Ann Budge’s tenacious fight on behalf of Hearts fans will be rewarded tomorrow when around 28,000 support the Edinburgh club against Celtic at BT Murrayfield.
Manager Craig Levein today praised owner Budge for her determination to persuade the Scottish Professional Football League to move the Betfred Cup semi-final from a 7.45pm kick-off at Hampden Park to a 1.30pm start in the Capital.
Her efforts have been justified with the volume of tickets sold for the game and Levein stressed that Budge deserves enormous credit for her strong negotiating skills.
“I’ve never seen so many Hearts supporters watching us play in Edinburgh,” said Levein, who spent most of his playing career at Tynecastle Park and is now in his second spell as manager. “That is a special thing for me, particularly after the way this whole thing developed with the semi-final. To make a stance and to fight for our supporters to get an easily accessible kick-off time and venue has been worthwhile.
“Ann made a stance and was very strong on it in the hope that the supporters would turn up if we managed to get an easier kick-off time and venue. That’s the pleasing thing for me. The fans have come out in their numbers. We’ve sold nearly 28,000 now.
“You maybe haven’t been in a negotiating situation with Ann but she is quite tough. She doesn’t often really dig her heels in and make a point unless she believes it’s the right thing to do. She firmly believed this was the right thing and it is the right thing, no question.”
Levein insisted he has no fears about his players handling the big occasion against the Betfred Cup holders. “Our experienced boys will help us with that,” he said.
“They’ve been in these situations before. Aaron Hughes, Steven MacLean, Steven Naismith have all been there. Although he is injured, Christophe Berra will be round about the place to help keep the players focused as well. We’ve got coaches who have experience of big matches, so it’s a combined effort.”