in shame for the managerial mess he has presided over. They lost the likes of McLeish and Mowbray to other clubs but most of it has been a mess and the supporters have not helped at times. Reality check and stability required very soon.

    Hearts have been generating laughs for me since 1986 when they bottled it on the last day but apart from that Vlad has been a true comic genius: currently spending at 115% of turnover and operating at a loss every year of his tenure; pushing the club debts up to £30m+; superb detached from reality rants about refs, journalists and the OF every few months; falling behind in his target to win the Champions League (a priceless piece of comedy); failing with his import/ export business in Lithuanian players; playing at being the manager and messing it up every single time; and playing the saviour and promising to stay at Tynecastle but now looking to move without anyone remembering that Chris Robinson wanted to do the same before the Jambos welcomed Vlad.

    I think the real danger for Hearts is that he sells the stadium land to wipe a large chunk of the debt and pulls the plug on the club.

    Maybe Hibs should now try and take over Hearts and produce a one-city club: Heart of Hibernain possibly, or just Hibernian!!!

  • Comment number 2.

    To me the real tradegy for edinburgh football is that while hearts have spent huge sums in wages on players they have vastly underachieved and left them close to the abyss and hibs have vastly underspent on players and have achieved less than they should have.The only club in a position to make inroads is hibs but it will take either getting lucky with an up and comong manager(michael oneil) or wisely spending a much improved budget.Both clubs are at a crossroads for different reasons and you have to fear for hearts although the fans have buried their heads in the sand for so long when they do go belly up it will be a shock to them but to nobody outside tynecastle.I live in hope a combination of right manager being allowed to build a team at hibs with an improved budget with see hibs at the top end of the table but the big worry is of course that should someone like michael oneil get hibs into europe or win a cup his days will immediately be numbered before he moves on and the managerial merrrygo round will start again.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think Hearts may go to the wall, and I have supported the club for 50 years or so, I just cant see who would want to take on the club with the debts that we have. We all welcomed Romanov the only alternative to selling Tynecastle and renting Murrayfield, but some are more complicit in this, people such as Leslie Deans, George Foulkes and Gary Mackay who implored us all to sell our shares to Romanov they deemed him worthy of leading Hearts to better things.

    Wallace Mercer was right all those years ago when he stated the club could not afford to redevelop Tynecastle - better to sell it and use the money toward a new ground, but he was thwarted by the City Council, as such the money spent redeveloping the ground got us into debt and allowed Romanov to become the major shareholder.

  • Comment number 4.

    i've always thought that romanov never planned to make HOMFC a success, but instead had some ponzi scheme going where he makes off with the debt. sure, it's apparently his bank lending the money, but these financial people have ways and means around that.

  • Comment number 5.

    Right on the money there Jim.

    I've read some coverage of Hibs where they site a support with ambitions beyond reality. However, as a fan myself, I speak for most of us when I say that a club of our size should at least be able to put a team on the park that know how to kick a ball. What I witnessed on Saturday was nothing short of terrible and its been heading that way for months, it's no wonder Calderwood got sacked. The club may be run well financially but what's the point in a fancy stadium nobody wants to go to because the team is rubbish? Same with the training centre; £6m and yet the team has gotten worse!

    As for Hearts well there were concerns about dear old Vlad before he bought them over. I recall he had his sights on another Scottish club who didn't think he was on the level. I worry for Hearts, there's a real risk he could pull the plug on the whole club.

    Lets hope both clubs make it through their current mess.

  • Comment number 6.

    HEARTS, Both Dundee clubs & the Pars could see Captain(walter mitty) Nemo,s periscope coming,& were rightly suspicious.He got torpedoed out of sight from all of them.Hearts radar must have been aff when this was going on.Romanov is one of many things in the scottish game that makes us a laughing stock.Doncaster going oot to lithuania to ask Romanov,s views on the doomed 10 team set up is just one.Does he really think we,re ah zipped up the back, that he can go on a jolly on oor doh!! Get him oot.
    HIBS, Has petrie used his own doh to hire & fire all they managers??
    If not his time is up.
    Eddie thompson at united made a few managerial mistakes of his own doing, and it cost him.
    The scottish game needs both edinburgh clubs healthy again,as well as many others.

  • Comment number 7.

    I was thinking the other day that a proper millionair investor could have a field day in Scotland at the minute. The Old Firm's quality is so low that it is feesable for a Hearts / Hibs / Aberdeen to build a championship winning squad with 8-12 million pounds worth of playing investment.

    Can you imagine if another team won the league?

    Automatically we have a different product to sell to Sky. The interest factor is renewed and of course the investor could look to recoup their investment with 1 visit to the Champions League.

    My point is that people say the league is a poor investment because it is so poor at the minute. I think because it is so poor at the minute it is a great invesment. Why don't one of these oil millionaires buy Aberdeen and make this league interesting?

  • Comment number 8.

    Re 7

    I would think its because there is no attraction in buying a team like aberdeen, it would be too much of a risk, one only a fan with the financial backing could take. milne isnt a fan of the club; just in it for the money. the new stadium is proof of that.

    youre idea is nice, but im afraid the first hurdle is the hardest

  • Comment number 9.

    Success breeds success and the two capital club have had it in short supply. There was the briefest glimpse of what might have been when Hearts under George Burley really flourished. At the time even the media down south were talking about it which ties in with #7s comment.

    But it wasn't to be and Hearts are in a horrible financial situation with a questionable owner who is talking about bailing out. I really don't see where they go from here. It's a shame because I think the potential is there for both Hearts and Hibs. Edinburgh is a wealthy city with a fairly substantial fan base to draw upon. Hearts in particular have pulled in substantial numbers in recent times. But there's the chicken and egg thing for fans and investors alike. As it stands I think there is a genuine possibility that both clubs have slid so far that the situation is unretrievable. But then the same could be said of Scottish football as a whole.

  • Comment number 10.

    Agree entirely Jim. My main focus is on Hibs.

    Petrie has lost some managers in the past because they have used Hibs as a stepping stone. O'Neill might do well but then what ? We need an experienced team that will be happy to achieve at Hibs. Jeffries and Brown fit this bill. Why not ? Gordon Smith was a legend at both clubs - am exposing my age here - the point is older fans do not recognise this so-called hatred.

    Go for it JJ. A few wins will silence the nae-sayers and you have the qualities to hold off the Board, i.e. Petrie's , interference in football matters.

    As to Hearts. I wager that no Hibs fan of my generation want them to go under. But think on this.

    Do fans remember the disgraceful death threats, and subsequent police guard, towards the Pieman. His crime ? Knowing that Tynie had to be sold to balance the books.

    Recognise anything ? Mad Vlad, the great saviour, certainly has and I think he will. Bit of a shame that the site is now worth a fraction of the club's debt. That Hearts, as an institution are now under threat, is an utter disgrace.

    A contributor above mentioned Wallace Mercer. One should never speak ill of the dead. Indeed I won't, aside from a reference to ' Hands off Hibs '.

    There were two great clubs in Edinburgh back in the day. Were the former Hearts management team automatically excluded from Hibs simply due to that fact is daft.

  • Comment number 11.

    to be honest i can see hearts going under. the thing is though why has romanov persued all this move to a new stadium? if he wnated to walk away and sell the land and assets he could, yet he's been persuing a new stadium. the club is a mess and on the brink no doubt and the damage was done well before romanov. i just have a feeling this is in part a usual knee jerk in frustration of how inept scottish football as a whole is.

    we started messing up some 20 years ago really when we forgot about youth. to quote mr Levein the spl is now nothing ore than a conveyor of talent to england. the tides may be turning in scottish football going back to what it once was. even in their pomp of winning european trophies scottish clubs won with local talent they'd produced, thet went on to earn more in england, including OF.

    all clubs including OF need to adapt to the changes that are coming, you'd better have a good youth system and little debt or your dead.

  • Comment number 12.

    Only the sad narrow minded minority of hibees would want the demise of their nearest rivals.The same mob would choke on JJ getting the boss,s job.We,ve been starved of rivalry in Dundee for too long.We have the same minority in oor toon on both sides who cannie see the big picture.We,ve had some great battles and atmosphere,s at tannadice when a healthy Hibs or Hearts team visited.Now apart from the OF or sometimes Aberdeen it,s like a morgue.The Dundee Derby is sorely missed as would the auld reekie ane if Hearts folded.

  • Comment number 13.

    A good youth system and little debt many dont have.
    It,s the only way forward though,even if it means the standard dropping even more while the young lads gain experience.

  • Comment number 14.

    #13 i know that's why i think hearts could well go bust. and to be honest even as a hearts fan it is tough to say we and scottish football don't deserve it. we spent money we never had pretending to be somehting we weren't and never can be. the powers that be haven;t woken up to that yet sadly. if we had carried on with our humble ways pre 90's we'd all be fine, happy and our national team would be in the euros. as it stands we are miserable, deluded, bankrupt and pants..

  • Comment number 15.

    but i would urge fans to not give up though.. there is an air of inevitability that scottish football is finally imploding because of it's insanity and the smoke screen that was 'an elite' league is clearing. tough times are ahead and we may lose some of our clubs. but if you are a fan of a club that goes bust theres no way they won;t start again. maybe we should look forward to waving goodbye to the insane era even if that does mean supporting 'midlothian fc' or possibly 'glasgow gers'

  • Comment number 16.

    Do fans remember the disgraceful death threats, and subsequent police guard, towards the Pieman. His crime ? Knowing that Tynie had to be sold to balance the books. Recognise anything ? Mad Vlad, the great saviour, certainly has and I think he will. Bit of a shame that the site is now worth a fraction of the club's debt.

    Yes Robinson clearly told them something, some of the more sober and obviously business-minded of them, didn't want to hear! If they had taken the Robinson deal they would at least have been debt-free. And now they find themselves with even more debt in a climate of static/ falling land values. Staggering. Trading the land could only generate £18-23m (?), leaving them homeless and still in debt to Vlad, with still a stadium to fund. How certain is the new stadium idea? ECC are hocked up to their eyeballs in the Tram fiasco. New stadium?

    There is no Scottish or UK investor that will take on Hearts. They could not trade their out. Rangers struggled and unless Vlad finds more East European monies to channel through the club they may not survive as we know them.

    And yes we may lose some clubs. There are too many anyway. Economic selection seems as good a way as any other.

  • Comment number 17.

    I've thought for a while we would see a big name in Scotland go before everyone wakes up. As a St. Mirren fan, I am so glad we found out about dodgy Reg Brealey & Stuart Gilmour & Co deserve great praise for coming to the rescue & getting the Club to where it is now. Survival last season has been massive & I'm hopeful that we can be established in the Top 6 in the coming years.

    I think a great many more clubs will be trying to follow St. Mirrens example of financial running as I feel we are a few years ahead of the rest.

  • Comment number 18.

    I agree Jim. Scottish football does need 2 strong Edinburgh teams, especially if we manage to jettison the Old Infirm.

  • Comment number 19.

    Nothing to add. Agree entirely.

    Tell you what Rob, if Vlad thinks that ECC are going to build his new stadium for him he is even more deluded than I thought. Aside from the financial input there is the political risk. Hibs built up their infrastucture in-house while Vlad was signing players on wages (?) that Petrie would never sanction.

    I cannot see the green half of the City electorate standing for public money being poured into Hearts - funds that were never afforded to Hibs.

    Charlie Mann made an interesting observation on Sportsound. He reckons that Vlad does not want to walk away but can no longer justify the cost to his bank's board. What chance he sells the club but covers the debt ? Pretty much the Jambos only hope.

    Finally, any Hibees out there with a thought on JJ as manager ? We could do a lot worse.

  • Comment number 20.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 21.

    As a dyed in the wool Hibby now living Down Under its been depressing to watch the demise of both Edinburgh clubs. I am of the firm opinion that two succesful Edinburgh clubs are important for both the city and Scottish football. What Mad Vlad has done at Tynie is nothing short of a crime. Don't get me wrong. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see Hibs gub hearts in the Derby but as a kid who grew up in the 70's when both sides played with a bit of style and flair, the recent diet has been "sair tae bear".

    Hibs certainly need to have some stability in the management position and I reckon JJ would be a safe bet. His past history is certainly pretty good. It'll be interesting to see who else the board has in mind though.

  • Comment number 22.

    Will have to reprise my comment at #20

    Can't see how Vlad is going to sell a stake in this scale of debt to anyone Hibby, or cover the debt selling the land and then building a new stadium. Unless like Rangers he finds a venture capitalist. Hearts are shell of a club now only sustained by the charitable benevolence of their owner. People must really regret the shameful way that a large section of their fans were allowed to treat the Pieman.

    Vlad's fail safe option is an asset sale of the land and players. Would be very ironic if they rented Murrayfield!!!

    The future is green in Edinburgh.

    At Hibs you need a safe pair of hands imo: JJ would be good and Jimmy Calderwood not so good but still a better choice than going down a rookie route.

  • Comment number 23.

    As a Hearts fan of many years i agree that mad Vlad is ruining Hearts. On the other hand Pieman was no angel as well. I could only see him selling Tynie for his own benfit so he could regain some of his money that had been invested. Vlad has tried to chase a dream that will never happen with the league and the state of our game in its current format. It still think there are far to many teams in Scotland. For 5 million people we have far to many clubs. I think moving to two leagues of 16/18 teams. It would bring down the budgets of most of the bigger teams which would then allow for more younger players in Scotland to be played. I know at the moment Motherwell,Dundee Utd etc.. rely on the tv money and more teams would give them a small amount but i think with paying players lower wages and bigger crowds would help with the short fall. It would make the Scottish game more attractive to TV company's as it would be more competive.

  • Comment number 24.

    The country does need a strong Hibs and Hearts.
    However they need a strong Aberdeen as well.

    Hearts have spent money unwisely. Deeper and deeper in debt.
    No training facility to call their own, which could be sold if necessary to clear some debt.
    Only sellable asset is Tynecastle.
    They have tried to get Edinburgh Council to give them a hand out.
    Unfortunately they have wasted all their money on one way sytems and Trams.

    The future does not look good for the maroon side of Edinburgh.

    The future is a little brighter on the green side, they have the infrastucture however they are a shambles on the park.
    I dont believe the board are to blame as most of the previous managers were popular choices with the fans.
    Calderwood was experienced and had a decent track record.

    The board need to make the right choice as the lack of entertainment has driven the fans away.

    Hibs have been very succesful in selling their assets for a good profit in recent years.
    They made good money on OConnor, Fletcher, Whittaker, Murphy, Sproule, Thomson and Brown to name but a few.
    They then showed ambition in signing Stokes.
    They made good money on his sale, however the ambition in signing players of his quality has deminished.

    Aberdeen are crying out for investment.
    A big fan base, however they are very poor on the park.

    The old firm are nowhere near as strong as they use to be, and i think if someone was prepared to back the team with investment then its possible to at least split them.

  • Comment number 25.

    Right now, there are 20 clubs in Scottish senior football whose average league attendance is under 1,000 while there are another 14 with average attendances between 1,000 and 5,000.
    That leaves only eight with average league gates of 5,000+: Celtic and Rangers obviously, Hearts and Hibs, Aberdeen, Dundee United, Motherwell & Kilmarnock.
    At the top end, we don’t have too many clubs. Plainly we have far too few to create a decent SPL – and we cannot afford to lose any. At the bottom end, the aggregate average attendance of a typical Saturday in Divisions Three or Four is two or three thousand people spread over five grounds. Last Saturday in Division Three for example there were games in Alloa, Berwick, Glasgow, Montrose & Peterhead. If you get rid of clubs in the lower half of the league, you don’t get an automatic boost to the ‘top eight’; 489 folk from Peterhead will not automatically go to Pittodrie on a Saturday if Peterhead cease to exist. The same goes for Montrose and Tannadice or Berwick and Easter Road.
    So please, can we stop with the often-repeated claim that “Scotland has too many clubs”? We actually don't have enough large clubs and that's the problem with our population of 5 million people.

  • Comment number 26.

    So this population / attendance thing needs further reading. Scotland as a footballing nation is around about where its size would dictate it should be. Denmark. Roughly the same size, same number of teams in its main league, slightly smaller average attendance. Our qualification record is mostly the same. In 2009/10 in Denmark highest attendance was 30000 ish, lowest 700 ish. We are exactly where we probably should be. Too much handwringing about this. The main problem isnt the number of fans, its the cost to attend.

    The structure is mostly the same.

    Poor chairmanship, poor organisational decisions, lack of vision from the league as a whole.

    As for the Edinburgh teams. Hmmm. Hearts may be broken, Hibs need some stability. they'll both survive but i'd imagine at some point we'll be looking at a Hearts Football (2012) Ltd. There is no way out of that situation that doesn't lead to ruin.
    If i was an Edinburgh taxpayer, from either half of the city, i'd be very angrily shouting at my councillors to say no money from them to HMFC.

  • Comment number 27.

    Scotland has a bigger attendance at football per head of pop'n than most European countries but after Celtic/ Rangers there is a big drop off in terms of attendances even among the bigger clubs.

    And attendances will not 'transfer' from bottom to top but we still need a pyramid structure that threatens the comfy pampered existence of teams in the lower divisions, who seem to have been treading uncompetitive water since time began in the closed shop of the Scottish leagues.

  • Comment number 28.

    out of interest, is hearts £30m debt Vladamir Romanov's fault? i know it is easy to blame him for eveything and he isn't good at running a football club but how much has he really really done that is so awful? he kept the club at tynecastle as hearts fan wanted, he put a substantial amount of money into the wage budget to attract better players and tried alot of intiatives to increase suppport for the club. It isn;t really fair to say it is alll his and therefore hearts' fault that no one challenges the OF. if you are going to do that you might as well blame aberdeen, hibs and dundee utd for not attracting wealthy owners prepared to bankroll a starstuded first team for 20m pounds. his finances collapsed with the banks as did edinburgh property prices, but is that his fault? listen i think he is a poor owner of a football club but i just think there is a bandwagon against him.

    Scotland should indeed be better than Norway or Denmark as football is so popular here. i'm glad to hear regan thinks radical changes are needed to save scottish football, levien realising now that the top clubs in spl being skint means first team opportunities for youth and i i agreed with everything Wotte said the other day. slowly we are all starting to look in the same direction. i'm not sure Doncaster ever will though!!


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