Ann Budge’s vision ‘right for Scottish football’

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CRAIG Levein yesterday urged those at the top of Scottish football to listen to Hearts owner Ann Budge – for the good of the game.

Budge has a desire to have a greater say in the running of football in Scotland but would need a board position on one of the game’s ruling bodies

Ann Budge: Fresh pair of eyes. Picture: SNS

Ann Budge: Fresh pair of eyes. Picture: SNS

Even if one does not become available in the near future, Levein, who was recruited as director of football by Budge a year ago, believes her views must be heeded.

Levein yesterday described how “refreshing” it was to hear someone adopt a long-term view when making decisions. That is an approach Levein claims is alien to Scottish football, which, for so long, has been dominated by males who cannot agree about anything, and who are often only interested in what happens tomorrow. Levein urged the authorities to make space for Budge at either the Scottish Football Association or the Scottish Professional Football League.

“I would love to see her in that sort of thing,” said the former Scotland manager, during a briefing yesterday where he reflected on Hearts’ Championship title success. “I think she represents supporters as well. Sometimes supporters are treated as ‘I know they come through the turnstiles, we’ll take their money’, whereas her approach is completely different.

“With Ann being a woman as well, I’ve been to a lot of these meetings when I was with Scotland, meetings about youth development and changing the structure for under-20s. You get these people in a room and they can’t agree on anything. They can’t. Everything is about, ‘what I want, what’s best for me?’ ”

Supporters are treated as ‘I know they come through the turnstiles, we’ll take their money’, whereas her approach is completely different.

Craig Levein

Budge, who made her fortune in IT before becoming involved with the Foundation of Hearts, has recently spoken about her willingness to further her influence in the game.

She has become increasingly vocal since paying £2.5 million to rescue Hearts from administration in May 2014.

Budge recently made a formal complaint against the SPFL in the wake of a fixture row following the rescheduling of Hearts’ game against Rangers, which was moved to 24 hours after the conclusion of the other Scottish Championship ties.

After Budge, along with Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster, strongly resisted the move, the SPFL, following consultation with Sky Sports, moved the game forward again to ensure all the final games would kick off concurrently.

“The place she is in her life has allowed her to come in and look at things with a fresh pair of eyes,” said Levein. “It’s almost black and white. ‘Is it fair or is it not fair’. If it’s not fair we can’t do it.

“She’s in a position that people should listen to her because she’s speaking for the right reasons. She’s not trying to be something. She’s trying to help, basically. She’ll say: ‘This doesn’t make sense, why are we doing it this way?’

“The thing about changing the date for the fixture, there were supporters coming from all over the world.”

“She’s fair, she’s calm and most unusually for football, all she’s concerned with is what is happening in five years’ time, not what’s happening in a year,” added Levein.

“I’ve spent my life in football and people that run football clubs. All they worry about is what happens tomorrow.

“In Scotland, some of the decisions that have been made in the last ten, 15 years have all been about money and ‘how can it help us tomorrow?’ It’s never been about what should Scottish football look like in ten years time? It’s so refreshing for someone to come and say to me: ‘Go away and tell me what you want the academy to look like in five years’ time’.”

Levein revealed Budge was the driving force being Hearts’ decision to pay staff at the club a living wage, which was the first time a Scottish football club had made such a pledge. After Eric Hogg, the club’s operations director, brought up the scheme in a meeting, Budge was determined to see it implemented.

“She’s so fair with certain things,” said Levein. “We started talking about it and she said: ‘I think we should do more for the people that are working for us’. It costs the club money but it’s the right thing to do. There are so many stories and stuff like that, when she’s said: ‘No we’re not doing it that way but we’re doing it this way because it’s fairer’.”

There is one area where Levein did find fault with Budge. She recently targeted a top four finish on Hearts’ return to the Premiership next season. “I need to have word with her, I think…” he smiled. “Publicly, top six is straightforward. We’ve got our own ambitions.

“We’ve got a lot of things in our favour. We’ve got momentum. We’ve got young players who will be a year older and they will be better, without a doubt. We’ve also got 16,000 fans here. We’re selling season tickets in the Roseburn Stand for the first time in a long time, so we’ll have at least 15,000 Hearts supporters in here for every game. That’s a big plus.”

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