Edinburgh businesswoman Budge will formally become executive chairperson of Hearts on Monday after the sale and purchase agreement for 79.5 per cent of the club’s shares to her was concluded yesterday.
The £2.5 million takeover will enable Hearts to exit administration within the next few weeks, but Budge will take charge of club affairs immediately as she plans for next season’s challenge to gain promotion back to the Scottish Premiership at the first attempt.
Edinburgh South MP Murray, who has fronted the Foundation of Hearts fans group, which it is intended will eventually take ownership of the club from Budge, has agreed to serve as a director on her first board. He is confident the Hearts supporters will not be disappointed by the new owner.
“The fans will get honesty and integrity from Ann,” Murray told The Scotsman. “They will get someone who considers every single decision that she makes, to make sure she makes the right one. She always does. They will get someone they can trust, who they will warm to. She is a Hearts supporter and will only give her best endeavour to get the club back to where it belongs. I think the fans will be delighted with Ann’s involvement.
“They can be very optimistic about the future of Hearts. The hard work will start now for Ann. This isn’t the end of the story, it’s the beginning. But it’s a much, much brighter chapter. Ann will come into her new job on Monday, start work in earnest and hopefully get the club back to where it belongs – winning football matches and at the top of Scottish football.”
Murray was both relieved and delighted when he heard confirmation of the sale and purchase agreement yesterday morning and admits there have been times since Hearts went into administration last June when he was unsure if the club could be saved.
“It has been a long time coming and the uncertainty around the club has been there for too long,” said Murray. “So to get a very, very challenging situation resolved with a different jurisdiction [in Lithuania], to get it over the line is a fantastic result for all Hearts supporters. We are over the moon.
“I always had doubts in my mind up until 7:30 this morning when the documents came through for signing. Until you’ve actually got the dried ink on the contract, there is always a doubt because it’s a very uncertain thing to try and do.
“The fans absolutely deserve it. June last year was a horrendous time for the club. A lot of people lost their jobs, a lot of people lost money. The supporters put their hands in their pockets time and time again when Hearts were in a very, very difficult place. It seems like a million years ago, but it’s not even a year yet. The club has managed to get to the stage it is in. We are incredibly fortunate that a lot of hard work has gone in and we appreciate the fans’ patience in getting us this far.”
A five-year timescale has been outlined for the Foundation of Hearts to take control from Budge, and Murray insists they are taking a realistic and sensible approach to the process.
“We have been necessarily pessimistic with our projections,” he added. “We hope staying down in the Championship doesn’t come to pass, but you’ve got to take on board every possible eventuality, such as not winning a cup tie for the next three years. We’ve been very pessimistic on cash flows and that’s how everything has been designed, around worst case scenarios. It is to make sure Hearts never ends up in a situation like this again.
“The last thing we want is for Hearts to go into administration ever again. Hopefully we will be able to do this an awful lot quicker than five years, but it will depend on the level of pledges from supporters going forward. We are hoping we have now got all the difficult stuff out of the way with administration, so we can get the pledges as high as possible. Every ten pound note we get each month is a ten pound note closer to getting the club into full fan ownership.”
Murray will be joined on Budge’s first board of directors by her business partner Eric Hogg and former Scottish Premier League chairman Robert Wilson. But Murray does not expect his involvement to be a lengthy one.
“I am a reluctant foot soldier here,” he said. “But we have to see this through. I’m happy to see it through, at least in the short term. Ann has asked me to do that and I’m happy to do it until the end of the summer and then we’ll see where we are then.”