Andrew McKinlay speaks on imminent new signings at Hearts and insists he is not hiding from fans
Criticism of Hearts officials hasn’t bypassed Andrew McKinlay despite his minimal public profile.
The club’s chief executive is fully aware of fans’ frustrations at some results and performances last season. He is inside Tynecastle Park most days, but don’t suggest he cowers in the corner avoiding flak. There is no longer a hiding place even if he sought one.
McKinlay is now front and centre at Hearts with full responsibility for day-to-day operations. Owner Ann Budge stepped back last month to focus solely on chairing the board, naming McKinlay as the replacement figurehead.
Budge will soon transfer her 75.1 per cent majority shareholding to the fan-led group Foundation of Hearts and let McKinlay get on with running the club. He has been preparing for such responsibilities as CEO since last August.
A former Scottish Football Association blazer, this is a man well used to public carping. He isn’t swayed by it and will happily engage more with supporters as part of his new role. Monday’s announcement that MND Scotland will replace Save The Children on Hearts’ shirts is just the start.
In the first part of an exclusive Evening News interview, McKinlay explained that he isn’t the type to shout his mouth off but nor will he shirk pressing issues when they arise.
Happy to get out more
“Ann and I always agreed that I'd be more involved on the non-football side for the first few months. She was overseeing the football side and we were shadowing one another,” he said.
“With the transfer of ownership, the plan was always for Ann to become chairman only and me to become more front-facing. It's not a huge change but I'm happy to get out a bit more.
“I know there was some chat about, 'where is he and what's he doing?' I made the point in a G10 meeting recently. I said: 'If you want a chief executive who likes the sound of his own voice all the time, I'm not the person for you.'
“It's only when you make announcements like the MND Scotland partnership that you can show you have been doing things in the background. The new kits are coming out, the season ticket offering is out, so there is plenty positive stuff.
“We worked hard to offer fans something fair with the season tickets, but at the same time not leaving ourselves in a financial hole. I think in the main it's been well received.”
There is a touch of frustration within McKinlay that, whilst working quietly on the above projects, his role was being questioned by some supporters because he wasn’t visible or vocal.
“I understood it to some extent. Fans want to hear from you every day of every week. I know what it's like from my time at the SFA. It's about trying to get that balance right,” he said.
“I don't see much point coming out and saying things unless something needs to be said. I guess the main time we were hearing that [criticism] was when we had some bad results. It's not like the club said nothing, because Ann came out with statements. Was there an expectation I would say something different to Ann?
“I'm quite happy to have chats like this. I'm aware of other chief execs who are keen to be out there self-publicising on radio shows and everything. Fans love it, I get that, but is that really my main job?
“I don't want to be perceived as someone who is hiding from anything or lurking in the shadows. That's not a good place to be, so it's finding the balance. Now I'm in day-to-day charge, hopefully we can get that balance right.
“You can't just emerge when things are going well. You need to front up when things aren't going well also. That's life in football.”
Welcoming MND Scotland on board gives him understandable satisfaction following the deaths of former Hearts captain Marius Zaliukas and ex-director Robert Wilson.
“It's appropriate for us but even without that, what a great charity to work with,” said McKinlay. “We are all aware of Doddie Weir, Marius, Robert Wilson, etc. It makes a change looking at social media and seeing positive responses – almost without fail – when you put something out. That includes some Hibs fans as well. It's good to have days like that.”
What the tweethearts online really want to know is when will new signings arrive in Gorgie? Sporting director Joe Savage and manager Robbie Neilson are the men responsible in that department. They both report in to McKinlay.
“You know there are certain positions we are focused on. We are looking at some names and it's about getting them over the line,” added the CEO. “We finished our season so early that it feels like a long time ago. The transfer window doesn't officially open until today.
“I'm conscious of the fact that we start pre-season training next week but there are things in the background. I'm pretty confident we will start to see new faces coming in because we definitely do need them.
“I think, if you look at our top players, we do have the core of a good team. However, we need to add to it given the number of people we have lost. We need to strengthen to make sure we are competitive in the Premiership.”
You can read part 2 of our exclusive Andrew McKinlay interview in Thursday’s Edinburgh Evening News as he discusses fans returning to Tynecastle and why the Hearts board decided to back manager Robbie Neilson.