Ann Budge welcomes Hibs' success in spite of Hearts' shortcomings

Casting a glance across the capital, Hearts owner Ann Budge could be forgiven a tinge of jealousy at the way rivals Hibernian out-performed them last season.

Foundation of Hearts chairman Stuart Wallace presents Ann Budge with a £3m cheque towards the Tynecastle Stadium Redevelopment. Picture: SNS.

Instead she maintains the successful return of the Leith side to the top flight has bolstered football in the city and refutes the idea that their results have rubbed salt in the wounds of the Gorgie club, who finished almost 20 points adrift of the fourth-placed finishers, in sixth spot.

“Without question we all know Hibs have had a fantastic season, a terrific season,” said Budge. “They have played some good football, have had some amazing results. But that doesn’t make it worse for me. It’s a very competitive league, as it will be again next year.

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“Our supporters would of course prefer if it wasn’t that way. But I am glad Edinburgh is doing well, quite frankly.”

That does not mean she is willing to settle for a place in the Easter Road side’s shadow. Celebrating the fulfilment of Foundation of Hearts’ promise to make a £3 million contribution to the Tynecastle Redevelopment Fund, setting the pledgers, who have raised £7.12m in total since the dark days of 2014, back on course to take control of the club in two years, chairwoman Budge is confident that the fans’ ongoing backing will allow the club to reverse some of this season’s wrongs on the pitch, while also advancing the ongoing off-field improvements.

Coming through one of the most difficult seasons Craig Levein says he has encountered as a manager and, according to Budge, the “toughest” she has had to navigate in her short time at the helm, Hearts failed to live up to their own expectations but that only acts as a driving force for the woman who saved the club from administration and has restored some stability.

“We want to be contesting at the top of the table and we want to be back in Europe,” she added. “I don’t think we will ever be saying anything other than we want to be in the top three or four clubs in Scotland. That hasn’t changed. We fell a bit short of it this year but we will keep aspiring to do that.

“Last season was always going to be a turbulent season off the pitch and then with what happened at the start of the season [when former boss Ian Cathro was fired], everywhere we looked we had things to deal with.”

They have hit the ground running this summer, though. Confident that they made the right decision to appoint Levein manager, Budge says that on top of all the early signing business, they are “feeling quite good” about their plans and hopeful that other targets will come through.

With a new pitch being laid in preparation for the new season, work on the stadium due to be completed by this time next year and a makeover of the side charged with bringing European football and silverware to Tynecastle ongoing, she is determined the club will be in perfect health when she hands over ownership in two years, but she has not ruled out staying on, if asked.

“My only caveat is age, if I am honest. If I still have my health, if I still have the energy needed to do this sort of job I won’t want to go anywhere,” she said. “And if the Foundation and the pledgers want me to stay I will happily stay because it is about continuity and stability and continued growth. Things don’t end in two years’ time. The Foundation is still going to continue and, hopefully, the pledgers will still be pledging. So I will carry on for as long as I feel I can do it and as long as they want me to do it.

“But my own personal goal is at the point at which we transfer ownership I want this [stand] to be finished so it is not a problem moving forward. And I do want us to be in good shape on the pitch. I need us to be in a good place because I want to hand over something that is reasonably stable and has every chance of success.”

With season tickets selling well despite last term’s disappointments and feedback from the fans she meets around Edinburgh still positive, she believes that supporters remain realistic, about difficulties that had to be negotiated last term and the distance the club has travelled in a relatively short time.

“They know that four years ago we were in a really bad place. We have not made third or fourth this season but we are still here and things are still going well and improving.

“[Appointing Craig] was the right thing for Craig and the club. I talk to him frequently and I know he is enjoying it. It was the right thing for Hearts to do.”

Even if his determination to stand up for the club has stirred things up.

“I have to go in every morning and ask Craig if there is anything I should know about,” she says with a smile, having seen her manager take on rival clubs as well as opposition players and managers, with Celtic and capital counterpart Neil Lennon among those in his sights last term.

“Craig and Neil Lennon are both intelligent guys who know how to wind each other up and everybody else for that matter. Craig frequently has that glint in his eye!”