Hearts AGM: Section N '˜closure', club eyes US link-up plus seven other talking points
Hearts held their AGM at Tynecastle this morning. Here are some of the key talking points as 400 fans descended on the Gorgie Suite to hear from Ann Budge and Craig Levein...
• Section N latest
Ann Budge suggested that the club wouldn’t hesitate to shut Section N of the Main Stand following recent issues. Budge recently wrote to supporters seated in the section to warn them over unacceptable conduct including the use of pyrotechnics and standing during games.
She said: “None of us believe the way they are behaving is acceptable, and none of us want to be associated with it. We are THIS close to closing a section.”
• North American partnership
The club are on the cusp of entering into Global Youth Development Partnerships with a reported four clubs in North America. Hearts will share expertise on running an academy in return for cash, and the opportunity to access a number of young players and potential sponsors as the club looks to grow its brand worldwide.
Budge confirmed the link-up with a club based in Utah - their name is set to be announced imminently - with a further four sides expected to be announced. She said: “We share our expertise in how to run an academy and develop young players. It gives us access to lots of young players and sponsorship opportunities all over the world.”
• Supporters grill Craig Levein during Q&A session
In the wake of Friday night’s 5-0 mauling at the hands of Livingston, Craig Levein held his hands up and promised Hearts fans that a similar performance - or indeed capitulation - would not happen again. He said: “Credit to Livingston but my main concern is making sure that, for our supporters, that doesn’t happen again. I’m embarrassed about the whole thing. What’s important is I give the fans assurances that this doesn’t happen again.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hearts’ recent run of form was brought up by some fans at the meeting. Levein explained, in depth, what he believed to be the main reasons behind, and causes of, the slump.
He explained that injuries had left him relying heavily on players he wouldn’t have wanted to use so regularly, name-checking Sean Clare, Steven MacLean and Craig Wighton. He added that, without Steven Naismith or Uche Ikpeazu, Hearts were unable to play the way they did in the early part of the season because the ball doesn’t stick in attack. Levein admitted that confidence within the team was low, and said he was “struggling” to find a solution to the team’s goalscoring problems but was adamant that things would improve following the arrival of David Vanecek and the return from injury of his key attacking players.
• Anonymous benefactors
Ann Budge moved to reassure sceptical fans that the £3 million donation from unnamed benefactors - which helped the club post a £1.8 million profit for the financial year ending in June 2018 - had no conditions attached to it.
Budge confirmed that there were no strings attached in terms of player signings and told shareholders that the benefactors have asked about pumping more cash into the club’s youth development scheme.
• Club on course to pass over ownership to Foundation of Hearts
Supporters group Foundation of Hearts is on course to assume ownership before the end of 2020, with a handover slated for the first half of the year.
• Further improvements to stadium
Budge confirmed that the club intends to add big screens and scoreboards to the stadium “in due course”.
• Hearts Ladies
The club is working on plans to expand the academy to fully incorporate the women’s team.
• Strong challenge from January onwards
Ann Budge expects a strong challenge to get back up the table from January onwards after what she admitted was an “unprecedented” run of injuries.
• Growth expectations in 2018/19
Budge says 2017/18 was “a good solid year for the business” and is expecting “aggressive growth” in 2018/19 after investing heavily in all areas of the club.