Foundation of Hearts are already mapping out their fan ownership model for the next 50 years and more at Tynecastle. They want to oversee Heart of Midlothian Football Club forever more and successive planning is the key.
Hearts will be fan-owned, but not fan-run. That is very much the message from the supporters’ group. Ann Budge, the club’s current chairwoman, will have major input into her successor when she hands control to the Foundation. That should take place sometime in 2020.
Foundation chairman Brian Cormack is keen to stress that plucking a randomer from row P of the Wheatfield Stand and naming him chairman isn’t an option. The group – backed by 8,000 paying members – will appoint an executive board to run Hearts in the same way Budge, Craig Levein and Scot Gardiner do at the moment.
“People have heard about fan ownership and it’s important to stress Hearts will be fan-owned, not fan-run,” said Cormack in the second of a two-part Evening News interview. “People want a club that’s well-managed. Because the shares will be owned by the Foundation, or the fans, it’s vital that Hearts will never be mismanaged by any one person again.
“The majority shareholding of 75.1 per cent will be owned by Foundation of Hearts. That will mean no other one person can ever own the club. However, it’s so crucial that a professional, executive team run the club every day. They will be appointed and we’re working towards this right now.
“We’re working with the club to make sure that the governance of Hearts and Foundation of Hearts are correct. That’s not just for the next few years, but for the next 50 years. There are set rules within the club and it’s important these are adhered to. It’s boring, but this set-up will manage the club for the next 50 years and more.
“We’re lucky that we’ve got time to assess all this. We have controlled fan ownership. At other clubs, there hasn’t been time because fans have taken control right after a period of mismanagement or administration. For the next few years until Ann is due to step back, Hearts will run like clockwork.
“It won’t be Foundation of Hearts members trying to run a club when they don’t have that knowledge. Ann will eventually step down but she will appoint the right person to take over. She will have a huge say in who that is.”
The project to run Hearts on behalf of supporters began way back in 2009 when lifelong fans Cormack, Garry Halliday, Alex Mackie and Jamie Bryant first got together. Cormack and Halliday remain FoH directors.
“It’s been seven years already. It is tough,” continued Cormack. “One of the things we’ve been talking about is the whole governance of the Foundation, the club and how it’s going to run in the future.
“Foundation of Hearts is voluntary. The Foundation directors all have our own jobs and businesses to run. It’s so important that the club is managed by professionals who are there working on a day-to-day basis.
“It can’t be managed by the Foundation, it can’t be managed by the fans. There needs to be a proper board at executive level, like Ann Budge, Craig Levein and the rest right now.
“I’m a volunteer, I do as much as I can and we try to run the Foundation as professionally as we can on a very small budget. We don’t take wages or expenses or anything. It does take its toll on your life and your business, so there is a limit.
“The people we’re bringing into the Foundation are excellent. Barry McGonagle is a fantastic young accountant who has taken on a lot on the financial side. Louise Strutt is a financial advisor and she’s been excellent in her role. It’s really important everybody has a role within the Foundation.”
The most important role is that of the 8,000 members who pledge cash every month to the Foundation, which in turn provides the football club with extra revenue. It is currently helping towards the cost of the new £12million main stand at Tynecastle.
“We always used the Barcelona model, albeit on a much smaller scale. Barcelona are in a lot of debt so they’re by no means perfect. To have members who pledge money to be a member of the club is crucial,” said Cormack.
“We want to continue progression, we want people to pledge for life. Once the stand is paid for, once Ann Budge is paid back her investment, once the Foundation take a majority shareholding, we want to continue. There will always be something else to achieve.
“We want to continue a well-run club which is producing youngsters through the academy. There has to be a succession plan for coaches so that Hearts’ ethos and style of play isn’t binned every time a manager or coach is sacked. You want a signing policy to sign, not just good players, but guys who are role models for the youngsters coming though.
“We want the Foundation to be able to fund the club forever; to add £1.5million or maybe £2m to the budget at a really well-run club.”