Why impressive former Irish FA chief Gerry Mallon wants to do Foundation of Hearts role
Since that day in August when the Ann Budge transferred her majority shareholding to Foundation of Hearts, the organisation have gone from strength to strength.
As of last month, more than £12.6million has been pledged.
The next step in the group's journey will take place next month at the annual general meeting. With the number of pledgers at an all-time high with 8,700 paying members, three candidates from five will be appointed to the board of directors.
That is reflected in the candidates standing for election.
Louise Strutt who runs her own independent financial advisory practice in Edinburgh, Andrew Brown, general manager of IBM’s technology business in the UK and Ireland, Brian Muir who worked as head of security at Hampden Park and Andrew Robertson, national director of coaching for bowls for 15 years.
Then there is Gerry Mallon.
Irish FA experience
The highly qualified 51-year-old is chief executive of Tesco Bank having previously held key leadership roles at Northern Ireland’s largest bank Northern Bank as well as Ulster Bank.
But, most interestingly, is the six years he spent as chairman of the Irish Football Association until 2020.
In that time the country qualified for the European Championships under Michael O’Neill, nearly reached the World Cup, soared up the FIFA rankings and saw the redevelopment of Windsor Park.
In addition, he helped “retain a fantastic manager at the expense of Scotland”, something which he apologised for.
“I have always been crazy about football, and I got to know the Irish FA via becoming title sponsor of the NI premier league," Mallon said.
"In 2014 I joined the Board of the IFA and became chairman, serving two terms. We qualified for the Euros, narrowly missed out on World Cup qualification because of an incorrect penalty decision – I’m still bitter – completed a £36m redevelopment of Windsor Park and gave financial stability to a once-precarious organisation.
But how did he end up with an interest in Hearts?
Falling in love with Hearts
Mallon moved to Edinburgh to take up the role at Tesco Bank in 2018.
A Liverpool fan, he was keen to take in football with his son and they were tempted to Tynecastle Park due to the Northern Irish contingent at the club at the time which included Austin MacPhee and Aaron Hughes who Mallon knew from his time with the Irish FA, plus the likes of Kyle Lafferty, Conor Washington and Michael Smith.
It wasn't long before season tickets were acquired and the rest, as they say, is history.
"If you come from Northern Ireland then Scottish football means two teams, and you get told which one you’re allowed to support," he said. “I rejected that sectarian toxicity and so spent most of my life ignoring Scottish football.
"When we moved to Edinburgh my son and I concluded that we needed a local team to watch and support. Given who I knew through NI Hearts was the one we tried first. We never looked back.
“Everything about the club – its history, its place in the community, the welcoming, multi-generational atmosphere, the humour, and grumbling, guaranteed we’d found our home and no others need be considered.
"We got our first season tickets in time to see Liam Boyce score his debut goal against Rangers – and despite the demotion we've completely fallen for the club.
"I have been completely captivated by the recent history – how the fans saved the club – and how a community of supporters is now the custodian of its future.”
‘I can play a strong part’
Mallon’s interest in Foundation of Hearts grew after chats with the organisation's chairman Stuart Wallace having offered support through a difficult time.
Wallace and the group faced criticism earlier this year when the club suffered an embarrassing defeat to Brora Rangers in the Scottish Cup and pressure was mounting on manager Robbie Neilson with a section of the supporter base wanting Foundation of Hearts to put pressure on the club.
Mallon gave Wallace his support and is now keen to get involved, hands on, with the foundation, hoping to bring his expertise in business and sport to the club.
“My experience in running businesses, corporate governance and football gives me the capability to help FOH at this crucial stage," he said.
“There is an opportunity – and a need – for a reset in strategy and approach as we have now entered a new phase. From conversations with FOH board members it’s clear that they know that.
“I am keen to play a role in helping shape and deliver that new approach: with strong engagement with Foundation members, clear goals, and transparency and accountability against the objectives we set.
“The Foundation has a critical role to play in ensuring the long-term financial stability of the club and ensuring that the club board has the strength, capability and alignment to deliver success and pride for supporters. I believe I can play a strong part.”
Mallon’s candidacy has been approved by his employers and members will be able to select their choice via a digital ballot which will be starting soon.
The chosen trio will join chairman Stuart Wallace as well as existing directors Donald Cumming, Alastair Bruce and Paul Cheshire on the board which is increasing from six to seven.