Andrew McKinlay: This is not a rebuilding job at Hearts

New chief executive explains why there is no 2014 repeat

New Hearts chief executive Andrew McKinlay at Tynecastle.
New Hearts chief executive Andrew McKinlay at Tynecastle.

Two weeks as Hearts chief executive is sufficient for Andrew McKinlay to assess the club’s whereabouts in the somewhat ravaged Scottish football landscape.

Even after relegation to the Championship, followed by some squad culling, he is adamant this is not 2014 all over again. Comparisons with six years ago when the club emerged from administration are misplaced in McKinlay’s mind.

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A new main stand, vastly improved training facilities, a better infrastructure and stronger finances set the Hearts of 2020 apart from the 2014 version. Those foundations attracted McKinlay to the job despite an alarming on-field malaise over the last 18 months.

“The opportunity to work with one of the biggest clubs in Scotland is not something that comes along everyday,” said the former Scottish FA and Scottish Golf chief.

“Okay, none of us want to be where we are in the Championship but for me coming in, it gives us a chance to take stock where we are. It’s not a rebuild job, nothing like it.

“I've seen some suggestions that we’re back to where we were in 2014 and that’s miles off the mark. Okay, we are from a division perspective but not from where the club is.

“We’re sitting in this stand, which wasn’t here, the infrastructure of the club is fantastic and that’s down to Ann [Budge] and the guys who have put that in place over the last six years.

“I’m just looking forward to being on that journey as we come back up, fingers crossed, and being competitive in the Premiership again, that’s where we want to be.

“We won’t take anything for granted. We don’t have any birth right. We have a belief we should be the third club in Scotland and that’s where we want to be.”

Hearts continue to cut operating costs by shedding staff including some high-earning players. It is a necessary task with the future in mind.

“There is a hugely strong base to work from. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last week being immersed in financials with the financial director,” continued McKinlay.

“It’s a hugely strong club from that perspective. You have to cut your cloth accordingly in the Championship and everyone knows we were carrying a large squad.

“You’ll have seen quite a few people moving on already, some high-earning players as well moving on. We all understand and accept that.

“I suppose the great unknown, not just for us but for everyone is, when are fans going to be back in stadia?

“At the end of the day, it’s a great thing in Scotland we have the highest numbers of fans per population in Europe.

“However, at a time like this, that is an issue because that is the main income for most clubs. Getting fans in, in a safe way, is something that we’re all keen to see but who knows when that is going to be?”

Trialling fans at rugby matches is “baby steps”, as McKinlay puts it. Football must wait for Scottish Government permission to allow people into stadia which could happen over the coming weeks.

A full-season of closed-door games would be a worst-case scenario and could threaten the existence of many clubs. Hearts would just about be able to cope.

“We could but it would be very difficult. It would be very difficult for every club in Scotland if that’s where we end up,” stated McKinlay.

“We know the big clubs and know how much money some of them, including us, have but the ones that have the big incomes are also the ones that have the big expenditure.

“It would be a very, very tough season, lets put it that way. We just have to prepare for all eventualities.”

Fans play a more pivotal role at Tynecastle Park than anywhere else given more than 8,000 of them contribute money through Foundation of Hearts. It amounts to £1.5m a year in revenue for Hearts.

McKinlay quickly caught on to the supporters’ relevance at his new place of work. A total of 11,500 season tickets have been sold so far on top of increased pledges through the Foundation.

“It’s just extraordinary. I think it is important for me yet again to thank the Hearts fans,” he said. “I look at what they’ve done since 2014, every time they come up to the mark. To put the faith in buying season tickets is fantastic.

“It just shows the real loyalty and the size of the fan base. The Foundation have been a massive part of this club for the last few years and, as everybody knows, in the not-so-distant future they will become the owners of the club.

“The club has a great relationship with them and they have seats on the board. As Ann will say, we don’t envisage that being a real change on a day-to-day basis, it’s just them being the major shareholder of the club.

“It’s important people understand, and I think most people do, that there is a difference between fan ownership and fan running of the club. It’s exciting times and it will be an important day when that transfer happens.”

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