Obituary: Kenneth Waugh, businessman and club chairman

Kenneth Waugh. Picture: Contributed
Kenneth Waugh. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 4 February, 1937, in Prestonfield, Edinburgh. Died: 5 September, 2015, in Edinburgh, aged 78

The death of Kenny Waugh brought tributes from across Scottish football but especially in his home city of Edinburgh where he performed the remarkable feat of trying to buy Hearts FC but ended up owning and becoming chairman of the club he supported as a boy, Hibernian FC.

Remembered as a decent and hardworking businessman who built up Scotland’s largest chain of independent bookmakers and also created a small empire in the licensed trade, Waugh passed away at a hospice in Edinburgh at the weekend after an illness bravely borne.

Born to Danny, a former soldier, and Annie in pre-war Prestonfield, Waugh was brought up on the south-east side of Edinburgh, the family of himself and five sisters moving to Bingham when he was young.

Educated at Niddrie Marischal and Portobello schools, before he became a bookmaker, Waugh served his time as an engineer at Portobello power station. In the days when betting shops were still illegal, Waugh decided to try his hand at becoming a legal “rails” bookmaker and while still in his early 20s he became a regular fixture at the racetracks of central Scotland.

This was not the most spectacularly successful time of his career, though it was an essential preparation for his next business move. After a spell back at the power station, when betting shops were made legal in 1962 Waugh shrewdly realised that they would soon become a licence to print money. He duly opened his first shop in Niddrie, recalling some years later that he had built much of the shop himself.

From a young age he had been a keen amateur boxer, and later he would become a Scottish amateur champion at lightweight. In truth, it was the sport he most loved all his life, and Waugh would recall that his pugilistic skills stood him in good stead as he set out to expand his business.

Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Waugh began to acquire a number of betting shops in and around Edinburgh and also moved into the licensed trade. He first came to major public prominence in 1981 when he was named as the bidder for one of Edinburgh’s two main clubs – not his boyhood heroes in green and white, but their great rivals in maroon, Heart of Midlothian FC.

By that time Waugh owned 11 betting shops and three public houses in all, and had plans for expansion on the back of the healthy income they brought him. Football administration fascinated him, however, and with Hearts in the doldrums he fancied the challenge or resurrecting the club.

Waugh famously wrote a cheque for £350,000 in a bid to acquire the majority shareholding in the Tynecastle club, but not a few of the fans queried his motives as his passion for Hibs was widely known. While the media-savvy Edinburgh property developer Wallace Mercer sweet-talked the shareholders and the media, Waugh concentrated on showing a proper business approach to Hearts, arguing that the club needed good commercial management if it was to prosper.

It is often forgotten that Hearts had an overdraft of £200,000 at that time and Waugh had plans to deal with it. Asked why he was interested in Hearts, he said that he was merely a “supporter of the sport” who wanted to do something for football in his home town. “I would not have considered buying a club in the west of Scotland or England,” he said.

Mercer won the battle for control at Tynecastle, but Waugh’s desire to become a club owner was only postponed, and the next time the colour of the club jerseys would be more to his liking.

Builder Tom Hart had enjoyed many happy times during his ownership of Hibs who had enjoyed some success and considerable respect during the time of manager Eddie Turnbull’s Tornadoes. By 1981, however, Hart was looking to sell up and when he saw that Waugh was serious and had good plans, they got together and Waugh acquired Hart’s majority shareholding.

The following year he was duly installed as chairman, and in a crowd-pleasing move he got manager Bertie Auld to step aside and installed Pat Stanton as manager.

Waugh steadied the ship financially and even turned down a bid for his shares that would have netted him a quick profit a year after becoming chairman. Sadly for Hibs, Waugh’s time as chairman was unsuccessful in terms of trophies, and despite bringing in John Blackley after Stanton resigned, the only success was reaching the Scottish League Cup Final in season 1985-86 when Hibs lost to Aberdeen.

After changing managers again, bringing in Alex Miller, there was still no success and Waugh listened to another offer for Hibs. Disastrously for Hibs that led to David Duff becoming chairman and he and his business partners then listened as Wallace Mercer proposed a merger between his Hearts and their Hibs, a move he admitted many years later would have seen Hibs close.

Waugh had his own personal acrimony with the Duff regime, and he worked behind the scenes to ensure the club survived unmerged.

After Hibs, Waugh concentrated on building up his bookmaking and other businesses, and bringing his family on board. After building Scotbet into the largest independent bookmakers in Scotland, he sold out to a management buyout. He was still involved in the family licensed trade business until very late in life.

Throughout his adult life, Waugh was fortunate to have his wife Dorothy by his side. She was a shrewd businesswoman herself, and her love of greyhounds led Waugh to become both a bookmaker at Powderhall and later the owner of Armadale dog track.

They were inseparable for nearly six decades of marriage, until Dorothy passed away in July last year – friends say Waugh never really recovered from that loss.

Waugh is survived by his son and daughter, Susan and Kenneth, and by his grandchildren Hollie, Meggan, Murray, Rachael, Douglas, Kenneth, Marnie, Cameron and Erin. His great-grandson Caspian, Hollie’s son, was born in New York just a fortnight before Waugh’s death.

A tribute to Waugh is expected at Hibs’ next home game.

MARTIN HANNAN