Equality is key for Ann Budge and the Hearts women’s academy

Hearts owner Ann Budge. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS
Hearts owner Ann Budge. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS
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Roger Arnott, the Hearts academy director, says a commitment to equality, and not a financial return, is what prompted the club’s owner, Ann Budge, to instigate the women’s academy. It will take in its first players after the end of the current women’s season in November.

“Our model on the boys’ and men’s side is to work really hard at developing young players to create pathways to get to the first team,” Arnott pointed out. “Then to play 100 games in the first team and to absolutely earn, when they’re ready, an opportunity to go and forge a career in England or abroad.

“It’s the same for the girls. We need to mirror what we have on the boys’ side in terms of the academy to develop the girls to first team level. When they are at 100 games, after three or four seasons, they’ll probably do the same and move on.”

“That’s the model we need to have in this country – to develop talented girls for the nation and then let them go because at the moment the Scottish game has a long way to go to become professional.”

As transfer fees are minimal in women’s football, and compensation payments for developing players have yet to be introduced, the obvious point is that Hearts will get no financial return for their investment, at least in the short term.

“This is not about money,” Arnott responded. “I agree that the same compensation rules and regulations for the men should be in place for the women – and they will be soon because Fifa and Uefa are looking at it now. That will come, but we’re not going into this because we want a return. We’d be in the wrong game if that’s what we were doing.

“We’re going into it to give an opportunity for girls to develop with the same resources thrown at them, and the same support from the club, so they can reach their potential. That way the game can move forward. If it happens we’ll all be in a much better place, and then we’ll get closer to professionalism. If we say let’s not do it, because we’re not going to get a return on our investment, we’ll never move 
forward.

“Ann has been pushing for this from day one, five years ago. It’s always been something she wanted to do. The foundations of the club had to be put back on a sure footing first, and the new stand built, but she spoke to me a year ago and said she really wanted to go for this now.

“I’ve got to be honest and say I’m excited about having a set-up that’s different and new in the girls’ game. I was tasked with putting a plan together and finding the right person to head it up – and Kevin is absolutely the right person.”