Ann Budge Hearts era begins with dramatic changes

Robbie Neilson will take over as Hearts' First Team Coach. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Robbie Neilson will take over as Hearts' First Team Coach. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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NO-nonsense Hearts supremo Ann Budge sent shock waves through Gorgie on her first day in charge as she ushered in a new era at Tynecastle.

Robbie Neilson: ‘I’ll pick Hearts team, not Craig Levein’

Gary Locke and Billy Brown at Tynecastle this morning. Picture: SNS

Gary Locke and Billy Brown at Tynecastle this morning. Picture: SNS

Dubbed “Budgement Day” on social media, there were emotional scenes as three senior players joined manager Gary Locke in heading out the exit door. Fans were left frantically checking for updates – with many quick to question the speed with which the winds of change blew through the club.

They learned that former manager Craig Levein, who hasn’t worked in football since being sacked by Scotland in November 2012, was taking up a role as director of football, with youth coach Robbie Neilson promoted to work with the first team.

Locke’s assistant, Billy Brown, was also told his services were no longer required, while the key trio of Scottish Cup-winning goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald, attacker Ryan Stevenson and midfielder Jamie Hamill learned their contracts would not be renewed.

But while many fans were upset by the developments, others began to accept that decisive action was required by Ms Budge, who quickly proved she was not afraid of making tough decisions.

Jamie Hamill outside Tynecastle today. Picture: SNS

Jamie Hamill outside Tynecastle today. Picture: SNS

Optimistic supporters told how they believed that fan ownership and Hearts’ chosen management model has ushered in a new dawn not just for the Tynecastle club, but Scottish football as a whole.

Ms Budge was keen to stress that an instant return to the Premiership for relegated Hearts was not a priority, and that the club first had to learn to live within its means – even if that meant more than a single season in the

Championship.

Her decisiveness was backed by Iain Mercer, the son of former Hearts chairman Wallace Mercer, who acknowledged the work of Locke and Brown but stressed that a “club cannot be run on sentiment”. He said: “I can understand why the new owners decided to make a change. Football can be a fairly brutal and unforgiving business, and there is no easy way to do things.

Keeper Jamie MacDonald leaves Tynecastle. Picture: SNS

Keeper Jamie MacDonald leaves Tynecastle. Picture: SNS

“But the fact that she moved quickly and decisively is in the best interests of all the people involved because that was what was required. It needs a complete change from top to bottom.”

Fans said Ms Budge’s battle-ready approach could stop the club going down the “Rangers path” of overspending in the lower leagues in a bid to return to the top flight as quickly as possible.

Last month, major shareholder Sandy Easdale warned that the situation at Ibrox was “fragile” and refused to rule out a second spell in administration – a situation he claimed would sound the death knell for the club.

Football finance expert Neil Patey said Ms Budge was part of a new wave of more

Ryan Stevenson was among those leaving. Picture: SNS

Ryan Stevenson was among those leaving. Picture: SNS

“prudent” management across Scotland.

Mr Patey, who has advised the likes of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, said: “She is espousing the sound principles that are being followed and applied by other clubs on the Scottish game necessitated by the economics that says ‘If you spend more than you earn, you will build up debt and it will get to an unsustainable level’.”

Diehard Hearts fan Iain McGill, licensing convener for the New Town and Broughton community council, praised the fresh approach.

He said: “I will always be grateful to Gary Locke and Billy Brown but the most important thing is that the club gets good clear leadership. The alternative is to do down the Rangers route and that is just not a credible option.”

THE CHANGES

• A new Board of Directors is being put in place over the next few days

Hearts Director of Football Craig Levein with owner Ann Budge. Picture: SNS

Hearts Director of Football Craig Levein with owner Ann Budge. Picture: SNS

• Ann Budge: Chairman/CEO

• Robert Wilson: Deputy CEO/Director of Strategic Planning

• Eric Hogg: Operations Director

• Craig Levein: Director of Football

• Robbie Nielson: First Team Coach

• Ian Murray (Chair of FOH): Foundation of Hearts Representative

• The Board will be expanded over time to include another non-executive Director, with a strong financial background, and a second FOH Director.

• John Murray: Chief Scout