Andrew McKinlay gives Hearts a voice at the very top of Scottish football

New chief executive is a shrewd and stable appointment
Andrew McKinlay is the new chief executive at Hearts.Andrew McKinlay is the new chief executive at Hearts.
Andrew McKinlay is the new chief executive at Hearts.

There is great significance in Hearts appointing Andrew McKinlay chief executive after a summer-long rumpus with Scottish football’s governors.

Hiring the Scottish FA’s former chief operating officer is a calculated move giving the Edinburgh club a much-respected voice in the corridors of power at Hampden Park.

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A legal wrangle with the Scottish Professional Football League over relegation, a fine for petitioning the Court of Session, then outrage when the league and SFA halted pre-season training last week: It all amounts to a tumultuous period for owner Ann Budge.

She has recruited McKinlay to ease her daily workload but also because of his expertise in dealing with the SFA and SPFL.

He worked for six years at the national association and led projects like establishing the current football pyramid system, successfully defending legal action from Mike Ashley, starting the investigation into historic child abuse allegations, plus dealing with the fallout from Rangers’ liquidation.

McKinlay knows how to navigate his way around the maze that is the SFA. He boasts proficient knowledge of their articles of association and already holds long-standing relationships with those who work there.

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He is also acutely aware of how the SPFL operates and of the personalities in charge there. At a time when Hearts require to be heard at Scottish football’s top table, he fits the bill perfectly.

Those who know McKinlay personally describe him as a “straightforward, competent and professional” individual who offers Hearts the proverbial safe pair of hands after relegation.

He likes stability, another advantage at a club where managers and players have changed all too frequently of late. He is even-tempered and staff will enjoy working with him but he also harbours a more belligerent side when necessary. He is not the type to accept being bullied.

His academic and corporate background show an ability to lead from the front at the top level in football and with Scottish Golf. He is viewed as a potential SPFL board member should he wish to put himself forward for nomination.

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His knowledge of the SFA boardroom will ensure Hearts’ voice is heard in a way that it hasn’t been of late. That allows Budge some comfort and breathing space to concentrate on other issues.

Being owner, chair and operational leader of one of the country’s biggest football clubs places huge demands on any individual, let alone one in her 70s.

McKinlay’s arrival will let her focus on Hearts’ transition to fan ownership and, perhaps, lead to her rediscovering enjoyment at work again after an arduous couple of years at Tynecastle Park.

She knows she has someone who can manage day-to-day operations and plan strategically for the future. McKinlay will oversee departments like commercial, communication, finance, football and facilities.

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He won’t have much experience with agents and player contracts but those matters would fall within a director of football’s remit when one is appointed. Certainly, nothing will take the new man by surprise having survived the politics of both football and golf.

Sitting on Hampden’s sixth floor or working in the serene Scottish golfing world does not prepare you for club football. That may well be McKinlay’s biggest challenge.

Club experience is invaluable to any chief executive entering that environment. It is markedly different to working for a governing body where committees rule the roost.

There is no bowling club mentality at Tynecastle. Like any major club, Hearts are a commercial organisation run at high intensity 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Budge is the ultimate figurehead and is expected to remain chair of the board for the next year, possibly two.

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She now has a right-hand man able to help her steer Hearts back to a challenging position within Scottish football – and who can deal with the footballing authorities when necessary.

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