Exclusive: Foundation of Hearts outline their future as new chairman Gerry Mallon talks cash, Europe and fans

Flick through Whatsapp contacts to Gerry Mallon’s name and the profile photo jumps out. He is pictured in a five-way conversation with Marco van Basten, Gianni Infantino, Arlene Foster and the late Martin McGuinness.

Wednesday, 27th April 2022, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th April 2022, 9:21 am

Pretty serious business, then. The incoming Foundation of Hearts chairman lacks nothing in status, profile or experience after six years as head of the Northern Ireland Football Association. He is also chief executive of Tesco Bank having previously worked for Danske Bank and Ulster Bank.

Can all his expertise benefit Hearts? That’s why we’re on Whatsapp trying to arrange an interview. Mallon is more than accommodating despite suffering mild Covid symptoms.

He was voted onto the Foundation board last December and will officially become chairman on June 1 when Stuart Wallace steps down. Mallon will also join the club board at Hearts in Wallace’s place.

Like his predecessor, relatability is one of his best attributes. Wallace oversaw Hearts’ move into fan ownership through the Foundation, the club are back in European competition, and his last official act as a director will be the Scottish Cup final on May 21.

Mallon knows it’s a hard act to follow. “My timing has been good stepping into the Foundation and now onto the club board, which is a tremendous honour,” he says. “I was fortunate at the Irish FA, too. We hadn’t been to a major tournament in 30 years when I joined the board. Then we qualified for the [2016] Euros within a couple of years.

“Maybe there’s something about being a lucky general rather than a good general. Hopefully my luck will continue at Tynecastle. I understand football and I know where to draw the line: Let football people make football decisions and leave the business people to make business decisions.

“I hope I’m experienced enough to know when to stick to my lane. Sometimes football boards don’t. I come at this is a fan. I’ll have the sentiment and emotion of a fan but hopefully with the clear head of a businessman aiming to make sensible decisions.”

Tesco Bank chief executive Gerry Mallon is the new Foundation of Hearts chairman.

European trips are nothing new, obviously. Hearts embark upon eight matches in Continental competition starting in August and their new director knows the drill. “I’m delighted I’ll participate as a board member with all these European fixtures ahead,” says Mallon.

“I’ve had my share of away games in Europe, albeit they have all been internationals with Northern Ireland. It’s a phenomenal experience and incredibly exciting.

“That is the icing on the cake, though. There is hard work to be done, making sure the Foundation runs well and we continue to fulfil ambitions. I want to carry out my duties with the club board as well. I don’t want to be distracted by the glamour of what’s ahead.”

It’s a sensible approach given the understandable euphoria enveloping Gorgie right now. Season 2021/22 could finish as one of the greatest in Tynecastle history if the Scottish Cup comes back to Edinburgh, as if all those European trips weren’t enough.

Tynecastle Park

For the Foundation, Wallace’s handover to Mallon must precede a period of foresight. Fans want better engagement and the new chairman is acutely aware.

“I had conversations with people before I came on board were about the need for more engagement and dialogue between pledgers and the FoH board,” he says.

“People wanted responses to questions and to feel their input to the club via the Foundation was being listened too. They basically wanted more feedback and I’m keen that we step up our efforts in that regard.

“It’s communication but also action. Listening to people, responding, doing something about it and making sure the club is engaged. The Foundation should be more relevant than just a vehicle for funnelling donations into the club. We have aspirations to step that up.

“We now have fan ownership but what do we do with it and how do we become better? To my mind, the answer is that we have to make sure the club continues making the right long-term decisions for its sustainability. We want to give the board the right level of support and direction by making it clear what FoH members want to see.”

One part of the plan is to enlist more Foundation volunteers to create a more efficient operation. “We have a very small group of people running the Foundation just now,” says Mallon.

“The technology for collecting donations and storing data is quite out of date. So there are significant upgrades we need to make and we’re fortunate to have Andrew Brown as a director now. He knows what should be done.

“There is a large level of support within the fanbase to let us bring more volunteers on board, enabling the Foundation to do more and letting the board be more effective. There is no shortage of ambition, we just need to make it all effective.”

Hearts fans can expect the Foundation to be more visible from now on, although Mallon is realistic regarding increasing their 9,000 subscribers. “What Hearts as a team have achieved this season has been brilliant,” he says.

“The other side is the cost of living, which is impacting people, and it won’t be cheap travelling to Europe next season. There will be a squeeze on people’s pockets so we need to keep making the case for the Foundation and why it’s important.”

Wallace is convinced there is no better successor than Mallon. “Gerry is a great chair to take things through the next stage,” he says. “We got into fan ownership and I’ve had a good five years. I owe a huge thanks to all the board members and others involved in the Foundation.

“It’s been a challenge but it’s been one of the biggest honours of my life being FoH chairman and a club director. After five years, I feel the Foundation needs to go to the next level. It’s right for someone else to bring fresh ideas, energy and vision.”

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