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Hearts chief: 'We're in a bad place - but we won't sell stars for nothing'

Tynecastle managing director reveals season ticket sales are down 20% on 'conservative' estimates.

David Southern, Hearts MD, June 2013.
© SNS Group

Hearts managing director David Southern insists the financially-stricken club will only consider serious offers for their players after putting their entire squad up for sale.

The Tynecastle outfit say they have entered a "critical" period as they battle to save the club - which is £25m in debt - from going bust.

Season-ticket sales are 20% down on Hearts' "most conservative" estimates and the majority of money that has come in from fans renewing their briefs has already been spent.

There are now fears the club may not be able to pay wages that are due tomorrow, but Southern stressed the club would not be ripped off by those sniffing around their players.

The Jambos chief said: "We will only sell the team if there are offers for the players.

"First and foremost, we need to look at Heart of Midlothian Football Club as a business. And one of the main revenue streams for a football business is through transfer incomes. As such, we've put the notice out.

"If there is any club prepared to make realistic offers - and I must stress that they would have to be realistic, we wouldn't sell any player for next to nothing - then we would sell.

"I wouldn't say we just have to take what we get - because we still have to field a team.

"We've got some of the best young players in Scotland, if not the UK, and certainly they will attract interest. We want to hold on to them. If need be, and we have to sell, we will sell. But only at the right value."

Hearts owned up to the extent of their financial problems just 24 hours after the administrator of Ukio Bankas, who are owed £15m by the Tynecastle club, said he has "no reason or desire to harm Hearts" after a court in Lithuania upheld a decision to liquidate the bank.

The Gorgie club, however, are still battling the threat of a winding-up order lodged by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs over a £100,000 tax bill, although a majority of that sum has been paid.

And UBIG, once run by club owner Vladimir Romanov, still owns 50% of the club and is due £10m but has now claimed insolvency itself.

News of Hearts' alarming predicament came via a statement on their official website outlining concerns about a "shortfall in funding" and just three weeks after the club announced the permanent signing of Scotland defender Danny Wilson.

Doubts were raised over "future payments to players and staff" and Gorgie bosses have pleaded with fans to buy season tickets.

And Southern gave his own thoughts to the desperate nature of the club's problems by saying: "It's a bad place. We're not in a good place at the moment and we're just going to have to try to get through the situation and reach the start of the season, when the income streams will hopefully start flowing again."

Asked about the season-ticket money that had already been collected, he said: "Most of it is accounted for. We always knew there was going to be a dry spell through June and July. That happens during the game.

"But, for us, it's a difficult, difficult time at the moment.

"I think projections did not foresee this. And the uncertainty has really affected our own sales and the budgets that were forecast.

"Just to take season ticket sales as one income stream, sales are running at 20 per cent less than a conservative estimate for season-ticket income.

"I can understand why fans are holding back. I can absolutely understand.

"No-one would try to force the hand of a supporter to buy a season ticket, merchandise or hospitality. We're not doing that.

"All we're doing is just letting the support base now that we could do with their assistance, we could do with their support out of season to help us make it to the new season.

"The key thing is to make sure the club goes forward unscathed. That's what we're trying to do."

The Hearts support has already raised over £1m to stave off an earlier winding-up order launched by the taxman in December, but Southern confirmed there is unlikely to be any cash support from the SPL soon.

Corporate sponsors say they will continue to back the club in its hour of need but a takeover could now be the Jambos' last hope.

Southern - speaking at Hampden following this morning's Scottish Premier League meeting on league reconstruction - said: "I would expect that, if there are any potential bidders out there, they will be looking at the current situation.

"It may affect their strategy on when they might come in. I keep saying potential and might because, as yet, no bid has been received for the club."

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