BY ALAN TEMPLE AND CAPITAL CITY PRESS – @CCP_Sport
Robbie Neilson believes Hearts are around three years ahead of schedule in their rebuilding process as the Jambos prepare to pay tribute to the supporters who saved the club from extinction.
The Gorgie outfit were teetering on the brink in 2013 when they entered administration under the weight of debts totalling £28 million following the reign of Vladimir Romanov.
The Foundation of Hearts (FoH), the fans’ group which now boasts more than 8000 members, were pivotal in providing working capital and organising fundraising events to ensure the doors at Tynecastle stayed open.
Edinburgh businesswoman Ann Budge ultimately purchased the capital club for £2.5 million, but FoH aims to take control of the club by 2019. Hearts will today wear a commemorative third kit emblazoned with the names of FoH’s pledgers.
Ahead of a fixture against Motherwell which has been dubbed a celebration of fan-ownership – which the Steelmen also aspire towards – Neilson allowed himself a moment to reflect on the progress made since Hearts exited administration in the summer of 2014.
“After the dark days of administration, Ann [Budge] took over and the backing of the Foundation of Hearts has been amazing,” said Neilson. “The pledges and money coming in has sustained us and got us to where we are, if that wasn’t there then the club probably wouldn’t be here.
“Saturday is a great day for the fans – but we want to win. We are going to Fir Park, proudly wearing the strip and hopefully we can get the three points.”
Hearts arrive at Fir Park second in the Scottish Premiership, just six points behind a stuttering Celtic side.
And while the stability off the field has not surprised Neilson, given Budge’s entrepreneurial nous, the results on the pitch have been swifter than he ever imagined.
“On the pitch, we are probably ahead of schedule,” acknowledged Neilson. “The players we have brought in have done great for us. We have been promoted at the first time of asking when the plan was two years.
“We are now sitting second in the league, which is two or three years ahead of schedule. But we need to sustain that.
“Off the pitch, the progress has not surprised me. Ann came in and she has a wonderful pedigree in business, she is a successful businesswoman and I knew she would build the club.”