James Anderson staying at Hearts for the long haul as Ann Budge explains club will rely on fans in event of another crisis
The Edinburgh businesswoman handed her majority shareholding to Foundation of Hearts on Monday confident that supporters were gaining ownership of a stable and secure operation.
Anderson, the wealthy local investor, joined Hearts as a director in May and belongs to a group of benefactors who have given £11.75million of their own money in total to the club over the last four years. That assistance is set to continue. “Oh yes, that will continue. I can say that with 100 per cent confidence. It’s all sorted,” said Budge.
“That’s part of my job: to make sure we are financially secure moving forward and that we have funding and so on.
“I don’t want to speak for James, but I think we all know that James got involved because he liked what we were saying and what we are trying to do. And because he was very much a communities guy.
“He really recognises the power of football to help communities. As long as we keep doing that, we will keep their support.”
Budge remains chairwoman for at least the next two years, with FoH now owning the club on fans’ behalf. They have around 8,000 members pledging monthly money which amounts to £1.6m in yearly funding for Hearts.
Those subscribers now take on an evermore important role. “One of the things I’ve been asked a few times is: ‘What happens if there’s another pandemic, God forbid, or something really bad happens and we need a new injection of capital?’
“Traditionally, an owner would put their hands in their pocket and help a club out,” said Budge. “That now will potentially be the FoH pledgers. That’s where the protection comes. It doesn’t matter who’s on the board, they can’t just say: ‘We’re going to have to sell some of the shares because we need a new injection of capital.’
“You can’t do it unless the shareholders, i.e. the pledgers, vote for it. These protections have been built in. Nobody can do anything that will destroy the club without the fans being able to stop it.
“Similarly, if the club is in difficulty, the job of the board will be to say: ‘Unless we do X, we’re going to have a problem.’ But at least the fans have a chance to vote for it. So I don’t think there are too many risks associated with it.
“The biggest risk was always that the fans would think ’we’ll chose the manager’ but we all know you don’t have to be fan-owned to have football supporters yelling ‘sack the board’. It happens everywhere. That bit of football isn’t likely to change.”
Budge explained the magnitude of the share transfer. “I think it’s quite momentous. Football is big business, especially if you can get into the big [European] competitions. It needs to be well run. It shouldn’t be a rich person’s toy or ‘I’ve made some money, I love my football club, I think I’ll go and help them out for a few years’.
“That’s not what’s needed. If football is going to continue to grow, it needs to be run very professionally and for fans.”