Hearts to spend more money on players as Ann Budge talks 10 years of rebuilding at Tynecastle

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A decade as chairwoman has seen the Edinburgh businesswoman create a lasting legacy

Imagine the phonecall from your granny: "I've decided to buy this football club in administration. I've got a couple of million to spare so I'm planning to sign some players, hire and fire a few managers, build a stand and maybe even a hotel. It'll keep me busy."

Whilst others of similar age would be content with Eastenders and a packet of Hobnobs, Ann Budge is no ordinary grandmother. Cynics scoffed when she stepped in to save Hearts from liquidation. Ten years later, her name is etched in Tynecastle folklore as the woman whose vision changed history.

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Yes, she made mistakes along the way. Her tenure hasn't been perfect, notably surrounding a couple of those managerial appointments. Yet there is no argument that the financial footing upon which Hearts currently stand has never been more stable.

On the field, the team are flying on a run of 13 wins and only two defeats in their last 17 games. They are in the Scottish Cup semi-finals and destined for European football again - potentially group stages for the second time in three years. The £5m reward accompanying that achievement would be yet another bonus of the Gorgie prosperity.

It is the result of Budge's relentless work ethic and tenacious drive to rebuild and restore Hearts from the ravaged shell left by Vladimir Romanov in 2013. The commitment of thousands of supporters was harnessed by Foundation of Hearts during a year-long administration process. Their monthly cash provides vital extra revenue which continues to this day. Their dedication is critical to the present-day picture when you stand on the Foundation Plaza and admire the modern Tynecastle Park.

The combination of fans and local philanthropists have underpinned a rejuvenation which has taken the Edinburgh club to a new level of stability. Budge is the common denominator. She is now in her 70s and is not quite ready for knitting cardigans just yet. Her latest project was the Tynecastle Park Hotel and she gives the impression there is plenty energy left for further endeavours.

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Budge no longer runs Hearts on a day-to-day basis. That responsibility belongs to chief executive, Andrew McKinlay. She remains chairwoman and likes to stay heavily involved. "It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years," she said. "My role has obviously changed a bit over the past few years but I’m still enjoying it. As long as I’m still enjoying it and I still feel like I can add some value, in whatever area that might be, then I’m happy to stay. Now, of course, it’s up to the Foundation of Hearts.

"It was very difficult [to step back when FoH gained full ownership of Hearts in 2021]. It was the right thing to do in the long term and moving forward. I like to do things my way and I’ve been doing that for quite a long time, so I didn’t find it too easy. Having said that, Andrew and I have different styles and I concentrate on the things where I think I can still add value. I think it works.

"I kind of like to be all-in, to be honest. But, equally, I recently had two weeks’ holiday, so that was nice. I wouldn’t have had that, certainly not with Rangers, Hibs and Celtic on the fixture list. But no, it’s working fine. The hotel kept me busy. That was my project."

Budge made her millions in IT and is as astute in business as anyone you will find in Scottish football. She has learned the sporting landscape and combined her own operational skills to create a lasting legacy at Hearts. Even the oldest Jambos will find it difficult to recall the foundations of their club being more robust.

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"I don’t think so, although I’ll qualify that very slightly by saying that two years ago we took a view as a board that we were going to invest quite heavily in players and whatever to make this European situation a regular thing," explained Budge. "That was a priority, so we did that, and we have continued to do that.

"That’s a drain on resources but we never spend money that we don’t have. So we have continued to invest heavily in the team, we’ve also been investing in the hotel, we’ve also been investing in the restaurant, etc. All of which is a big investment.

"What I’m looking forward to in a way is next year when there is no big infrastructure project on the horizon. All of the money that comes in will continue to be spent because we’re not a bank and we’re not looking to build up a war chest or whatever. We will be spending on the players to make us stronger, I hope."