May 2015 has been a landmark month in the life of Brian Cormack, an Edinburgh businessman and boyhood Hearts supporter.
Just weeks after becoming a director of the club he loves, the 51-year-old has now taken on chairmanship of the Foundation of Hearts, the burgeoning supporters’ group which is scheduled to take control of the Tynecastle club from Ann Budge in four years.
Cormack became one of the pioneers of the Foundation after growing concern at the way Hearts were being run under Vladimir Romanov towards the end of the last decade prompted him to act. Although he always felt the Foundation could flourish, he admits he could never have envisaged back in 2010 that his “labour of love” would lead him into the Tynecastle boardroom.
Speaking exclusively to the Evening News from his office on Edinburgh’s Melville Street, Cormack is a beacon of pride as he reflects on his double elevation. “It’s a huge honour to take on both roles,” he said. “The first dream as a Hearts fan is to play for the club, but I never quite managed that even though I trained with the club when I was 16. After that, to become a director is pretty much the next best thing. It’s going to take a lot of commitment and it’s going to be a huge challenge, but I’m looking forward to it.
“I don’t just want to go on the board for the sake of it, I want to make a proper contribution. The fact I’ve got construction and property background, I hope to be able to bring some of these skills to the table. I’m there to represent the Foundation, but I definitely want to play a bigger role and not just be a token fan on the board.”
In his new role as Foundation chairman, Cormack will have big shoes to fill after the impressive Ian Murray announced his intention to step down and focus on his day job as a Labour MP. Having been heavily involved in the Foundation since kicking the whole movement off more than five years ago, he is undaunted by the prospect of picking up the baton. “I hope I can continue the good work the guys have done,” said Cormack. “We’ve had Ian Murray for the last two years and Alex Mackie prior to that. They’ve both done a fantastic job. Ian came in at a time when we needed a really good public face. He’s a very good speaker, as you would expect from a politician, and he put our points across really well. He’s been a great leader to take us through the period we were in administration and then the first year after we came out of it. I’ve been working very closely with Ian throughout that time and even before that I was vice-chairman to Alex so I’ve been heavily involved in it up to this point and hopefully I can carry it all forward as chairman of the Foundation.”
With 8100 members helping swell Hearts’ coffers by close to £2.5 million over the past year, the Foundation’s impact is already being felt at the club, a full four years before it is due to take ownership from Budge as part of a five-year plan. Cormack knows he is spearheading the group at a crucial time. “We’ve got two main objectives going forward,” he explained. “One is to maintain or increase the pledges. We have 8100 just now and I’m delighted with that. We’ve actually gained pledges since February since we introduced the fans rewards. The pitch plots and the chance to have your name on the third top are great, really emotive ideas.
“I’d love to push to 10,000 pledges and I don’t see why we can’t do that given that we’ve got around 12,500 season ticket holders. If we can get up to 10,000, we could put another £2m into the club in the next four years. That’s massive. People ask ‘if the team start losing, would our pledges drop off?’ It’s actually the opposite. The danger is that people think that because the club is doing so well they don’t need to keep pledging. I would say to anybody thinking like that ‘look how much money we’ve been able to put into the club over the past year.’ If that level of funding continues to come into the club, things like youth development and the stand can all be worked on much quicker.
“The other objective is to work with the club to work out a proper governance model for fan ownership for when we eventually take over. Ann has put that as one of her priorities. We have to research all types of fan ownership but we’re moving forward on a safe pathway for the next four years, so we can plan it properly. That five-year period is now four years, it’s moving very quickly. But we have a working group looking at the governance and trying to come up with a way that makes the handover seamless.”
With the prospect of ownership of a stable Hearts now on the horizon, the Foundation has come a long way since Cormack, Mackie, Jamie Bryant and Garry Halliday began a movement aimed at wrenching their beloved club from the clutches of the reckless Romanov. He believes the input of Hearts’ record appearance holder Gary Mackay – a man who has been unheralded throughout – was vital in ensuring the process started to take off.
“Concern about the way the club was going was the main driving force,” he said. “Myself and the other guys who set the Foundation up weren’t happy and we felt that the fans could take over and run it the right way. I am the same age as Gary Mackay and played football against him and John Robertson right through our school days. I went to Gary with some proposals about fan ownership and asked if he thought it could work and if he could introduce us to people who could be influential.
“I felt he was the best person to speak to in order to bring Hearts-minded people to us.
He introduced us to George Foulkes at first, then brought along Garry Halliday. He brought Donald Ford and was also the person who brought Ann Budge to our attention. Gary was pivotal at the start. He stayed in the background, but he came to a lot of the initial meetings. We’ve always said he was really influential in bringing everything together, but he hasn’t had the wider recognition he deserves.”
Cormack’s endless hours of unpaid work have ultimately helped give his fellow Hearts supporters a club to be proud of once more and the Newington boy – a former pupil of Preston Street primary school and Boroughmuir High – has been rewarded with a seat in the directors’ box, assuming he wishes to use it, of course. “I’ve been in the board room a couple of times this season when Ann invited people from the Foundation along,” he explained. “I’ve got a season ticket in the main stand with my dad, William, my sister, Linda, and my daughter, Maxine, so I hope to continue to be able to sit with them. I probably will have to go to the directors’ box at times, but I like being among the fans.
“My partner, Tracy, and the rest of my family are really proud. They have been really supportive because the work involved with the Foundation has an impact on your business and family life. Certainly at the start of the Foundation and then when we got preferred bidder status, there were loads of meetings at night. It’s not easy to conduct your own business but that’s a sacrifice all the Foundation guys have made. There’s no pay or expenses for anyone involved. We never take a penny out of the Foundation – it’s been tough but it’s a labour of love. You want to do it for your club and I think any Hearts fan would have done it if they had the chance.”