Hearts: FoH proved irresistible for Ann Budge

MANY people spend several years trying to buy a controlling interest in a football club. Ann Budge revealed yesterday that she passed a similar length of time resisting the urge to take charge at Hearts.

Ann Budge unveils new director of football Craig Levein and new head coach Robbie Neilson at Tynecastle. Picture: Greg Macvean
Ann Budge unveils new director of football Craig Levein and new head coach Robbie Neilson at Tynecastle. Picture: Greg Macvean

The businesswoman, who acquired 80 per cent of the shares in the club last week and is now obliged to make a formal offer for the rest, explained that she had been involved with the Foundation of Hearts since its earliest days. But, while a supporter of the club, she was initially unwilling to back up her sentimental attachment with hard cash.

“I didn’t need to put myself into this,” she said. “It was because I’d been involved with the FoH for four years.

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“I went along originally out of politeness, to be honest, not really expecting to get involved. But the people who set up FoH were so passionate and I just found myself agreeing to help with this and that.

“It drifted, but I said from the earliest point that I didn’t mind helping with advice or designing websites, but I’m not giving you any money. I said I’d never put money into football. But their enthusiasm and passion rubbed off – it was contagious.”

While Hearts are still in administration, Budge is now effectively in charge at Tynecastle, as was shown in dramatic style on Monday when she axed the management team and several of the most senior players at the club. She was criticised then for taking those actions without consulting her colleagues at the Foundation, but explained yesterday that confidentiality had been paramount – above all, to be fair to deposed manager Gary Locke.

“There are a lot of people involved in the Foundation of Hearts at board level. I obviously need to speak through [FoH chairman] Ian Murray on most occasions, but I speak to all of the directors.

“One of the things I’ve discovered very clearly in the last few months is how confidential information just seeps out in football. I’ve been astounded actually. Mostly I read what I’m thinking before I’ve thought it.

“So there is a balance. I have a very, very good relationship with FoH, make no mistake about that. I’ve had lots of conversations with people over the past few months about the kind of things that I’m thinking about doing.

“Did they see the statement [on the club website, detailing Locke’s departure and many other changes] before yesterday morning? No, they didn’t.

“I sent it out first thing yesterday morning because I only wrote it on Sunday night. I sent it out first thing in advance of giving it to anybody and said this is what’s going to be announced, do you want to talk or whatever. I didn’t want what was happening to be leaked, because I think I owed Gary the courtesy of sitting down and talking to him before anybody else leaked information.”

After saying she was “shocked” by the state in which previous owner Vladimir Romanov had left Hearts, Budge was asked how she thought her predecessor would be remembered. “Oh dear,” she said. “I have read people make very negative remarks, and I’ve also heard that if he hadn’t come in when he did we would have had lots of problems years ago. But how will he be remembered? Not very fondly, I don’t think. Not by the majority of people.

“As a supporter you want your club to be successful. Was it worth killing the club? Absolutely not, and we will never do it again. Never say never, perhaps – but not while I am running the club. Was it worth being successful? Yes, it was. It’s great being a supporter and enjoying these successes. Was it the right thing to do if it was going to kill the club? Absolutely not.”

Romanov famously promised Champions League glory within five years of taking control of the club. Budge’s finances are altogether more modest, but she nonetheless suggested she had high ambitions when asked what she could promise the fans.

“I’ll only promise on the business side of things – I’ll ask Craig [Levein] to comment on football. My focus is to fix some of the business problems, get a really strong business and football set-up, and who knows? The sky’s the limit.”