Foundation of Hearts’ five founding members gather inside Tynecastle Park’s new £15 million main stand. They look around in awe even though they have all been here several times before. The quintet were told by the old Hearts board that this structure was an impossibility. They, and 8000 supporters, fought to ensure it became reality.
Donald Ford, Jamie Bryant, Brian Cormack, Alex Mackie and Garry Halliday first got together in 2010 believing their club could be prised from Russian owner Vladimir Romanov and returned to the Edinburgh community. They also insisted, having done independent research, that staying in Gorgie with a new main stand was feasible.
Tynecastle’s newest building represents Hearts’ future. It signifies the stadium’s completion, the will of the club’s supporters, plus the foresight, drive and business acumen of owner Ann Budge since her £2.5m took the club out of administration in 2014.
It is also a testament to the Foundation’s defiance against Eastern European rule. When Sergejus Fedotovas, the Hearts director and Romanov’s assistant, told five men trying to harness a fan group in 2012 that staying at Tynecastle wasn’t possible, it was like setting a challenge. The Foundation and its founding members refused to accept Fedotovas’ excuses.
Stories that COMAH [Control Of Major Accident Hazards] Regulations prevented any building on the Tynecastle site didn’t wash. The nearby North British Whisky Distillery wasn’t an insurmountable issue at all, and those round the table knew it. Which is why they take such satisfaction visiting the ground these days.
The Foundation Plaza outside is a tribute to the 8000 supporters who pledge money to Hearts through FoH. In total, fans have donated more than £6.5m to their club so far – £2.5m of which helped pay for the stand.
“One of the policies of the Foundation was to stay at Tynecastle right from the early days,” explains Mackie. “We had conversations with Sergejus about how we could raise money for the new stand.
“As it unfolded, it became obvious that the club back then were not necessarily interested in building a new stand. They were more interested in moving away from Tynecastle and building a stadium elsewhere.
“We were constantly given a hard story about the COMAH Regulations and how they could never get through them. That’s the big message here. The old board said the stand couldn’t be built, yet we are standing in it.
“The reason we are so proud as a team is because we fought against this. We had Brian [Cormack] who was involved in the property side of it. We had our own knowledge and information base inside the Council telling us the stand could be built.
“We fought hard to get ourselves on the march and push towards building the new stand. That was always one of the Foundation’s aspirations. We inserted in our articles of association a statement saying it was permissible for Foundation money to be used for infrastructure projects. This was the project we had in mind.
“It’s just fabulous to see it. We are on the journey now and there’s more to come. This landmark stand and the Foundation Plaza are fabulous accolades. To all Hearts fans, especially the pledgers, we have to say: ‘Thank you very much’.”
The sheer belief and tenacity behind the project was evident from the start. “Myself and Brian Cormack had been talking about this for four or five years before it came off,” says Bryant. “It started to come together after we met Garry Halliday. To see what we’ve done, I still have to pinch myself.
“I did believe it would happen. I knew it would work. I also said that 8000 fans would subscribe to this, and guess how many members we have? I don’t know where it came from but it’s just brilliant.”
Cormack adds: “We always believed from the beginning that this was possible. The stand and the plaza are great tributes to the fans who dug deep, saved club and helped build the stand. We always knew the Hearts fans were there. They have dug deep before and we knew that core was there. However, for them to continue this month after month is just incredible.”
Tynecastle recently hosted “Foundation Day” and is now unrecognisable from the ground former Hearts striker Ford first visited aged eight. “My dad brought me here 65 years ago to see my first game. That was the beginning of me supporting the Hearts,” he recalls. “To think that I was able to play for them is one thing. Now I am back again as part of a fantastic opportunity for the Foundation which the supporters have created. It’s unique.
“The timing is perfect. We have tremendous people now in charge of Hearts, which has been needed for more than 20 years. Everything is positive and it can only continue going upwards.”
Halliday admits fate conspired in the Foundation’s favour to help them become the most mobile fan organisation in Scottish football history.
“We’re all Hearts fans for a reason, usually it’s because somebody brings you along to the games,” he says. “For me, that was my dad as well. He passed away when I was 17. For me to be part of this makes me feel immensely proud. We have 8000 fans still pledging money and going strong and it makes you feel great.
“The original five had a determination that this would get off the ground. It was just like a coming together. We didn’t know each other but, when we met, we all clicked. We just kept working as hard as we can. Things fell into place for us, no doubt. Certain cards fell at certain times, and it came off. It’s just brilliant.”
• To join Foundation of Hearts, visit: www.foundationofhearts.org