Hearts relegation: Ann Budge says Sky contract was behind collapse of reconstruction talks

Club owner highlights culture of fear and wearied resignation

Hearts owner Ann Budge has accused clubs of putting self interest before the greater good. Picture: SNS

Hearts owner Ann Budge has told fans that she has not given up the fight for top flight survival, despite the fact that Premiership clubs vetoed any hopes of league reconstruction ahead of the new season.

That would appear to condemn the Tynecastle club, who are bottom of the table with eight games remaining, to relegation to the Championship if, as expected, the campaign is prematurely curtailed later in the week.

Sign up to our Football newsletter

Sign up to our Football newsletter

But Budge, right, has vowed to fight on. She said: “Please also be reassured that while the Premiership has not yet been called, should it be so, with Hearts expelled as a result, we will be taking further advice on what options are open to us and to other clubs in the same position, to formally challenge this outcome.”

Lashing out at top flight directors who refused to countenance reconstruction, she branded them as “sanctimonious” and “disrespectful”, as she examined their stance. She also questioned the faith clubs have in the SPFL leadership. Furious that the reconstruction process has been derailed, meaning Hearts, Partick Thistle and Stranraer are demoted to the Championship, League One and League Two, respectively, Budge took offence at the “view stated by a number of club representatives that this was, effectively, a distraction, and all of our efforts needed to be focused on the bigger issue of how we get football back playing as quickly as possible”.

She said: “This is incredibly sanctimonious, suggesting as it does that those of us involved in looking at this issue are failing to recognise what ‘the real issues’ are. Or that we are all incapable of considering more than one challenge at a time. Speaking for myself, I am pretty good at multi-tasking.”

Highlighting a culture of fear and wearied resignation, she added: “Fundamentally, the main reason clubs are not prepared to consider a restructure is because of the Sky contract. It is well known that Sky would have to agree to a restructure.

“Without any discussion with Sky, there is a totally incomprehensible assumption that we would be unable to navigate successfully through any such negotiation. What does that say about the strength or otherwise of our partnership? Perhaps more tellingly, what does it say about the confidence our clubs have in the ability of the SPFL to negotiate? The message is clear. This could be difficult so let’s not bother trying. It’s too risky!”

She said there had been “genuine optimism” among the Reconstruction Task Force that agreement could be reached but “it was always going to fail if the Premiership Division would not agree to enlarge the top tier. [On Friday], it was made very clear that a number of clubs were not prepared to do so and nor were they prepared or interested in discussing the matter further.

“The total disregard for the members of the Board sub-committee and the efforts they had put in was quite staggering. I intimated at the start of the meeting that I had prepared a paper, which I planned to send to them... They were determined, however, to take a vote. This is so appallingly disrespectful to everyone on the Task Force.

“There is absolutely no question in my opinion that self-interest played a part in the discussions, as did previous history. We all-too-often hear people talking about why things won’t work because: ‘we’ve been here before and agreement is impossible’.

“If we are ever going to make any meaningful changes to improve Scottish football, we have to find a way of forgetting what has gone in the past. We must also stop hiding behind what the current rules say and be prepared to take a pragmatic, fleet-of-foot approach to dealing with change.

“Our objective should have been to stand together to protect each other. This would have demonstrated genuine leadership for the first time in many weeks. We are long-overdue a demonstration that those of us in senior positions in Scottish football are prepared to stand up and be counted.”


Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.