Hearts owner Ann Budge: That wasn’t any given Sunday

Hearts owner Ann Budge before the club's annual meeting on Tuesday.
Hearts owner Ann Budge before the club's annual meeting on Tuesday.
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For an awful few minutes, Ann Budge feared that ongoing teething problems in the new main stand were going to jeopardise Hearts’ 
historic win over Celtic.

With the home side enjoying a 2-0 half-time lead on Sunday, a power cut at Tynecastle caused momentary panic, with some concerns that the match might have to be abandoned.

Speaking after Hearts’ AGM yesterday, the club’s chairwoman revealed that the hiccup had been welcomed by her Celtic counterparts, who had jokingly hoped that it may present them with an opportunity to wriggle out of defeat and extend their 69-game unbeaten run. But Budge was the one smiling at the end.

“We were just getting ready to go back out and I was standing talking to the Celtic directors and everything went out,” she explained.

“I said: ‘I do not believe this, this cannot be happening’. But there was lots of humour from them saying: ‘well, we can’t let our record go!’ It was all good humour.”

It was no laughing matter for Budge, though, who admitted that the travails of the past year, on and off the pitch, have been testing.

“It wasn’t until I got a phone call and then a text saying it was just a fuse, and it could be fixed, that I relaxed. That would not have been a good moment to experience,” she added.

As it was, the afternoon proved to be one of the most enjoyable she has experienced in her time at the helm, with joyous fans raising the noise 
levels and offering her plenty to relish as they celebrated their side’s 4-0 triumph.

“The twirly and everything else they did, was fantastic,” she said. “I didn’t do the Poznan, but I did smile when it was happening!

“It’s probably the best I have seen in all my years, certainly since I took over. The atmosphere was fantastic. And to see so many smiling faces, gosh, you don’t always get those but they were absolutely having a ball and I thought that was terrific.”

After some torrid times in the past year, as she faced fan unrest, the upheaval of managerial switches and tried to deliver on the ambitious main stand rebuild, the result on Sunday, was an encouraging sign that things are moving in the right direction.

“To be honest, when you look back at what you’ve done in the past, you do tend to forget the bad times and I’m sure I must have had trauma and stress before but this last year, maybe even just the last six months, has been a worry,” she added.

“I have been worried, thinking, ‘Is everything going to come together?’ ‘Are we going to get back to Tynecastle?’ ‘Are we going to really be able to pull all these plans off?’ That was really quite stressful.

“It is really just a case of keeping all the planning moving forward despite all the noise around us. I think we have continued to develop and now I hope that we will see quite a growth.”

Off the pitch, while redevelopment works are continuing, the fruits of the stress and labour are obvious and, on it the same can now be said. The products of the youth development structure have been making positive headlines, and, unbeaten in front of the new main stand, with burgeoning hope after a difficult, nomadic start to the league campaign, the Gorgie club now are only three points behind capital rivals Hibernian.

While questions about the new stand, the possibility of a safe standing area and finances were all addressed, overcoming Hibs was one other factor on the minds of the shareholders. But while no promises were made on the outcome of the upcoming derby tussles, in the league and in the Scottish Cup, Budge said there was greater belief that Craig Levein’s team would fight for supremacy.

“He [Levein] was asked a question earlier: ‘When are you going to stand up to Hibs?’ But I do believe we will come out fighting next week,” said Budge. “Like he says, he can’t guarantee it but if it doesn’t go our way, we’ll go back again. I feel as if there is a real steady pair of hands there and the fact that he is so totally committed to youth makes a difference.

“If someone else had come along and said to me, as Craig did on Friday ‘Well, we’re going to play Harry. [Cochrane, pictured]. And Ant [Anthony McDonald] is going to be there…’ I would probably have been asking: ‘Erm, are you sure?’

“But because it’s Craig, and because he knows these guys, it’s reassuring. He’s watched these boys develop – and he’s been talking about them forever. So, if he thinks they can cope, that’s good enough. And he’s not careless, either. He wouldn’t put them in unless he was sure.”

That faith has been repaid and the confidence comes from years of hard graft ensuring there was some solid prospects coming through the academy.

“In the first year I took over, Craig was telling us that the academy had gaps all over the place: ‘this age group is really not very good, blah, blah, blah’. Then from the second year it was ‘you just wait, we’ve got a fantastic bunch of lads and they’ll be coming through this season’. At the time, it’s just words. So to be able to actually see it… I seriously hope it’s going to be a continuous supply of at least half a dozen every year,” said Budge.

There will be money made available for Levein to strengthen the squad in January, adding balance but the progress of the kids means they do not need to take as many gambles as they may have had to.

But as with the appointment of coaches, Budge accepts there will always be risk associated with recruitment and that having a manager who is also a director allows them to make more informed choices going forward.

“He sees the big picture in terms of the pressures on the other parts of the business,” she added. “In fairness to Craig, he made the point this morning that you can’t guarantee anything. Everybody is going to make mistakes at some point.”

But Budge has already shown that she is okay with risks, fine with taking bold steps, because she knows that when they pay off Hearts ultimately have the power on and off the pitch to produce days like Sunday.