HEARTS chair Ann Budge insists she wants to help lay the foundations for the team becoming a regular competitor in Europe after outlining how she plans to remain at the helm for at least the next two years following the club’s ‘momentous’ move into fan ownership.
Budge yesterday signed over her 75.1 per cent shareholding to fans group the Foundation of Hearts, who have donated over £12 million to the Gorgie outfit since joining forces with the businesswomen to take Hearts out of administration in 2014.
Much of the behind the scenes set-up will remain the same despite Hearts becoming the biggest fan-owned club in the UK, with Budge overseeing a board that includes chief executive Andrew McKinlay and two FoH representatives, chair Stuart Wallace and Donald Cumming.
Asked about her future plans, Budge, who initially put forward a £2.4 million loan, which has been repaid back by the FoH, said: “For a minimum of two years (I will continue as chair), that’s what I’ve committed to and beyond that if I think I can still add value and if the fans still want me, I’ll take it from there.
“But we all know how old I am so maybe in two years’ time it will be time for me to back out.
“I need to finish the main stand because it’s not quite finished, that’s high on my list, as are a number of necessary improvements to the stadium.
“I also want to do our best to get to where we almost got to two years ago, repeatedly at the top of the Premiership and playing in Europe.
“In my tenure we’ve only been in Europe once and we were not particularly successful.
“I would like to have another bash at doing that and make it even more successful next time.”
After inheriting a club that plunged into administration in 2013 with debts touching £30 million, yesterday’s handover was a historic day in Hearts’ history, the significance of which was not lost on Budge.
“I suppose history will tell us (how much this is a landmark day).
“I’m assuming that this is going to work well. There is no reason why it shouldn’t. I think it’s quite momentous.
“Football is big business, especially if you can get into the big competitions.
“It needs to be well run. It shouldn’t be a rich person’s toy, or ‘I’ve made some money, I love my football club, I think I’ll go and help them out for a few years’.
“That’s not what’s needed. If football is going to continue to grow, it needs to be run in a particular manner. It needs to be run, A, very professionally and, B, for fans. That’s what I think will be the consequence of this.
“You need certain things in place for this to work. You need a volume of fans.
“You need a strong board, you need a strong executive team, running it on a day-to-day basis. And you need really strong fan engagement so that we actually know where we are getting it wrong and what the demands are.”
Although fan owned, supporters will have no greater say over matters on the park. Four key issues, however, will be decided on by fans should they arise.
Foundation chair Wallace explained: “The four matters are if anyone proposed to change the colours, the name of the team, a proposal to move away from Tynecastle, all would come back to a vote of the members.
“A simple majority of over 50 per cent would decide the outcome, the one matter that needs a 90 per cent majority is if we decided to sell the shares, or some of the shares.”
Budge, meanwhile, insists the change of ownership would make no difference to philanthropist James Anderson’s support to the club.
Anderson, who gave more than £3 million to the mens and women’s game in Scotland during the pandemic, and the club’s other wealthy backers have donated over £9 million to Hearts since Budge took over.
Budge added: “Oh yes, that will continue. I can say that with 100 per cent confidence. That’s all sorted.
“That’s part of my job: to make sure we are financially secure moving forward.
“I don’t want to speak for James, but I think we all know that James got involved because he liked what we were saying and what we are trying to do.
“And because he was very much a communities guy. He really recognises the power of football to help communities. As long as we keep doing that, we will keep their support.”