Ann Budge on joint shop with Hibs, safe standing and Hearts’ new pitch

Hearts owner Ann Budge responded to 40 questions from supporters in a Q&A session with Jambos Kickback. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Hearts owner Ann Budge responded to 40 questions from supporters in a Q&A session with Jambos Kickback. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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Ann Budge has responded to several queries from Hearts supporters in a wide-ranging question and answer session posted on a fans’ forum.

Members of the Jambos Kickback website submitted more than 80 potential questions ahead of a meeting with the Hearts chairwoman earlier this month, with the final number being whittled down to 40.

The Hearts owner was quizzed on topics including a safe standing section, her relationship with manager Craig Levein and a possible joint retail outlet with rivals Hibs at Edinburgh Airport.

Pointing out that many football fan tourists buy merchandise while on holiday, one fan asked: “Would you consider introducing a pop-up shop in the city centre during the festival?”

Budge responded: “Yes, we are trying to do so. We checked this out having seen the suggestion from Jambos Kickback. It’s not as straightforward as it first seemed, but we haven’t given up.

“We’re also exploring the idea of a joint Hearts and Hibs shop at Edinburgh Airport too.”

Hearts briefly had a retail outlet in the St James’ Centre during the Vladimir Romanov era.

Hibs temporarily operated out of the Debenham’s branch at Ocean Terminal shopping centre while renovation work was carried out on the club shop in late 2005, but have never had a dedicated store outwith Easter Road.

Celtic and Rangers had club shops in Edinburgh, on Frederick Street and George Street respectively, but both have since been shut down.

Numerous clubs throughout Europe have stores at major city airports, including Bayern Munich and Barcelona, while Everton agreed a deal to sell their merchandise at Liverpool John Lennon, Manchester and London Gatwick airports for the 2016/17 season.

READ MORE - Hearts owner Ann Budge on £1m turnover increase, top six, and stand progress

One fan enquired about the possibility of introducing a safe standing section at Tynecastle, with Budge warning that, while the club had looked into the feasability, it would be “prohibitively expensive”.

She added: “We would like to do this but there is no plan to do so in the short term.

“We do however keep ourselves up-to-date on the subject and we have explored options. From a logistical and design point of view it is more difficult to implement it at Tynecastle as we don’t have corner sections - plus, we’d need to completely refit the gradient of the concrete and it would cost a lot.

“So at the moment it’s prohibitively expensive - however, we would like to see it happen one day. If it was to happen, or we were to trial it, we think it would probably be in the lower Gorgie Stand.”

The Hearts chairwoman expanded on the club’s plans for replacing the Tynecastle pitch during the summer.

READ MORE - Hearts confirm new pitch but are yet to decide on hybrid

The playing surface waas badly affected during the inclement weather over the winter period, and while Budge has already committed to a new playing surface being installed for the start of the 2018/19 campaign, the club is still to make a decision on the replacement.

Budge said: “We have to do something. It cost around £120,000 last year to re-turf the pitch as a short-term measure. However, we now have to do it properly.

“The under soil layer hasn’t been changed for twenty years and is now like concrete. We will need to dig down approximately one metre, replace the under-soil heating system and install a new irrigation system.

“We currently have two options: one cheaper and one more expensive. The more expensive option is a hybrid pitch, which is what most top English Premier League clubs have and also what is now in place at Murrayfield.”

Installing a hybrid surface at Tynecastle, comprising a “stitched” pitch made from 95 per cent grass turf and five per cent synthetic, would likely take two summers to complete, Budge revealed.

“We are actually exploring the idea of phasing the work over two summers, to try to spread the cost, and to take some pressure off the timescales,” she explained.

“This summer, we could potentially do all of the rebuilding/restructuring work and then lay new turf. We would then need to reseed and do the “stitching” the following summer.

“The ball-park estimate for this is approximately £1 million.”

• Ann Budge’s answers to all 40 questions can be viewed on Jambos Kickback