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Players shared fear of club folding

Andy Webster last night revealed that Hearts' firs -team squad decided to buy shares because they feared the club was about to go out of business.

Nearly every member of the first-team squad is understood to have bought shares in the ongoing £1.7m flotation and then returned them to the club, so that they could be potentially sold again.

The defender said there had been a determination to do something because of a genuine fear among the players that the home game against St Mirren 10 days ago would be the club's last.

More than £600,000 was raised by the halfway stage of the share issue after directors revealed the grave financial state the club was in earlier this month. Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs had issued a winding-up order over an unpaid £450,000 tax bill but Hearts successfully negotiated a payment plan which meant the deadline was extended until December 3. The money raised by the share issue will mean that bill can be paid but there are other serious issues over an ongoing £2m trading shortfall and a separate, disputed tax bill of £1.7m.

Webster revealed the players had decided the supporters would not be left to raise money on their own. As well as agreeing to have their wages deferred, Webster and others decided they would buy shares and then return them to the club.

"We just wanted to help out in any small way," he said. "It was a real prospect that the St Mirren game could have been our last and from a players' point of view you try and help out any which way you can. A lot of the boys have bought shares as well and handed them back to the club so, from that point of view, we realised how serious the circumstances are.

"As far as I know everyone bought shares at the club and handed them back to Hearts Youth Foundation. The players are desperate to help in any way they can. We're all in it together and everyone is doing their bit, and our bit is on the pitch. If the fans' response is anything to go by, then I'm sure the club will survive."

A group of Hearts fans, backed by Supporters Direct Scotland, are hopeful that the owner Vladimir Romanov can be persuaded to sell his majority shareholding to them to allow the club to be community-owned. Romanov has yet to inform them of his asking price for his shareholding, nor have the fans' group told him what they would be prepared to pay. Fans' officials will meet Romanov's right-hand man, Sergejus Fedotovas, early next month.

Webster applauded the supporters' efforts. "The fans have really rallied round the club which has been great to see and everyone at the football club appreciates what they've done. I don't know the ins and outs of the fans' proposed buy-out and how it would work.

"I think with the share issue they're looking to be part of the club so we'll see what happens. The institution that Hearts is, it's been around for a long period of time, and with the history the club has, then I think people would want the club to remain. With everyone working hard, hopefully we can rectify the situation. The players are just desperate to help in any way they can. The issues have created a lot more transparency at the football club, there is a lot more communication. So the players understand a lot more about the situation the club is in."

Webster was speaking at an event in Glasgow to promote ESPN's live coverage of tomorrow night's Hearts v Celtic game at Tynecastle, for which a sell-out crowd will generate more precious revenue. The financial condition of the club has understandably dominated thoughts around Hearts but the focus is likely to be characteristically sharp again for one of the spicier fixtures in the Scottish calendar.

Celtic's league form has been poor despite sitting at the top of the Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League table. They have won only one of their last five league games, and only half of their 14 SPL matches all season. Such ordinary form is in vivid contrast to their Champions League results, notably a remarkable home victory over Barcelona.

"It is not as straightforward as saying that because you have beaten Barcelona you can beat any team in the world," said Webster. "Celtic have found it tough coming back from European fixtures and playing at the weekends, but that's the challenge you face at a massive club. But they definitely have the quality and the depth in their squad to cope with such demands.

"The Celtic players will know it is going to be a tough game before they have even walked in the door at Tynecastle, so mentally they will be ready for it."

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