Levein helps sell Murrayfield move to sceptical Hearts fans

Edinburgh club prepares to leave Tynecastle as England striker is praised for his mental strength and Chelsea hold fire on signings
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The Independent Online

Craig Levein, the Heart of Midlothian manager, has called on his club to arrange a friendly at Murrayfield if it will help convince sceptical supporters of the suitability of what could be their new home next season.

More than 800 Hearts shareholders attended the club's 98th annual general meeting to hear the chief executive, Chris Robinson, deliver an hour-long presentation showing why the debt-ridden Edinburgh club needs to move out and share Murrayfield with the Scottish Rugby Union.

Despite Robinson's argument, many shareholders were unconvinced about relocating to a 67,000-capacity stadium. But Levein, whose side played Dundee in a closed-doors game at Murrayfield earlier this season, hopes to convince fans the move will be beneficial.

He said: "I'd be happy to arrange a friendly game next month so the fans can come along and see the stadium, I don't have a problem with that. We've already played one game there, although there were only about six people in the ground.

"Emotionally, we all want to stay at Tynecastle but I'm dealing with it at a different level. Murrayfield's facilities are terrific, far better than Tynecastle. We work in some pretty appalling conditions at Tynecastle compared with some other stadiums. There's not enough room. We've got three coaches sharing the same office and we just don't have a lot of the things that they have at Murrayfield. If you take the emotion out of it, then it's a better place to go to than Tynecastle."

In an announcement to the Stock Exchange yesterday morning, Robinson revealed that Hearts have already rejected one offer of £12m for Tynecastle, believing the site has greater value to the club. The statement read: "The company has received an indicative offer for the Tynecastle site from a major residential and commercial property developer at a minimum cash price of £12m, with the potential for additional consideration depending upon the detailed planning consent achieved.

"The board has to date declined to commit to this offer on the premise that a wider marketing exercise might realise additional value for Hearts. In addition, the board believes there is potential to increase net revenues substantially from the Murrayfield Stadium due to the greater seating capacity and hospitality facilities available."

During an unusually long AGM lasting four and half hours, the Hearts chairman, Doug Smith, denied that the sale of Tynecastle and the move to Murrayfield was a fait accompli. "There is no deal done yet and there has been no completed sale of Tynecastle," he said. "It will require an EGM and that will take around three months."

Robinson, however, was adamant that the club had no option but to sell Tynecastle and move to Murrayfield. He said: "Our debt could be eliminated in two or three years if we make the move. We have little or no option, if we remain at Tynecastle we'll continue to make losses and there could be dire consequences.

"It will be a sad day if we leave Tynecastle, but it's an opportunity for a new era and, if everyone embraces the proposal, it can be a positive future for Heart of Midlothian football club."

In the meantime, Levein has been told by Smith that he must slash Hearts' wage bill by £850,000. Smith claims the wage cut is necessary to help ease the club's £17m debt. But Smith has promised that Levein will still decide which players go, stay or arrive at the club - as long as the Jambos manager works within the new financial restraints.

He said: "The situation will be down to Craig Levein. He has brought youngsters in before and will continue to do that. All we ask Craig to do is to work within the cost budgets for the players."

Levein is chasing Tranmere Rovers' Welsh left-back Gareth Roberts. Levein has been watching the former Under-21 defender and his scouts were at the FA Cup third round replay with Bolton last night. Talks will begin soon.

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