DAVID SOUTHERN, the Hearts chief executive, has warned that the Tynecastle club may struggle to fulfil their remaining fixtures this season after a plea to have their registration embargo lifted fell on deaf ears.
Hearts' situation was not even discussed at a meeting of the Scottish Professional Football League Board at Hampden yesterday, despite BDO, the club's administrators, submitting a document outlining their case for sanctions to be softened.
Following the club's fall into administration last summer, the Scottish Football Association banned Hearts from signing any player over the age of 21 until February 1, while SPFL rules state that any club in administration cannot register new players. Hearts, though, can still apply to the SPFL to make signings on a "one in, one out" basis, as was the case when they recruited Danny Wilson last summer, and will look to bring back either Rudi Skacel or Andrew Driver should Adam King's move to Swansea City be finalised this month.
They will also seek clarification from the SFA on whether there is any wiggle room to register a new player ahead of the February 1 embargo after Southern admitted he fears that not being able to add to their numbers this month may leave Hearts unable to field 11 players for some matches.
"I think where we are now is a serious concern," said Southern. "The young boys are dropping like flies with illnesses and injuries. Over Christmas we had to rely on schoolboys to make up the numbers in training; that's where we are now.
"As a league you can't let that happen and I would say the same if it was another club and we were looking at the situation from the outside. You need to protect the club, you need to protect the players. What we've said all along is 'penalise us but don't damage us' and we are now at the stage where the tipping point has been reached and we are getting damaged week-in, week-out.
"It's possible that we might get to the stage where we don't have 11 players to put on the pitch. There are another 16 games
left this season and you never know what can happen.
"We know there are other clubs looking to buy our players and, if good offers come in, the administrators may feel obliged to take that because the deal offers represents good value for the club. And they would be right to do that because it's about the club's survival.
"But where would that leave us then? Potentially we would have to take sanctions for not being able to field a full team, but if that's what it takes to preserve the club . . . I hope it doesn't come to that."
Neil Doncaster, chief executive of the SPFL, expressed sympathy for Hearts' plight but revealed the possibility of the rules being softened to help them was a non-starter.
"Everyone has sympathy
for the position that Hearts players, the administrators
and Hearts supporters find themselves in through no fault of their own because of decisions that were made by people who are no longer around," he said.
"But the rules are entirely clear. They don't give the board the discretion to simply wave away the registration embargo that exists.
"The ball is in Hearts' court, as it always has been, to make an application on a one-in one-out basis. It's not limited by a transfer window but outside the transfer window it would obviously have to be a player out of contract.
"Hearts know the rules - they are the same rules they used last summer to bring in Danny Wilson."