Ann Budge: Hearts owner thrives on busy Tynecastle project

Ann Budge
Budge helped take Hearts out of administration in early 2014

In her previous life as a carefree fan as opposed to a workaholic owner and chief executive, Ann Budge would be in Corfu right now.

She would be enjoying the trappings of her wealth, secured by the £30m sale of her IT business.

She would be on her boat on the east coast of the island. She would be sailing to Kouloura and Kalami and Kassiopi. She would be hanging out in the idyllic coves of the Ionian Sea and barbecuing on the tiny beaches.

The year before she took over at Tynecastle, she spent 13 weeks in this paradise. The year after? Three long weekends.

"I thrive on business," she stresses. "I used to say that my biggest dread was getting up in the morning and having nothing to do and that hasn't changed. Retirement (she's 68) doesn't hold any great attraction to me."

Before she gets to Hearts and everything that is happening there, she tells a story about the boat.

It's a big old thing; a 60-footer. She commissioned it eight years ago and called it Queen of Hearts after her daughter, Carol, who's been a Jambo all her life.

"Carol is a rare Hearts fan in my family, who are all Hibs supporters," explains Budge. "My parents originated in Leith, so on the side of the boat is Queen of Hearts - registered in Leith.

"That was fine until I got involved in football and people started calling me Queen of Hearts. I was thinking 'If they ever see the name of this boat they're going to think I'm the most conceited person on earth'."

Memories gathering dust

In her office at Tynecastle she has drawings and boards showing what the redevelopment of the stadium is going to look like in little over a year's time. A brand new stand in place of Archibald Leitch's old one. New facilities everywhere. A new museum, which is already finished.

The £12m reworking of the stadium is on track, save for the odd potential hold-up. A batman needs to do a report. He's sure there are no bats, but boxes need to be ticked. That's a delay of a few weeks. Such are the frustrations.

There's every likelihood that Hearts will play their last three league games of the season away to facilitate the builders. There's a good chance that they will play the opening games of 2017-18 away from Tynecastle also. That's when the finishing touches will be getting done. Budge has given the SPFL due notice.

We take a tour of Tynecastle, walking into a room where the roof once leaked, where in the past your feet got stuck to the unwashed carpet and where Bryan Jackson of the administrators BDO previously sat with furrowed brow and a look of hopelessness on his face.

Those images from Hearts' greatest crisis are still vivid in the mind's eye; useful snapshots of how things were then and a reminder of how vastly different they are now. She goes through a warren of corridors pointing out various rooms where mementoes of the Hearts story - trophies, photographs, programmes, pennants - were left to gather dust for years.

She brings us into the new Hearts museum, a Jambo heaven that was a flea-pit before Budge fixed it. "The room was nothing other than a tip," she says. "You could hardly get into it. Everything was broken. Things were falling off the roof. We ripped everything out, ceilings and floors, and now we have this.

"When I came here as owner I listened to people constantly talking about the history and I began to realise that this means a lot more to people than I had ever appreciated.

Hearts have a new museum to host the club's memorabilia
The Edinburgh club has a new museum full of memorabilia

"They were always talking about their fathers and grandfathers, always looking back to something in the club's past. In my first few days here I passed a cupboard in the corridor that was stacked with memorabilia and I thought, 'What on earth is this?' It was easy deciding what to do with everything.

"There are a lot of people who need to see this stuff. It shouldn't be locked up. That was how the museum started."

It's a visible, classy and lasting celebration of the people who made the club what it is.

'Ambition creates pressure'

Off the field, everything is buoyant. On the field, there are mutterings of discontent.

Despite runaway victory in the Championship two seasons ago and a fine third-place finish in the Premiership last season, Hearts have already been booed by their own people twice this season.

Hearts lifted the Scottish Championship trophy in Robbie Neilson's first season
Hearts lifted the Scottish Championship trophy in Robbie Neilson's first season

After their European exit at home to Birkirkara of Malta (subsequently thrashed 6-1 on aggregate by Krasnodar of Russia), sections of the fans let the team and the management have it.

"As soon it (the booing) started I thought, 'Oh dear, no, surely not' and then I thought about it," she says. "We have created expectation over the last two years and we didn't play well that night.

"Supporters were saying we expect more. I stood back and thought. 'Well, they cheer loudly enough when things are going well. It wasn't overly aggressive.

"There is nothing wrong with being ambitious but it does create pressure. Myself, Craig (Levein, director of football) and Robbie (Neilson, the manager) have to take the bad with the good.

"Robbie is a cool, calm and collected young man. He can deal with pressure. He's only in management two years and is the first to admit that he's got a lot to learn, but he's surrounded by people who support him."

Hearts have been busy in the market again; nine players coming in and seven going out. Those numbers might increase in the coming weeks.

Budge wants to stay involved and there won't be many, if any, Hearts people objecting to that. Meanwhile, anybody want to rent a boat in Corfu?

Top Stories