Ex SFA chief backs Ann Budge for big role in football

Ann Budge  feels she can contribute to all levels of Scottish football
Ann Budge feels she can contribute to all levels of Scottish football
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Ann Budge’s quest to join the boards of Scottish football’s governing bodies today received staunch backing from the former SFA chief executive Gordon Smith.

The Hearts owner hopes her influence could eventually lead to a place on the SPFL board or SFA professional game board, and Smith believes she would be a worthy candidate.

Budge is keen to show her support for Scottish football though her position as chairwoman at Tynecastle. She is already a member of the SFA council but feels confident her ideas could help the SPFL and the professional game board. Smith sat on the professional game board during his time as SFA chief executive between 2007 and 2010 and feels Budge would be a fine addition at the table.

However, he advised that gaining enough support when it comes to votes could prove challenging for the 67-year-old. She has been involved in football bureaucracy for less than a year after swapping her seat in Tynecastle’s Wheatfield Stand for the directors’ box. Budge paid £2.5million for control of Hearts last summer and Smith cautioned that others at the SFA and SPFL may still see her as too much of a newcomer.

Having made her fortune running her own IT company in Edinburgh, and after overseeing Hearts’ record-breaking Championship title win, Smith believes Budge’s knowledge and business expertise would be useful at the top level of Scottish football. She has shown notable compassion whilst helping Hearts back into the top flight, installing the Living Wage for her employees and brokering a deal to have Save The Children on next season’s kit.

“I think it would be a great idea to have Ann Budge on either of those two boards,” he told the Evening News. “I think we should have women involved at that level to show a certain degree of balance and fairness. Ann has come across well in her time with Hearts so far and she has good business acumen, which is very important.

“Football these days is a business and to be involved in that level takes experience of business. Ann Budge has got that. She might not be too experienced when it comes to running football clubs but she’ll have learned a fair deal at Hearts over the last year.

“In particular, the time she’s spent talking to Craig Levein [Hearts’ director of football] and Robbie Neilson [head coach] will have been vital to her and helped her understand how the game works at times. She’s been a football fan all her life and she sees things from that perspective. I think she’s impressed a lot of people so far with how she has handled herself.”

Smith explained that Budge may find opposition in some quarters should she formally seek election to any of the boards, although he does not feel this should dissuade her from doing so. “I think there might be some resistance to someone like Ann Budge getting involved. These boards have members who have been involved in football a long time and she might be seen as a relative newcomer. That could be a hindrance to her.

“Personally, I’d have no problem seeing her get voted on. I think she has some good ideas and puts them across well. She has opinions and isn’t afraid to voice them but there might be some dissatisfaction in some quarters. She hasn’t been involved in football particularly long and that could go against her.”

Budge lodged a formal complaint with the SPFL earlier this month over their handling of Hearts’ last league game of the season against Rangers. The match was rescheduled for Sunday and then brought back to Saturday as league officials failed to comprehend the need for all Championship fixtures to kick-off at the same time.

It is no doubt issues like that Budge feels could be avoided. She told STV this week that she feels able to contribute at all levels of football in Scotland. “I’ve said from the beginning that if I’m going to get involved in football, I want to get involved seriously – and that means looking at every aspect of it,” she said.

“So, in the same way I have tried to attend every game this season to show my support for the team, I would participate in any of these boards that would help show Hearts’ support for Scottish football. I would have to be voted on, and I’ve no idea how many vacancies there are to be honest, because these things are multi-year. If I am asked to help, I will definitely help.”

Smith’s place on the SFA’s professional game board came as part of his role as chief executive of the Scottish FA. Budge would need to go through the voting process in order to join. “You are automatically placed on the SFA game board when you are chief executive, so in that sense there aren’t votes needed if you are in that position,” said Smith. “The SPFL board is slightly different. There has to be representation from all levels of the game and rightly so.

“You obviously need to get votes to get onto the SFA professional game board and the SPFL board is the same. Ann Budge would bring a freshness to the table and some good ideas and I think it could only be a positive move to get her involved.”

To achieve a seat on the SPFL board, Budge would first need a representative from a Premiership club to leave. Then she would require a proposal and 66 per cent of member votes in order to succeed. The board currently contains chairman Ralph Topping, chief executive Neil Doncaster, Eric Riley (Celtic), Stephen Thompson (Dundee United), Duncan Fraser (Aberdeen), Eric Drysdale (Raith Rovers) Mike Mulraney (Alloa) and Ken Ferguson (Brechin City).

The SFA professional game board is voted on each year and each member can only serve for four years maximum. The next AGM is scheduled for Tuesday, June 9. The current professional game board contains chairman Rod Petrie (Hibs), Neil Doncaster (SPFL), Ralph Topping (SPFL), Peter Lawwell (Celtic), Duncan Fraser (Aberdeen), Mike Mulraney (Alloa), Sandy Stables (Highland League), Andrew Waddell (Lowland League), Stewart Regan (SFA chief executive), Campbell Ogilvie (SFA president) and Alan McRae (Cove Rangers president and first vice president of the SFA).