Ann Budge on Hearts' ground plans and Craig Levein's role
Ann Budge has confirmed that Hearts will play all of their home cup ties this summer at Tynecastle, with just three stands open.
The new main stand is not due to be ready to accommodate supporters until September, so the club looked into the possibility of playing any Europa League or Betfred Cup ties at BT Murrayfield. However, they have opted instead to keep the matches at Tynecastle, with changing facilities and a temporary tunnel set up in the Wheatfield Stand. Permission appears to have been granted by the SPFL for Hearts to play all league matches prior to September 9 away from home.
Budge did reveal, however, there was an agreement in principle to play home Premiership matches at BT Murrayfield should progress on the new main stand be delayed.
In a lengthy statement encompassing all aspects of the club, Hearts owner Budge said: “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. We have decided that any games played over the summer will be played at Tynecastle, in front of our three stands.
“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.”
Budge confirmed that season tickets for next season will go on sale on May 14, with a hike in price of “approximately 6-7 per cent” to account for the improved facilities and the fact there has been a price freeze in recent seasons.
The chairwoman also addressed on-field matters. Reflecting on a season in which Hearts have slipped to fifth place following a significant change in coaching and playing staff in the winter, the owner continued: “None of us could have anticipated back in August that within six months we would have seen so many changes. Not only do we have a new head coach and assistant coach, but we have a very different first-team squad taking to the pitch every week.
“Ian [Cathro] and Austin [MacPhee] joined us at the start of December 2016, at a time when the team was fairly well settled, albeit with some changes planned for the January transfer window. Four games into the new management era, we lost Callum Paterson to long-term injury, one of our key defenders, and one of our top goalscorers at the time. While that was a blow, only two games later, we also lost John Souttar to long-term injury – again, one of our key defenders.
“The January transfer window brought more changes to the squad – a mixture of planned changes and unplanned. No-one, for example, anticipated the departure of Igor Rossi. Once again we reacted and brought in some highly-rated players, some to see us through to the end of the season and some on longer-term contracts. With so many changes, a number of which were forced upon us, there was clearly always going to be a period of some disruption while things settled down.
“Despite this, however, I am pleased that, once again, we have secured a top-six place. We set out at the start of the season with a business plan based on a fourth-place finish and after all of the aforementioned changes we have currently slipped to fifth place. We will continue to strive for that fourth place, with the possibility that brings of European football in the summer.”
Budge also reiterated what Craig Levein’s role entails in the wake of suggestions from outwith the club that the director of football has an overbearing influence on Cathro’s stewardship. “As has been explained many times before, the director of football role as it applies at Hearts is very wide and very varied,” she stated. “Craig is responsible for all football matters and for all age groups. He is also an executive director on the board with the additional responsibilities that brings. Craig holds his position because of his vast footballing experience, which means his opinion and advice can be extremely valuable. That said, he no more does Ian’s job than he does Roger Arnott’s job as head of the academy ... or indeed mine, as chief executive. For the avoidance of doubt, Ian picks the team, as did Robbie [Neilson] when he was here. Any input from Craig, whether in note form from a vantage point in the stand or in any other form, is given purely to assist Ian’s decision-making.”
Budge, who also condemned some “ludicrous” media coverage since Cathro’s appointment in December, added: “I have said from the outset that we are taking a long-term view of building this club, this business, and as such a run of disappointing results following a period of significant change, or some mischievous (at best) headlines, will not divert us from our purpose. We will continue to invest in youth, both for players and coaches, supported by experienced professionals.”