BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Hibernian Supporters Limited (HSL) are adamant widespread fan ownership in Scottish football is “inevitable” as they celebrated their one-year anniversary with a rallying call to the Hibs faithful.
HSL have been buoyed by the progress made in the 12 months since its inception, with the fans’ group now boasting more than 1400 paying members and possessing a 7.5 per cent shareholding in the Easter Road club.
Those pledges have seen around £250,000 of additional working capital added to the Hibs coffers, aiding head coach Alan Stubbs’ recruitment power as they challenge on three fronts.
However, HSL insist that is only the beginning as they outlined their ambition to – allied with “a small number of private shareholders” – attain a majority shareholding of the football club.
HSL intend to have 2000 members contributing £500,000 per annum by 2016 and 3000 by the end of the following year. A “medium term” vision is to own 35 per cent of the club by 2020.
Director Charlie Reid, of Scottish band The Proclaimers, has no doubt they will ultimately reach their goal of complete fan ownership as he urged all Hibees to back the scheme – and ensure the club never has to face the prospect of its own Vladimir Romanov.
“I think it is inevitable that Scottish clubs are going to go down the route of fan ownership,” Reid said. “We feel like this is an orderly transition from one type of ownership to another one, in a peaceful and long-term manner.
“At the moment we have a 7.5 per cent shareholding and £250,000 raised. But we would like to push on a lot, lot further than that.
“The long term objective is majority ownership by the support through HSL and a small number of private shareholders. We believe that is very achievable.
“I think the ownership will pass on to supporters because Sir Tom Farmer, like us all, won’t be around forever, and I don’t see a lot of money out there to come into Scottish football.
“I suspect the only money that is out there from big businesspeople is not necessarily the type of money – and the type of people – you would want.
“In the future I think Hibs, Hearts – even Rangers and Celtic – will need the supporters to do it for themselves. There is a need for fan ownership because if it isn’t the fans, the who is it? It is a [Vladimir] Romanov – or worse. That’s the worry.”
Reid believes any supporters still on the fence about joining HSL should look at the impact the group have already made.
While loathe to claim too much credit, he believes the extra £250,000 raised by the group has been pivotal to marquee signings and ensuring the club are under no pressure to sell their prize assets.
“I believe the quarter of a million has made a difference to the retention of some players and the buying of others,” he noted. “That income is going to go across a lot of wages.”
And beyond the difference made to the balance sheet, Reid reckons the creation of HSL – allied with an improving team – has helped to repair a club which had become alienated from their own fans.
“I think we faced the obstacle of a divided club,” Reid recalled. “The decline was dramatic in the previous five-to-seven years.
“But the improvement under Alan Stubbs and the great coaching team here has been terrific. The club feels like it has been put back together again.
“Fans get involved in buying shares, adding extra money to the club and it has a massive impact to bring us together. I think there is a feel-good factor at Hibs and I think HSL members need to take some credit for that. That was part of the healing process – to bring people together.”
Reid is evidently lapping up every moment of Hibs’ recent resurgence as they attempt to complete their journey from misery to happiness.
“This is the most I’ve enjoyed coming to Easter Road, certainly since Tony Mowbray and maybe even since [Eddie] Turnbull,” he added.