ANN BUDGE will appoint a six-strong board to herald a new era at Hearts which will be based around “stability, honesty and transparency”.
Ian Murray MP, the Foundation of Hearts chairman, will sit on the new board and told fans today that the incoming owner is committed to taking the Edinburgh club to the very top of Scottish football.
Murray stressed that Budge will manage with a considered and thoughtful approach in total contrast to that of her predecessor, Vladimir Romanov.
After her takeover was completed yesterday, when almost 80 per cent of Hearts’ shares were transferred to her BIDCO 1874 holding company, Budge will begin work as executive chairwoman at Tynecastle on Monday.
She will appoint Murray, former SPL chairman Robert Wilson and her partner Eric Hogg as directors. Two other directors have yet to be named but one will be a fans’ representative from one of Hearts’ major supporter organisations.
Wilson was SPL chairman upon its inception in 1998 and held the post until September 1999. He has been advising Budge on football administration matters for some time.
Murray predicted that the new regime will be known for good communication and sensible decisions following years of turmoil under former owner Romanov.
“Ann will bring stability, honesty and transparency,” he told the Evening News. “The new board will have a real drive as fans to take this club forward and get it back on an even keel. Ann will bring considerable business acumen to enable it to work with the club, the Foundation and the footballing authorities to get Hearts back to where they should be. She is completely committed to that. She wouldn’t be doing this otherwise.
“We’ve seen how tumultuous it has been for many years – the highs, the lows and the complete disorganisation. That all comes to an end now. Ann will put in place a new structure and new stability that takes the club forward.
“The fans have been patient since last June. Ann is in place because the fans have put their money in. The club is only here today because of them. They have been incredibly patient and they will have to stay patient because this is a huge rebuilding job. Ann is up for that and she is up for making sure Hearts get right back to the top of Scottish football again. That will require some difficult decisions, time and an awful lot of patience. With a complete and utter commitment to work with the supporters, I think that’s where the club will grow and thrive. That’s certainly different from the way it’s been in the past and Ann relishes the challenge of that being the way it should be in the future. She is hugely considerate and she does think processes through.”
A sale and purchase agreement (SPA) to transfer shares from Lithuanian companies Ukio Bankas and Ukio Bankas Investment Group was completed yesterday. Hearts can now exit administration over the coming weeks, with the last of their ties to Lithuania cut after nine years of eastern European rule in Gorgie. Budge has a management agreement in place with Hearts’ administrators BDO to let her run the club until that happens.
She intends to address staff on Monday morning and then begin talks on key issues, such as players’ contracts and the future of manager Gary Locke. Budge is funding a £2.5million Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) to take Hearts out of administration. Her plan is to pass the club on to Foundation of Hearts, the united fans’ group within five years once she is repaid – allowing supporters to govern their club.
“I am truly delighted to be able to confirm that I am now the proud majority shareholder in Hearts Football Club,” Budge told the Hearts website. “It has been a long, hard struggle to get to this point but together we have achieved our goal. The next few months – even years – won’t be easy as we work hard to rebuild our club. However, let’s not think about that today, let’s just enjoy! I have absolutely no doubt that together we will succeed.
“Thanks must go to everyone involved in helping us reach this milestone. Not only to those you all know about, but also to the teams of professional advisors who have helped us get this deal over the line, some of whom didn’t get to bed at all last [Thursday] night! I personally owe them a huge debt of thanks as indeed do all Hearts supporters.
“As the days and weeks unfold we will, of course, share our plans for the future. However, as you will all know, we are now into the process of making a formal offer for the remaining shares in the club and, while that process is in train, there are some restrictions on how much we can say publicly. So, no press conferences yet, I’m afraid. However, in the meantime, enjoy the moment. This is a great day in the history of our club.”
BDO lawyers worked frantically through the night on Thursday with their counterparts in Lithuania to get the SPA signed off. Ukio Bankas had already agreed to the CVA for their 29.9 per cent stake in the Edinburgh club. UBIG had agreed a separate deal for their 50 per cent stake. Signing the SPA was the last hurdle to pass ownership of Hearts on to Budge and funds were wired to Lithuania early yesterday afternoon to complete the deal.
BDO grouped the shares together to pass them on to Budge in one transaction. The administrators will now step into the background and allow Hearts’ new owner to begin restructuring the club as she sees fit.
Bryan Jackson, the BDO senior partner in charge of Hearts since last summer, said: “BDO will continue behind the scenes for a few more weeks and it is planned will exit from office before the start of the 2014/2015 football season with Hearts being managed by the new board of directors for the remaining duration of the administration.
“This is a great day for Ann, for the club, and for the fans who have stood by their team throughout a difficult year.”
Budge’s first major decision is whether to retain the services of Locke and his assistant, Billy Brown. She also has calls to make on 12 players whose contracts are due to expire. Five of them – Jamie Walker, Jason Holt, Brad McKay, David Smith and Dale Carrick – have clauses in their deals giving Hearts first option to extend their stay at Tynecastle by a further 12 months.