FOUNDATION OF HEARTS (FoH) chairman Stuart Wallace has urged every Hearts supporter to cherish their first major final since emerging from administration, dedicating the occasion to those who brought the club back from the precipice of extinction.
FoH has already contributed more than £8 million in working capital to the Tynecastle outfit since they emerged from their financial collapse in 2014 and, backed by around 8000 paying members, will officially purchase Ann Budge’s majority shareholding next year.
As true fan-ownership approaches, the future looks bright.
However, Wallace is adamant many Jambos will never know just how close they were to folding amid the crisis five years ago, with administrators Bryan Jackson and Trevor Birch forced to scramble together cash and navigate a complex web of murky finances to keep Hearts beating.
Supporters rallied with a swathe of fund-raising efforts and, while Budge ultimately swooped in to save the Jambos in a £2.5 deal, fans have continued to pledge their hard-earned money through the FoH, helping to fund the team and the construction of a new main stand.
Saturday’s Scottish Cup final against Celtic, Wallace contends, is their reward.
He said: “People can perhaps forget how severe the situation was. There was a real risk of this club going out of business and, when you speak to guys like Bryan Jackson, they will always say that no-one will ever know just how close it was. It was so complex, almost impossible.
“So to come from that – being relegated and trying to rebuild in the Championship – to where we are now is something to cherish.
“I’ve said to Ann [Budge]: ‘This is why we all fought so hard’. It has only been five years since we exited administration and now we are preparing for a Scottish Cup final, which is an enormous achievement.
“The supporters should drink in every moment of this week and the game on Saturday because they all deserve it. To everybody who pledged a pound to the cause, to anyone who helped to raise funds in 2014 and for the fans who banded together and said ‘not on our watch’ – this game is for them.”
Should Hearts upset the odds and see off the Hoops, it also raises the tantalising prospect of the FoH formally taking control of the club next year while the Scottish Cup resides in the Tynecastle trophy cabinet.
He smiled: “The change in ownership is due to happen next Spring so, if we were to win, we’d still be the holders when that occurs. That would be something special and a bit of a dream come true. In fairness, that whole process will be something of a dream come true anyway!”
The handover will be a fairly simple administrative matter of transferring Budge’s 75.1 per cent shareholding to FoH and little will change in the way Hearts are run, with the make-up of the board expected to remain the same.
Continuity is the aim. Nevertheless, Wallace believes it will represent the start of a thrilling new era in Gorgie.
He continued: “In my mind, we are approaching the most exciting part of the Foundation’s journey – what comes beyond the point of ownership and we say to fans: ‘What do you want to achieve now? How big do you want to make this?’
“Of course, it is difficult to compete with clubs like Celtic and Rangers in terms of turnover but, with the support and contributions of our fans, who knows where this can take us.”
However, for the moment, Wallace is looking no further than Saturday.
He adds: “I think we’ve got a real chance. All you see when you look around is people writing us off and I say ‘fantastic’! That suits us fine.
“It’s a 90-minute game and, yes, we might need them to have an off-day – but that’s exactly what happened in 1998 when we played Rangers.”