FORMER Hearts chairman George Foulkes believes the club’s maiden Annual General Meeting (AGM) since exiting administration will be a celebration of a “wonderful new era” at Tynecastle.
Hearts owner Ann Budge will address fellow shareholders in the Gorgie Suite at Tynecastle today, just six months after the club’s 140-year history was hanging in the balance during administration.
Budge’s £2.4 million deal rescued the club from financial meltdown, and plans have been put in place for fans’ group Foundation of Hearts (FoH), who are already providing annual funding, to complete their takeover by 2019.
Contrary to previous AGMs – which were often stormy affairs during the turbulent tenures of Vladimir Romanov and Chris Robinson – Foulkes expects the mood to be “jubilant” as Hearts hail their survival against a backdrop of success on and off the field.
“I think the AGM will be cordial, celebratory and enthusiastic,” said the 72-year-old. “But most of all, it will be positive.
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“Ann Budge has brought stability and professionalism to the administration. She has brought in good people to important roles within the business. We are selling out our homes games, we have a good management structure and individuals with expertise behind the scenes.
“On and off the pitch, there is so much to be positive about. Even things like making sure everyone at the club is paid a living wage is a remarkable gesture and represents a change of attitude.
“There is a feeling of confidence and optimism around the place. I see that when I attend every home game and I’m sure it will be reflected today.”
Foulkes, who served as chairman between 2004 and 2005 and helped broker Romanov’s takeover of the club, has been an ever-present during the most fractious AGMs of recent times.
The Labour peer was in attendance as fans regularly demanded answers from the Romanov regime – although the eccentric Russian was usually absent on those occasions.
And he was in the room as chairs were famously sent flying across the Gorgie Suite during the meeting in which Chris Robinson attempted to gain approval to move Hearts from Tynecastle to Murrayfield.
“I have had some testing AGMs,” he recalled. “The Romanov era was a rollercoaster. It had its good bits – two Scottish Cup wins – and it had some really difficult aspects, because he was more than a tad eccentric.
“I’m afraid I was also there for the infamous Chris Robinson AGM. That regime was the worst we have gone through, in my view. Robinson built up the debt that we had when Romanov took over, and it was about the same when Romanov left.
“If we hadn’t stopped that move from Tynecastle to Murrayfield then we would have been struggling with small crowds and doing badly on the pitch – rather than the positive situation which will be outlined at this AGM.”
No such ire will be directed at the top table this morning, with Budge having not put a foot wrong since becoming the first female owner of a British football club.
“There has been a sea-change at Hearts, all for the better, and the supporters see that,” he added. “The combination of the professionalism Ann and her team brings, allied with the move towards fan ownership with FoH, represents a wonderful new era. Frankly, we are now a club that others are very envious of.”
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