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Son of former football club boss runs Manchester Marathon in his memory

The son of controversial former Hearts boss Wallace Mercer is running the Manchester Marathon in his father’s honour, 15 years after his sudden death.

Mercer gained national attention when his attempted takeover of Edinburgh rivals, Hibernian, sparked outrage and high profile opposition which left the family in need of 24-hour police protection. 

But his son, Iain, 43, was keen to stress that his Dad’s legacy extends much further than the summer of 1990. 

A successful property developer, Wallace Mercer, purchased a controlling stake in Hearts of Midlothian FC in 1981 at just 34-years-old and presided over a golden few years for the club.

His son, an avid football fan and self-described Hearts lifer, spoke about those early days.

He said: “Dad was incredibly young when he bought Hearts football club. 

“We had players coming to the house, media coming to the house, we were a very high profile family so there was no getting away from it. 

“It was very much an integral part of my childhood and we were fully invested in it. Economically, spiritually, socially, everything as a family. It dominated our lives.”

He added: “There were enormous highs obviously, but what people don’t see I suppose was the pressures that go with it. 

“The constant aggravation you get off supporters. 

“For me being at school at that age, you get people saying ‘why is your Dad doing that’ or ‘why is that player not being picked’ all of this sort of stuff was the difficult side of things.” 

Predictably the attention in the capital intensified once Mercer’s bid was made public. His vision to create an Edinburgh powerhouse to rival the might of Celtic and Rangers was rejected almost unanimously. 

Then Hibs Chairman David Duff, in an interview with BBC Focal Point, said on the takeover approach: “The mere fact they wouldn’t tell us [ Hibernian board] who it was, made us think it must have been someone fairly unique and, or, someone that we might not want.”

He added: “This is exactly how it was introduced to me. 

“Jeremy [James, Director] turned round and said ‘David, who is the worst person you could imagine that would bid for the company?’

“Jeremy kept saying, ‘no, worse than that, worse than that, the very worst person.”

The ‘Hands Off Hibs’ campaign was launched just a few days later. 

A packed Easter Road housed thousands of ex-players and supporters from every walk of life voicing their opposition to what was seen as the dissolution of their team. The campaign’s leader, Kenny McLean, took to the mic on 9th June 1990 and declared: “Keep your predator hands off Hibernian football club.”

The ire of fans was not just toward the Hearts chairman – it found its way to his family. The Mercer’s had bricks through their windows, bullets in the post, and required round the clock police protection. 

Iain, then only 12-years-old, said: “I was very much aware of it, it was hard not to be to be honest. 

“I used to get the bus home from school for example but that stopped pretty quickly. 

“There were times when I think there was a plain unmarked police vehicle trailing the bus because obviously I was a potential target for somebody. 

“We had people come to our house and all that sort of stuff so I mean it got pretty nasty for quite a period of time and pretty vitriolic so – it wasn’t a pleasant time by any stretch.”

After great personal toll, Mercer backed off. The opposition of the fans hardened Duff’s resolve though he conceded his counterpart should be commended for his vision. 

Mercer claimed they had won the economic argument but had lost the social one. 

The following days’ front page of Scottish national paper, The Daily Record, read: ‘Hib Hib Hooray! Hearts supremo Wallace Mercer last night sensationally scrapped his bid to buy and bury Hibs.’

Installed as honorary life president after selling his shares in 1994, Mercer spent his latter years abroad before losing his ‘short and courageous battle against cancer’ in 2006. 

“It was a terminal diagnosis, he was given the best of three months and he didn’t get 8 weeks in the end.” Iain said. 

“It was brutally quick.”

For Iain, his Dad should be remembered for his innovation. According to the 43-year-old, he was a chairman ahead of his time who introduced several things now commonplace in the world of football. He said: “A lot of the things that Hearts did in his time were trailblazing. 

“They were the first club to have a player manager for example, we were the first club to introduce CCTV across the whole stadium, the first club to have sponsorship on the strips. 

“All these sorts of things that were very much unique during the 80s.”

Sunday’s marathon however, is not just for his late father but for countless others touched by an illness that affects 1-in-3 people. 

Iain went on to say: “I’ve lost close friends, my wife’s lost close friends at too young an age to one form or another of cancer. 

“I just want to try and do what I can. 

“I think if I can get to 2-and-a-half [thousand], that’s sufficient to introduce potentially a specific form of radiotherapy treatment. I just know when my dad was ill it was very short lived.”

You can support Iain on his bid to raise £2,500 for Cancer Research UK at – https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/iain-mercer2

Main photo courtesy of Iain Mercer

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