Big interview: Hearts' new stand marks future, says Bryan Jackson
Few could argue if Hearts named Tynecastle Park's new multi-million pound structure 'The Bryan Jackson Stand'. The man himself would probably collapse with embarrassment, but it would nonetheless be a fitting tribute to his diligence in saving Heart of Midlothian Football Club from extinction.
Jackson will tell you he was just doing his job and nothing more at the time. Don’t let him kid you. He was a business restructuring specialist with BDO, placed in charge when Hearts entered administration in 2013. There were sleepless nights, battles with tetchy Lithuanian administrators, flights to Eastern Europe and threats of liquidation during a year of relentless stress and tension.
If Ann Budge and the Foundation of Hearts fan movement ultimately provided the capital to get the club out of administration in 2014, it was Jackson’s expertise, tenacity and professionalism which made it all possible. He simply refused to give up believing he could prise the club’s majority shareholding from bankrupt Lithuanian companies UBIG and Ukio Bankas.
Of course, Budge’s £2.5million loan was crucial, as were donations from supporters which saw FoH take off spectacularly. The new multi-million-pound stand opening this Sunday against Partick Thistle is tangible evidence of Hearts’ breathtaking recovery from financial collapse.
Its presence – with 7,290 seats and eventually new hospitality suites, offices, dressing rooms and media facilities – is also another indicator that the club is here to stay. Never again will it be allowed to teeter so close to death.
“I think it’s absolutely remarkable that they are going to be opening this new stand so soon after an administration event,” said Jackson, who passed control of Hearts to Budge when administration ended in May 2014. “To have raised the money and done all the planning that needs to happen, it’s an incredibly ambitious recovery. You can only be impressed by it. I certainly am.
“The financial turmoil came to an end when Ann took control but this stand is another marker that it’s truly finished. This is another marker that the problems of the past are truly over. To fans, it’s all about what happens on the park. There’s no point having a new stand if nobody comes to the ground. So that’s a factor but you’re building a new stand at probably the most atmospheric ground in Scotland. And it’s all happened so quickly. It is incredible.
“It’s a great marker for confidence: Here’s a new era going forward. It’s a great milestone to say: ‘We really are here for the stay. We’re not going back to what happened before.’ Look at the confidence in the future because it’s actually building a stand which gives you more capacity. That’s a huge show of confidence in the stability of the club. They will fill it, that’s where the confidence is.”
Jackson is now semi-retired and somewhat removed from the world of Scottish football insolvency events. Saving Motherwell, Dundee, Dunfermline, Portsmouth and Hearts from shutdown makes for a stunning CV.
Yet, for Jackson, nothing is as impressive as the progress made in Gorgie since he left the building. The building which has since been demolished and replaced by that hulking new stand. The paved area outside will be named the ‘Foundation Plaza’ in honour of the fans who helped keep Hearts beating, and who have contributed £3million towards the cost.
A title for the stand itself has yet to be revealed. Naming it after Jackson would be fine, but he highlights Budge and the Tynecastle supporters as the real heroes of the club’s survival fight.
“My view is that Ann, along with the supporters, saved the club. Ann bridged it, the supporters were making donations, coming to all the games and backing her. The Foundation were making all the payments, as they still are. I’ve always had a very strong view on that,” he stressed.
“There were all those horrendous obstacles to overcome but it was the fans who really saved the club more than anybody. When Ann and I were having chats prior to her taking over, we discussed what had to be done. It was a broken club in every way and had to be rebuilt. You don’t know how long the recovery will be, you just hope it will recover.
“I don’t recall having any discussions with her about her plans to build a stand. Probably, at that time, I don’t think she would’ve known herself. On day one, she had all the player and manager side to sort out herself. We were very much still in survival mode.
“Maybe at the back of her mind, she wasn’t sure. I think she said she looked at all the options, moving and everything else.”
Jackson was first introduced to Budge during that year-long administration process. To him, she was a godsend at a time when administrators who held Hearts shares in Lithuania were threatening to liquidate the club.
“I always felt Ann was the right person when I met her. She was very impressive, she was a Hearts fan and was willing to put her own money forward. I couldn’t really have wanted for anybody better at that stage, particular given the kind of pressure I was under,” explained Jackson.
“The progress she made hasn’t altogether surprised me because I had high expectations of her abilities. What I think she has done incredibly well is taking her skill set into the world of football. That’s difficult because, as you know, the world of football is insane.
“A lot of people have had difficulty doing that because of the nature of the industry, whereas she appears to have done it incredibly well. The pace she has put the stand in at has been great.
“She has made a lot of quick decisions. Look back at what she had to deal with on day one, day two and day three. It was quite remarkable. I think she showed a really decisive side to her in the way she just went in and made decisions.”
During her long and successful business life, from IT expertise to running Hearts, the decision and conviction to rebuild Tynecastle Park is as impactful as any. Jackson is just happy to sit back, smile and watch it unfold.