SCOTTISH football is facing an unprecedented crisis with one in five under pressure to survive the season, analysts have claimed.
As Hearts became the latest big-name club on the edge of going under, it emerged the situation is getting worse with "considerably more pain to go through", according to business recovery specialists Begbies Traynor.
The Rangers debacle, poor attendances and a loss of money from television coverage are said to have had an impact on many of Scotland's top-flight clubs.
Hearts were plunged into the danger zone on Wednesday and may not survive the month after being hit with a winding-up order over a tax bill of almost £450,000.
Opposing politicians yesterday joined forces with Hearts fans in the fight to try and pull the club back from the brink.
MSPs Marco Biagi and Margo MacDonald issued a statement asking Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs to "give the club breathing space in order to address the financial situation".
Mr Biagi, an SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central, said: "Last year at the cup victory parade you couldn't move for crowds of supporters in Gorgie. There can be no question Hearts are held in deep affection in the local community and far beyond."
Independent MSP Ms MacDonald, a Hibs fan, said she was repaying Hearts fans for supporting Hibs when they were in trouble.
"I remember when the existence of Hibs was at risk, at that time to a hostile takeover. When I chaired the Hands Off Hibs rally in the Usher Hall a representative group of Hearts fans was there to show solidarity with us," she said.
Fans were considering their options as websites such as View From Gorgie launched donation pushes under the banner Save Our Hearts.
Tom Harris, of Bonnyrigg Hearts Supporters' Club, said fans were also split over a shares option offered by the club. He said: "It's a £110 minimum [for shares] and not everyone can afford that, but I would think the majority is backing the shares issue.
"However, you don't know what's going to happen by the end of the season. I don't know what's for the best now. It's dire."
The wider plight of Scottish football was highlighted in the business analysts' Red Flag Alert Football Distress Survey, which found six clubs in Scotland's three top divisions were "showing signs of distress" at the end of last month, two more than when the survey was first carried out in April.
Ken Pattullo, of Begbies Traynor in Scotland, said: "The plain fact is that if a club is in trouble at this stage of the season, it looks very bleak for the prospects of financial survival when the cash flows are really put under pressure in the spring and early summer."
Clubs were measured on a range of significant financial problems, including serious court actions against them and negative balances sheets.
Mr Patullo added: "Unfortunately, with the recent upheaval in Scottish football's structure following Rangers' relegation, it appears we have considerably more pain to go through before we see the improvements that have started to be seen south of the Border."
Hearts have received an encouraging response" from fans following a plea for emergency financial backing, according to director Sergejus Fedo- tovas.
He said: "The demand for tickets for the match against St Mirren has picked up and the priority is to sell this game out as well as Celtic and Aberdeen.
"There has also been a lot of business done in the shares department, which again is great to see. But make no mistake, these are extremely tough times for everyone associated with the club and only with the help of the supporters will we be able to come through them."