A cordial relationship with Scotland’s football governors should work in Hearts’ favour when they need it most next season.
Although her predecessor in Gorgie, Vladimir Romanov, often courted enmity dealing with Scottish league and Scottish FA officials, Ann Budge is wisely exercising good public relations up and down the corridors of Hampden.
The Tynecastle owner needs the goodwill of the Scottish Professional Football League and other Premiership clubs as stadium redevelopment gathers pace in Edinburgh. Chances are she will recieve everything she wants. Informal talks have already taken place with league officials and leading figures at top-flight clubs to ensure Hearts can begin the 2017/18 Premiership campaign with at least three, possibly four, away matches. Budge needs time to complete the £12million main stand rebuild, which is due to be ready on September 9, and the SPFL are happy to co-operate in the meantime.
A formal application to play matches away at the start of next season will be made in due course but it is clear that Budge’s polite, courteous manner has curried favour with both opposition clubs and league officials.
The structuring of this season’s post-split fixtures illustrate the will to aid Hearts’ cause. The Edinburgh club have their two home games against Partick Thistle and Aberdeen first, before trips to Rangers, St Johnstone and Celtic. That means Tynecastle won’t be needed after Sunday, May 7, allowing work to accelerate.
“We are working with Hearts to facilitate the redevelopment of Tynecastle next season,” an SPFL spokesperson confirmed to the Evening News.
Even a request to stage a “home” game or two at Murrayfield would be accommodated if the new main stand isn’t ready on time. SPFL rules state that any club can apply to play a home league match at a ground other than their registered home venue. The SPFL board would then study the request before deciding whether to approve or reject it. There is no timescale required, although Hearts would be expected to give plenty notice if a building delay forced them to consider a temporary switch to Murrayfield.
Firstly, they are eager to play every home fixture at Tynecastle. Hence the multiple conversations to gauge support for their fixture list to begin with a run of away matches – one of which would likely be an Edinburgh derby with newly-promoted Hibs at Easter Road.
Head coach Ian Cathro, pictured, is fully prepared that, after the Aberdeen match in just more than two weeks, he and his players won’t return to their spiritual home for at least four months.
“We can’t take any negative feeling about that,” he stressed. “There’s nothing negative about the fact we need to play away from home for a few weeks in a row at the start of the season. The reason is we’ll be returning to a stadium that’s going to be even stronger, louder, more beautiful and more powerful than before. We certainly don’t see it as a negative. Consecutive away games will always be a little bit more difficult than a run of home games. These are normal things and we just have to deal with it.”
The arrangement of Hearts’ fixtures would have no impact on Hibs. Authorities won’t allow both Capital clubs to play at home on the same day but the Easter Road club are not expected to be asked to move matches to accommodate their greatest rivals.
Budge released a lengthy statement via the Hearts website last week to update fans on the redevelopment project. Part of it detailed the contingency plans relating to fixtures and the possible change of venue.
“A number of options have been considered to cover the possibility of having UEFA Europa League games to host over the summer and also to cater for the Betfred Scottish League Cup games in which we may also be potentially involved,” she explained. “We have decided that any games played over the summer will be played at Tynecastle, in front of our three stands. We explored the possibility of playing these games at BT Murrayfield. However, despite a very genuine desire on the part of the SRU management team to assist us, their pitch maintenance plans rule this out until August at the earliest.
“We have, however, an agreement in principle to play any Ladbrokes Premiership home fixtures at BT Murrayfield, in the event that our building programme runs late.
“We have discussed both of these scenarios with the appropriate footballing authorities and we have the necessary agreements in place. I would also mention that my request to other Premiership clubs for their support of our proposed contingency plans was very generously given by every club in the division.
“So, to summarise, Tynecastle will continue to be our home ground throughout the whole redevelopment programme, unless events prevent us from opening on September 9, 2017. In that eventuality, we will play home games at BT Murrayfield until our new stand can be opened, with season ticketing being valid and alternative hospitality arrangements being put in place.”
Hearts’ last outing at Murrayfield was almost ten years ago when they lost 3-1 to Barcelona in a glamour friendly in front of 57,857 fans. Included in the Spanish side that balmy July afternoon were Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Ronaldinho, Yaya Toure and Thierry Henry. Hearts’ last competitive game at the home of Scottish rugby was back in September 2006 – a 2-0 defeat by Sparta Prague in a UEFA Cup first round, first leg tie.
The obvious hope is that none of Budge’s contingencies are necessary. Nonetheless, the Edinburgh businesswoman deserves credit for planning every eventuality – and for cultivating support at the highest level of Scottish football.