That’s been Ann Budge's life for the last eight years. From spearheading the campaign to wrestle the club away from liquidation, backed by fans and the Foundation of Hearts, to seeing the team in St Gallen, Riga and Florence, only missing out on the trip to Istanbul due to pressing appointment. The European run was viewed as a reward for the supporters’ loyalty over the years, which included two in the Championship. It was also a reward for Budge.
Now she is chairwoman, no longer chief executive, those long, long days are somewhat in the past. The day-to-day running of the club now in the trusty hands of CEO Andrew McKinlay, meaning more time to spend on non-Hearts related business but also key club projects.
Taking a step back
“I am delighted it's no longer 24/7 because believe me it was for a long time," Budge said. “I could have never just stopped and walked away and thought 'thank goodness that's over', that would never have worked. It's not a bad halfway house because I am still involved with the board and I have taken on a couple of projects. That's good.
"The not so good is I don't know everything that's going on anymore and that sometimes annoys me. There was a good reason given for why that's the case but these little things I would always have had an opinion on ... so it can be a wee bit frustrating sometimes but overall it works well. Andrew and I are very different people with different styles but he knew what he was getting into, I knew him slightly and I knew I would have to get out of the way if he was going to have a chance to do what he needed to do. Yes, it has changed and on balance it has changed for the better from my lifestyle point of view and it's the right thing moving forward. It had to happen sometime and now we are doing it over a nice period of time.”
Hotel and 150th
Budge is heavily involved in planning the club’s 150th anniversary in 2024 and overseeing the development of a hotel on the second floor of the Main Stand. The latter is an interesting next step considering it was a key feature of plans for a redeveloped Main Stand under previous owner Vladimir Romanov which didn’t amount to much more than a model of the design in the old club shop.
“It feels like the right thing to do," she said. “It just fits in my view to what we are saying we are all about – which is trying to help Gorgie and bring something good to the local community. We want to attract other people to the area and put money into it. It is one of the areas of Edinburgh which is still very underdeveloped. It is not the only one, but in terms of its closeness to the city centre it is the next one to hopefully see a change of face. We need to help drive that.”
Budge, who is committed to staying on until the 118th AGM in two’years time, has experienced plenty over the eight years she has been at the helm. From the good to the bad, including supporters protest against her running of the club. The transition to the fans becoming the majority shareholder with 75 per cent through the Foundation of Hearts has been smooth and she is confident the right balance is in place for the long-term future and to manage any rocky situations which may present themselves down the line.
"I think that’s when we’ll know if this model is solid and sustainable,” she said. “We talk about fan owned, not fan run. Can I anticipate a time when it does work? I don’t really think so. I think the key is that we have a strong board and that includes and that includes FOH representatives. I think if we have that we genuinely can focus on making the best long term decisions, we know what the fans are saying. When the fans were unhappy before, we know – we tried to take it into account. Until we have some kind of difficult situation, it’s difficult to know.”
James Anderson influence
Early on in her Hearts tenure, Budge was vocal about the need for Scottish football to change having had her eyebrows raised by the structures and mechanisms in play and “frustrations around the commercialisation, the negotiating of big contracts”. It is safe to say she is still sceptical about key progress while the current voting systems remain in place. She has taken a step away from that side of things due to her role change and is far more positive about her own backyard, especially with the presence of James Anderson, a key benefactor, now on the board.
“We all know what his background and his experience brings to the table," she said. “He is very ambitious and he pushes. Do you want to do that? Why not twice that? He is constantly saying: ‘You can do this, but you have got to think that bit bigger’. It is good for the board. Initially, it was all about survival. Then we were beginning to get on the right track. Then of course the wheels fell off with what was going on [Covid-19]. But I think we were ready to go again. Having that ambition, where we are not worrying every day if we are going to be able to pay the bills this month is great. He encourages that kind of thinking.”