Scottish sport comment: Things are beginning to look pretty bleak down Tynecastle way where Heart of Midlothian are struggling to make ends meet in a drip-drip tale of financial woe that may yet end in administration.
Laden with debts of £22 million, the club has been unable to pay a number of players and manager John McGlynn on time in the last two months while also contesting a near £2m outstanding bill from the tax man.
It’s all rather a sorry tale, not least because McGlynn’s side had been expected to be one of the main challengers for honours after the implosion of Rangers.
But three months into the season, no such thing has happened. Instead, Hearts are toiling back in seventh place in the SPL after a 2-2 draw with Ross County at the weekend.
The gravity of what is unfolding was spelled out by their director — Sergejus Fedotovas — who admitted that the situation is “serious” and warned that, should a share issue in which fans can purchase an 11 per cent holding fail, Hearts “will be faced with a tough financial reality.”
Supporters have not been slow to spot the implicit threat in these words. In summary it’s a case of put your hand in your pocket or face the consequences.
Many feel they are being forced to aid a failing enterprise by raising cash for the current owner, Lithuanian businessman Vladimir Romanov, who has also been unable to provide pay cheques at his Bosnian steel plant since the summer.
Romanov wants out and indicated as much last year. The problem is finding a buyer in the current financial climate and given the club’s substantial debts.
Why would any major investor bother coming forward when it’s conceivable that acquiring a post-administration Hearts would be considerably cheaper?
It’s worth remembering that this is happening at a club still viewed as part of the Edinburgh establishment with links to public schools, politicians and the business sector.
Always seen as a safe bet, Hearts are the outfit dainty and respectable ladies of Morningside have long been happy to associate with.
The fans now have very tough choices to make. If they back the share issue they may be throwing a few hundred quid away should their team end up bust regardless.
However if they ignore the offer, the threat of financial collapse is likely to swell.
I suspect on balance they will conclude that having a greater say in the running of their club increases the chances of long-term stability.
Rangers are now right where they were expected to be, out in front at the top of Division Three.
Going two points clear of their rivals is one thing, but shifting the millstone of failure to record an away win in Scotland’s lowest league will be a matter of no little relief to Gers fans.
It is a measure of how much they’ve had to deal with when one considers that the 2-0 win over Clyde on Sunday comes exactly a year after the troubled club went 12 points clear at the top of the SPL.
Few would now predict that the win will be anything other than a springboard to many more such victories on the road for Ally McCoist’s men.
Draws against Peterhead, Berwick, Annan and an infamous defeat at Stirling Albion all represented what has been an acute culture shock to the Rangers players. They have learned the hard way, as their manager points out the opposition have to know “that you are as much up for the competitive side of the game as they are.”
Absolutely right but it is also entirely normal for a team with a fair number of new faces — some impishly young — to take time to gel and I suspect that has been as much the problem as the psychical dimension.
It seems they have now truly gained some momentum, belief in themselves and are beginning to grasp what it takes to succeed among the blood and mud of Division Three.
A truism it may be but football remains a cruel game at times.
In Spain last week Celtic went down to a last-gasp goal against Barcelona then 24 hours later Scotland women’s side were agonisingly dumped out of Euro 2013 with the very last kick of the game in Madrid.
The Scots had been on course to reach the finals in Sweden, having twice led in the play-off which ultimately was lost 3-2 on the night and 4-3 on aggregate.
Qualification would have been a considerable boost to the women’s game, especially as their male compatriots have given us damn little to cheer about of late.
Interestingly, the history of the female game is older in Scotland than probably anywhere else, stretching all the way back to a fixture at Hibernians’ Easter Road in 1881.
Though the Scottish Football Association will shy away from the memory, for much of the last century there was an unofficial policy of strangling the life out of the “ladies” game out of fear of its potential to rival the men’s version.
Thankfully there is more enlightenment in the present era.
Women’s football was played at Hampden during this summer’s Olympics and the authorities have made it clear the national stadium is available for future internationals.
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