ANN Budge can remember the day she brought home her first wage packet. After four years at university she was delighted to be finally earning.
Her father, who, in keeping with many men of that generation, had never completely bought into the need to extend his daughter’s education, was less than impressed.
I had a lot of Hearts and Hibs supporters in the familyAnn Budge
“He said: ‘I would have thought after all this time you would have got a bit more money’,” she says. A former Entrepreneur of the Year, Budge can smile about it now, having worked hard to accumulate the kind of personal wealth that was needed to bail Hearts out of trouble, assume control of the club and earn the Queen of Hearts moniker. “He was on the cusp of wondering what the point was in educating women. He had four daughters and one son but my mum was determined that her family was going to get a bit more out of life and, if possible, have it a bit easier than she had had and be able to take advantage of opportunities that came along,” explains Budge. “So my dad was kind of carried along with that.”
But he has influenced her life in other ways, she explains. He was a football man who had trials lined up with Leicester City before a call-up to fight in the war scuppered those plans. “So who knows what might have happened. So, yes, he was a football supporter but he was what he called an Edinburgh supporter. My parents were both born and bred in Leith but, strangely enough, although my grandfather and my father’s two brothers were Hearts supporters my father, and I don’t really understand why, was a Hibs supporter. But what he used to say was that the only time he didn’t support Hearts was when they played Hibs. He used to say he was an Edinburgh man and he couldn’t understand all these people who supported teams in the west.”
An element of that thinking has stuck, with Budge referring to herself as a capital football fan, albeit one with obvious leanings. “I think I have said that before. That to me, even as a youngster, made sense but bear in mind that I had a lot of Hibs supporters in the family and a lot of Hearts supporters in the family and when I was growing up they would go to the football together.”
It means her maroon vision is tinged with a smidgen of green. It reflects her upbringing but also makes sound business sense. Despite developing a fondness for Queen of the South this season and having a degree of sympathy for Rangers and the way they have been buffeted by their off-field turmoils, she says she would prefer to see Hibs come through the promotion play-offs and join her Championship-winning Hearts in the top flight next season.
“From a Hearts perspective it’s better if Hibs win the play-offs. We would have the derbies and that’s a big thing for Edinburgh. I have a soft spot for Queen of the South because they have been brilliant this season and have given the top teams a hard time and, after what Rangers have been through in recent years you can’t but hope they can move things on positively. But if pushed, Hibs coming up suits Hearts and the city of Edinburgh better. There would be a financial impact of having the derbies because they’d be sell-out matches. For Edinburgh it would be good to have Hearts and Hibs in the Premiership.”
Before sinking in her fortune and taking the reins at Hearts, Budge turned to Hibs’ chief executive Leeann Dempster, among others, for information. “I’d gone to visit her when she was at Motherwell to pick her brains on what it was like running a football club. So we had that initial contact and we’ve met a few times. She was very open, she explained the challenges in every aspect of running the business, dealing with supporters, the authorities etc. It was a good insight.”
Despite taking control of rival clubs, they recently proved forthright and vocal adversaries of the SPFL over the scheduling of the final Championship fixtures and share a desire to challenge old attitudes and improve the Scottish game. They both speak of fairness and transparency and have insisted on open dialogue with the fans. They have also both proved to be very good at what they do.
While the Old Firm earned their nickname because of their domination of the trophies, it was also due to their unofficial business affinities. Budge is happy to maintain the rivalry with Hibs on the pitch but, off it, she says she can see the merit in fostering a strong working relationship with their neighbours.
“I really think that’s something that would just make good common sense. I’ve discussed this with Leeann a couple of times. If something we do can be beneficial to Hibs and it doesn’t cause us any problems or detract from what we have, why shouldn’t we benefit from it, and likewise them? I tend to think of it as the bigger football picture.”