Foundation of Hearts to take fans' views to Tynecastle board as they prepare for change

Foundation of Hearts chairman Stuart Wallace at Tynecastle.Foundation of Hearts chairman Stuart Wallace at Tynecastle.
Foundation of Hearts chairman Stuart Wallace at Tynecastle.
New Year, new owners, new era. For Foundation of Hearts, owning Heart of Midlothian FC carries enormous responsibility which won’t be taken lightly.

The fan-led group now have almost 9,000 members after accepting 75.1 per cent of Hearts’ shareholding from previous owner Ann Budge last August. FoH restructured their own board last month to prepare for the next stage – one where they plan to communicate the average fan’s view inside the boardroom at Tynecastle Park.

Criticism in some quarters was that the Foundation did not previously act on members’ wishes often enough. They deliberately took a background role after helping Hearts out of administration in 2014 but, as outright owners, the FoH board are aware of the need to be more of a conduit.

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Two of their directors, Stuart Wallace and Donald Cumming, also sit on the Hearts board. “You won’t find me or Donald rabble-rousing,” said Wallace, the Foundation chairman.

“If we’re unhappy, we won’t be looking to play that out in public. It’s right that we feel able to raise a challenge and be very direct with the football club. That should be done in the right way, at the right time and in the right place – behind closed doors.

“However, it’s clear something needs to change and we don’t quite know what the answer is yet. How do you give your average member a platform to make their views heard? We are already debating that.

“We want to listen, test views of the membership and be open to ideas, but we need to be careful that we don’t enter some kind of town-hall environment: ‘You need to tell us the answer and we’ll carry that off to the club verbatim.’

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“We won’t say that people’s views aren’t interesting to us or that they don’t matter, because clearly they do. Thousands of people are now co-owners and they should feel they have an outlet to make their view known. Also, we want them to trust us to play that back to the club appropriately.

“It would be daft for us all to stick our heads in the sand and pretend there hasn’t been a subtle change here. All of a sudden, we are the majority shareholder with 75 per cent of the votes. Every time I raise a hand to vote at an AGM, I’m casting 75 per cent of the votes.

“I think it’s like a volume control which has been adjusted slightly. FoH are owners now, we hope we’re behaving as sensible and responsible owners. I never detected a problem with us being listened to and I’m sure senior people at the club recognise we are owners now.

“You hope you never end up having to ram that volume button up full blast, but the ability is there if you need to do it.”

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Budge and her Hearts executive team continue to run the club’s daily affairs. Wallace sees the Foundation as an organisation to serve its members, who pay monthly subscriptions totalling £1.5million per year. That cash goes directly to the club.

Wallace explained his role in Hearts board meetings and what kind of platform might be granted to supporters. “At board meetings, I’ll always give my view based on the facts I’ve got. I might also say: ‘By the way, you probably know what the temperature amongst the supporter is.’

“Often the club are crystal clear on the view of the supporters. They only need to sit in the stadium to hear it. Nobody knows the eventual answer here but having those views bubble up from the support gives the Foundation a chance to sit in the middle and push and pull.

“We wouldn’t want to make the day-to-day decisions that the club executive make at the moment. That won’t change. Garry Halliday was appointed director of member affairs and he has lots of ideas on how we can relate to the average fan, create opportunities to listen, etc.

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“We spoke about holding something given the AGM ended up being closed-door. There could be an open meeting for questions and you wouldn’t be time-limited like at an AGM.

“That could be done as a trial once restrictions allow us. We want to listen, take things on board, then take it away, filter it and give a good quality challenge back to the club quietly.”

The Foundation increased their own directorship from six to seven at last month’s AGM when Gerry Mallon and Andrew Brown joined. Louise Strutt was also re-elected.

“Gerry is chief executive of Tesco Bank and an ex-chairman of the Irish FA. He comes with the creds and we need to tap into that,” said Wallace.

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“Andrew comes from a technology background and that's something I feel we were in need of. He understands data and how to use it around membership but we will also look at our own technology.

“If we’re honest, the Foundation tech has been a bit clunky at times and the user experience hasn't always been great.

“Louise is a well-kent and popular face. She is passionate about looking at the age of our membership and how we accommodate kids as Foundation members.

“Like a lot of football organisations, you look at the demographic of our membership and far too many of them look like me – blokes who are a wee bit older with grey hair. We want kids to grow up in the Foundation culture. How do you make it part of the DNA of being a Hearts fan?

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“We wouldn’t want to ask kids for money every month and certainly not at the same level as adults. It would need to be a nominal amount, maybe quarterly or annually.

“We open ourselves up to challenge with our new board. Things have changed because we are in a position of ownership. We should be happy taking critique on all these issues I’ve mentioned. This is a massive opportunity to look at our future.”

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