October 2015 Dinner
Bill introduced our guests for the evening, Executive Chair Ann Budge and Director Eric Hogg, to an audience of over 300 members and guests.
Ann began by giving a brief overview of what is happening at the Club. Prior to taking over, the Club was hanging on by a thread. The Administrators had done their job by keeping the Club alive and persuading the Lithuanians to accept the purchase offer from Ann’s Bidco allowing her to take control of the Club.
While she had long experience in running a successful business she was well aware that she had no experience in running a football team so her first act was to bring in a person who could, Craig Levein, who immediately appointed his choice as team manager, Robbie Neilson. Ann now believes that Hearts have one of the best football management teams in the business. That and the other changes in the coaching staff look to be shrewd moves as she sees everybody coming together, some new players signings, and very strong performances on the park.
Off the park, Ann could see that the Club required a strong management structure and leadership in place to take it forward. It is vital that skills are in place at all levels for the long term and subsequently there have been appointments made where she felt that there was weaknesses that she had identified. One of her most difficult tasks was renegotiating contracts with the playing staff.
Following her introduction Ann then took questions from the audience.
First up was a question regarding Foundation of Hearts negotiations with Supporters Direct. She advised that these were not very successful. SD really only had one model of fan ownership which was felt did not fit the situation at Hearts. Fan ownership has been tried by other clubs not only in Scotland but across the world and has not always been successful. It is important to find the right model to suit Hearts.
When asked if players would be brought in during the January window to strengthen the squad, Eric replied that whilst the squad at the moment is settled and the budget will be adhered to, the possibility of adding to the squad cannot be ruled out providing attendances continue at the current level.
Eric also informed the audience that the Club had benefited from season tickets being paid for by cash or cheque thus avoiding a 5% fee to merchant suppliers. He also intimated that despite the Club’s improving financial position, credit was still difficult to come by.
Ann said that as Chair of Heart of Midlothian she has been well received by other Clubs although it took three protracted visits to the SFA to secure our football licence.
Given the costs involved in being a Public Company she is considering reverting to becoming a Private Company before she hands over the reins.
Contributions on a monthly basis to FOH remain constant and an announcement will be made by FOH possibly before Christmas of a reward package to attract new contributors. Currently there are around 8000 monthly contributors but Eric advised that although the figure remains around 8000 in fact taking into consideration those who have left the scheme for various reasons and new ones coming on board the actual numbers involved is closer to 10000.
Both Ann and Eric were reluctant to disclose individual details of players’ wages as they wished this information to remain confidential but what they did say was that realistic contracts were in place and sensible wages were being paid.
The Club has, quite rightly, hit the headlines on the media with regards the intention to introduce the ‘living wage’ to all staff. Interestingly there has been no reaction so far from other football clubs. Discussions will continue to take place with the Living Wage Council on the implementation of this plan.
On the question of making a profit in the current financial year, this is difficult to forecast as whilst income is currently healthy a great deal of work has still to be carried out on the stadium in particular the old Stand and this work will prove costly.
The possibility of moving away from Tynecastle was also brought up. The reply was there are no plans at the moment to do so. It is hoped that structural improvements could be made to the ground so we could remain in Gorgie. Extensive work is also required on the shop and administrative buildings.
A member asked why the betting shops within the ground had been closed. The answer was the bookies themselves considered it not to be financially worthwhile.Negotiations are ongoing for obtaining a new shirt sponsor. Ann was clear that the new sponsor will be appropriate to everything the Club stands for.
Ann advised that improvements are in place ensuring that this year’s Remembrance Service at Haymarket is better handled than in previous years. Meetings have taken place with interested parties to ensure smooth running of the event. All players will attend.
On a more light-hearted note, Ann was asked about her reaction to the late equaliser at Easter Road. She replied that Craig Levein in his excitement forgot about Directors Box decorum and jumped in the air while she remained seated as per the instruction she had received from Craig!! When she asked him why he was not obeying his own instructions he said he was allowed but she was not!!
Asked about the craziest thing she had come across in dealing with the previous regime she stated there was so many things but their handling of financial transactions was beyond anything she had experienced before!
One of her most enjoyable parts of her job is her Friday afternoon briefing with Robbie who provides her with details of the week’s training and tactics for that weekend’s match. She said she was looking forward to asking him what happened to the tactics at Easter Road!!
A great deal of work is being undertaken to develop Hearts as a community club. A group of volunteers are currently cataloguing all the memorabilia at Tynecastle to create a museum of Hearts proud history. A project manager has already been appointed. Ann is keen to further develop the work done by Big Hearts. A new experienced chief executive, Jim Panton has been appointed and Ann has shown her commitment to Big Hearts by agreeing to become a Trustee.
The quality and range of merchandise in the shop was questioned. Ann explained that the previous regime had franchised out the shop and two years remained on the contract after which the situation will be reviewed but she took the comments on board.
Hearts will also benefit from the sports complex at Riccarton being improved to a world class facility by being a major part of this development.
Ann and Eric concluded by saying that all options to maintain the image and status of the Club will be looked at, for example, naming Stands. Whatever is decided, however, must be in the best interest of Heart of Midlothian.
Bill thanked Ann and Eric for their clear answers to a wide range of questions and a well-deserved standing ovation was given from those present. Bill finished by saying he hoped they would return next year to give us a further update on continuing progress at Tynecastle.
His world cup experience was tinged with disappointment losing the first game to Costa Rica. This was followed by a win over Sweden and a narrow defeat to Brazil where a draw would have meant qualification for the knock out stages.
His favourite Hearts goal was in a midweek game against Aberdeen at Tynecastle. In his words this was a screamer from 30 yards.
The best European night at Tynecastle was the 1 - 0 win against Bayern Munich when Ian Ferguson scored a fabulous goal from a free kick. According to Dave, Hearts were unlucky to lose the second leg in Munich.
The question of Scottish Referees was asked and Dave expressed his disappointment at the current overall poor standard. They throw out yellow and red cards like confetti rather than for bad tackles and dangerous play. Willie Collum is not one of his favourites which did not come as a surprise.
Dave explained his current job in sports management which sees him in contact with clubs throughout the country. His experience of playing football in Australia has led to the introduction of players such as Ryan and Dylan McGowan and Scott McDonald to the Scottish game.
Dave explained that footballers are now traded as a commodity with very little say when it comes to what happens to them with the introduction of Agents following the Bosman ruling.
His best memory playing for Hearts was the 1998 Cup Final, the preparation, the game itself and particularly the open topped bus parade on the Sunday.
Returning to the subject of referees Dave was of the opinion that if they admitted their mistakes they would receive greater respect from both players and fans. The introduction of technology would help but this would have to be carefully controlled to avoid too many stoppages.
When asked about Robbie Neilson's performance so far he said that as managers are judged on results Robbie is doing a good job. He also added that the current structure at the club is a credit to Hearts.
Looking at management teams he has worked with Dave said that Alec McDonald and Sandy Jardine had a good chemistry with Alec providing the man management and Sandy the tactics. It was disappointing that there were no trophies to show for their work at Hearts.
Another question asked of Dave was what three pieces of advice he would give to Hearts? His answer was very interesting :-
1. Continue to bring through youngsters.
2. Impose a limit on number of foreign players brought in.
3. Upgrade the stadium although no great need to increase capacity.
When asked his thoughts on club ownership Dave was very clear that the current Hearts model is proving to be very effective. The trouble with private ownership is separating financial and emotional involvement.
Dave also said that the best Hearts players he played with were John Robertson and Craig Levein. John, although not a great footballer was a proven goal scorer and if injury had not shortened his career Craig would have gone on to a successful career in England.