McKinlay ready to fight Hearts' corner but wants to build SFA & SPFL relationships
New chief executive says he understands fans’ anger
Andrew McKinlay sits laughing in the rain at Tynecastle Park. “We’ve got a storm of biblical proportions,” he says, looking up at the main stand roof above being battered by torrential droplets from the sky.
Hearts are emerging from their own storm following a summer rammying with Scottish football’s governing bodies. Which is partly why McKinlay, a former Scottish FA official, was appointed chief executive two weeks ago.
The Edinburgh club’s owner, Ann Budge, needs a strong voice within the corridors of power at Hampden Park. McKinlay might be smiling in the rain but he is far from wet behind the ears.
He will stand firm on behalf of his new employers when necessary and won’t allow Hearts to be bullied. He spent six years wearing a blazer but isn’t afraid to take aim at one.
Diplomacy will be uppermost in his mind, for he knows the consequences of alienating those who run Scottish football.
“It’s true, if there’s something we don’t like there then we’ll not be quiet about it,” he explains. “However, what I’ll try and do, where appropriate, is speak to people privately as much as possible.
“There’s a time and place for public statements. Sometimes you have to make your point publicly but other times you hope you can deal with things in diplomatic channels, shall we say.”
For anyone just back from six months on the moon, Hearts took the Scottish Professional Football League to court over the summer over controversial relegations for themselves, Partick Thistle and Stranraer.
The litigation did not go down well and ended when an independent arbitration panel found in favour of the league. McKinlay believes time can heal the discord.
“Given my background, of course I’ll be hoping to make sure we have good relationships. I joined the SFA in 2012 and I don’t think I need to remind anyone how difficult a year that was for Scottish football.
“I think everyone thought we’d never see a harder year again. But, arguably, this year’s been harder. We’re keen as a club – and I’m certainly very keen – to move on.
“It has been difficult for us, it’s been difficult for Partick Thistle, for Stranraer. And, yes, we do feel we weren’t fairly treated. Any other club in our situation would feel exactly the same.
“But, we’re not getting anywhere if we keep holding that grudge with the governing bodies. We need to work with them.
“Not only do I want us to work with them, I want Hearts at some point to be part of the conversation at the highest levels within Hampden and the sixth floor.
“I’ve got good relations in there with people both at the SFA and the SPFL. I’m keen to work with those and make sure we do have the appropriate relationship going forward.
“The other day I had a conversation with Neil [Doncaster] on a specific matter. Yes, I’ve had conversations with Rod [Petrie] over the last couple of weeks, I’ve exchanged messages with Ian [Maxwell] and Mike [Mulraney].
“So, yes, it’s all very positive and I’m looking forward to working with them and hopefully they’re looking forward to working with me.
“But at the same time I’ll always do what’s in the best interests of Hearts. I always used to find it amusing when I was at the SFA that in meetings people start talking about doing things for the good of Scottish football.
“Let’s face it, we all have duties – legal duties – to do the best for our own organisation. But it’s how you do those things. And this club, I believe, has certain standards and a certain level of professionalism. We will maintain that and keep doing that moving forward.”
Hearts supporters might not be so keen to see their club engage with footballing authorities. Many are planning to boycott grounds of certain teams who did not back league reconstruction, which would have averted any relegations.
“I totally get their view of it,” says McKinlay. “If I was one of them I suspect I would share their annoyance. I mean, let’s face it, governing bodies are not here to be liked. I’ve been there, I know what it’s like on that side of things.
“But, I would rather we had a good relationship with them than continue fighting with them. I’m not going to tell the fans to suddenly think ‘I love the SFA, I love the SPFL’. I’d never expect them to feel like that. I’d never expect any fans to feel like that.
“But, personally, I think it’s important we move on – and we have to move on. We don’t need distractions, we need to focus and make sure we take the season seriously and we get back to where we feel we should be.
“The fans will have their own views on certain clubs. We saw that in 2012, the views of Rangers fans towards certain clubs. You generally find in life that time starts to heal things, people do move on.
“I think this season will be interesting. Who knows how many away games we’ll have this season where we’re allowed fans, for a start?
“Obviously, from the team’s perspective, we do want to have a support at our games to help the team. But I’m certainly not going to criticise the fans if they take the view there are clubs they don’t want to visit.”
There will also be some potentially awkward conversations with counterparts at other Championship clubs when the season commences in October. Again, McKinlay is prepared to navigate his way through them subtly.
“These are the people within Scottish football, the Championship, which we are also part of. We need to work with them going forward,” he acknowledges.
“So, yes, there could be some interesting conversations as the year goes on, but we’re all big boys and girls. Life moves on and we have to move on with it.”
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