Hearts face the prospect of returning to Murrayfield for European ties whilst Tynecastle is redeveloped.
Should they reach next year’s Europa League qualifying rounds, owner Ann Budge confirmed they must seek an alternative home venue.
Approaching city rivals Hibs to use Easter Road is, at best, unlikely. Budge admitted the home of Scottish Rugby is an option she will explore if Hearts achieve European football by finishing third or above in this season’s Ladbrokes Premiership.
They previously rented Murrayfield in 2004 for UEFA Cup ties with Braga, Schalke and Ferencvaros. They also staged Champions League qualifiers against Siroki Brijeg and AEK Athens, plus a UEFA Cup tie with Sparta Prague, there in 2006.
Tynecastle will have a new pitch laid this summer whilst work continues on a new £12million main stand. That will render the stadium unusable and Budge is preparing fans for a potential temporary flit to a ground many dislike due to lack of atmosphere.
“It [Murrayfield] is certainly an option and one that we will explore. We haven’t done it yet, but we will explore it,” she said. “I know supporters don’t like Murrayfield. Given what we’re trying to do here, it would be sensible and perhaps more palatable because they would know why it was having to happen.
“We know that we may need to play European games somewhere else. Whatever happens between May and September, it is clear we can’t play games at Tynecastle but there are not many restrictions [for Europe]. We can play where we like. The restraints come when we start to play league games.”
Asked if Easter Road would ever be considered, she smiled: “This is a tricky one. With a purely common sense business hat on, it might be a good option, but looking at it from the supporters’ point of view, I really have to take that well and truly into account. I’m not sure I’m quite brave enough to go there yet.”
Hearts have spoken with the Scottish Professional Football League about playing early 2017/18 Premiership fixtures away from home as the new stand is finished. Rules prevent switching home venue once the campaign starts.
Speaking after the club’s AGM, Budge also confirmed new head coach Ian Cathro will get funds to sign players in January. She hopes fans give him time but acknowledged that jeers after his home debut on Saturday – a 1-1 draw with Partick Thistle – leave him in no doubt about public expectations.
Budge expects Hearts to finish third or higher come May. “Nobody wants to lower expectations,” she explained. “We have budgeted for fourth and I’d love to think we can finish third. I’ve no reason to think that shouldn’t happen. There is a budget. There are plans afoot and a number of changes they would like to make in January.
“On Saturday, we all had a little bit of a wry smile when it [the jeering] happened. I actually thought Ian handled it really well. The fact that he said: ‘I’m not allowed to boo,’ proves he’s very real. Ian and Austin MacPhee know exactly what the Hearts crowds are going to be like. It’s prepared them.”