IT has been a long time since Hearts could be regarded as a model of stability. Former owner Chris Robinson took them into ever-deepening debt a decade ago, and then the increasingly chaotic reign of Vladimir Romanov ended with them going into administration last June. But for Rangers, the Tynecastle club would be seen as the most dysfunctional in the country.
Yet, having witnessed the collapse of the Romanov regime from the inside and been given an idea of how prospective new owner Ann Budge plans to run the business, Gary Locke is confident that from now on Hearts can become a model of how a football club should be run. Budge’s own tight control of the finances will be a key element. But above all, as the businesswoman has herself insisted, long-term stability will come from taking the club out of private hands and into supporters’ control.
With around 8,500 members paying monthly subscriptions by direct debit, the Foundation of Hearts is set to bring the club out of administration via a Company Voluntary Arrangement. The Foundation’s takeover vehicle, Bidco, of which Budge is sole director, will buy control for £2.5 million. That sum will then be repaid over the next two or three years to Bidco by Fanco, the company into which the supporters’ money is paid.
At the end of the process, Hearts will have a mass ownership. Day to day, the club will still be run by a small number of executives, as it is now. But, in a sharp contrast to what was the case under Robinson and Romanov, those executives will be directly answerable to the supporters.
Given the size of the Hearts support, and the commitment they have shown over the past year to working together in a spirit of collective discipline, Locke is sure that this method of running the club can both work for Hearts and be an example for others.
“It can be really successful,” the manager said yesterday. “Look at our fan base. Look at the support we take with us all over the country.
“We’re a massive institution in Edinburgh with great history. There’s no doubt with the fan base we have got it can be a very good model for success.
“I’d imagine the new owner would have good ideas for the club, because she’s a very shrewd businesswoman who knows her stuff. She’s got the best interests of Hearts at heart and the only way this club is going now is forward.
“There’s a big rebuilding job to be done, of course, but there’s a fantastic future awaiting us. Can we get back to winning cups, finishing second? Without a doubt.”
Locke has yet to be given a precise idea of how Budge plans to run the club, but in his brief conversations with her so far he has learned enough to be confident that Hearts will henceforth be run in a calm and rational fashion. “Ann will come in now and she will put her plans in place, which is great because we are now going to have a Hearts-supporting owner who has the best interests of the club at heart,” he continued. “I’ve no doubt Ann will move the club forward in the right direction and get Hearts back to being one of the top clubs in Scotland once more.
“We’ve certainly learned a harsh lesson that you have to live within your means. Every football club in the world now realises you can’t go spending money you’ve not got. I certainly feel that will never happen here again.
“I think we’ve learned our lesson. Nobody would want to go through what we’ve been through at this club ever again. There’s a bright future ahead of us.
“It’s been really difficult from last summer, right from day one when the news broke that we were going into administration. As the manager you realise just how bad everything was and you see people losing their jobs.
“I don’t think I’ll have another day like that, another day lower than that. It’s been a long ten months but to get that phone call was such a huge relief, not just for myself but for everyone associated with the club. Hopefully now we can look forward to a really bright future for Hearts.
“At the end of the day [Romanov] came in and we had success. People will never forget the cup wins we had.
“But it’s important now we look to the future – there’s no point looking back. I think the football club has a really big future ahead of it. It’s going to get run properly, which is the most important thing, and hopefully we can start turning out really good teams again and start to get success again on the pitch.”
While Locke is sure that Budge will run Hearts successfully, he is equally certain that without Bryan Jackson of administrators BDO, the chairwoman-in-waiting would not now be on the brink of taking over. “What a fantastic job they have done,” he said of Jackson and his colleagues.
“I know personally just what a hard task they had, and they’ve been great. They’ve still got a little bit to go so I don’t want to get too carried away, but yesterday’s news was fantastic for everyone.”
The news that BDO have come closer to completing the CVA has reassured Locke’s players that they, too, will have a future at Tynecastle, although the manager has in any case long been impressed by their commitment to the club. “That’s one thing that has been fantastic at the football club all season,” he said. “I think barring only one or two games the desire and the commitment of the players to go out and do well for the football club has been there for everyone to see.
“It’s really pleasing that the priority of all the players is to stay here. I think that speaks volumes for them, and it speaks volumes for their feelings for the football club. I’ve said that over the last few years there have been some players who have played here who didn’t want to be here, but certainly with this bunch of players every single one of them wants to play for Hearts and that’s pleasing.”