The “wee idea” that saved Hearts

An emotional day for Garry Halliday, one of the founding members of Hearts’ new majority shareholders – the Foundation of Hearts. After the handover Garry reflected on the journey to save Hearts. Jamie McIntosh reports. 

Garry Halliday has been at the very centre of Hearts’ transformation. (Photo Credit – SNS Group)

Hearts became the largest fan-owned club in UK football on Monday, as Ann Budge transferred her shares in the club over to the fan-led Foundation of Hearts.

As Budge and FoH Chair Stuart Wallace put pen to paper inside the Hearts dressing room, lifelong Jambo, Garry Halliday could sit back and reflect upon the unbelievable journey he had been on, in order to save his football club.

Halliday could hardly be blamed for being a little emotional on what was a momentous day for the Edinburgh club.

“Yeah it’s kind of surreal,” he admitted. 

“It’s a wee bit emotional, but I don’t really think its kicked in yet, maybe in a few days’ time when we see some of the stuff going out it might come about.”

Hearts released a powerful video on the morning of what was aptly named ‘Heart and Soul Day’, with narration coming from Hearts skipper, Craig Gordon. 

The film also featured ex-manager Jim Jeffries and his assistant Billy Brown, as well as Ian Black (and a tin of paint).

The joke surrounded Black helping out a friend with a painting and decorating job to keep money ticking over whilst wage payments at Hearts were delayed, much to the amusement of Hibs’ supporters. 

Black had the last laugh though and revealed a T-shirt which read “I’ll paint this place maroon” after another Hearts victory at Easter Road…

“I was out this morning when I saw the film,” Halliday said. “Did you see the Ian Black part?”

“That was fantastic. We phoned him up and got him in at the last minute, he was bang up for it. 

“We were trying to do that bit with Jim and Billy, where they were outside, we were going to get them in a bus shelter, but there was folk at the bus shelter all the time,” he smiled.

“Then they were shouting at the bus shelter across the road, and you could see the folk at the bus stop saying, ‘what are these guys doing’?

“So that set me off this morning. It’s been good to hear from the family and everybody that’s kind of supported me over the years, so it’s been good.”

Hearts found themselves in all sorts of trouble and entered administration back in 2013. They had sold their season tickets, but the money was already gone, and they had not a penny in the bank with which to pay the current squad. 

Garry recalls the early stages that formed the FoH:

“The length of the journey goes back to the ‘Save our Hearts’ guys and Gary Mackay who played a big part in that. 

“We were moving from here to Murrayfield, so we were giving up the spiritual home and that’s when the first idea came up. 

“Gary Mackay heard that I had wee idea, so he got me in touch with Jamie Bryant and Brian Cormack and they had a similar idea. 

“I think Jamie’s idea was having 8,000 fans give £3000, but that was the idea at the time, to buy the club and clear the debt. 

“Alex Mackie came on board and drove it forward. 

Romanov’s ownership sent Hearts into a tailspin that almost ended in liquidation, if not for the fans and FoH. (Photo Credit – SNS Group)

“We tried to get a price from Vladimir [Romanov] a few times. It went from 50 million to 70 million at one point. That’s what he wanted. 

“That was the whole aim. To secure the future of Hearts. When we went into administration and Ann Budge said, if the fans get behind the Foundation of Hearts, she will step up with the money, the fans stepped up behind us and here we are.”

Looking back, Hearts were very close to closing the doors for good, with rival fans lapping up the prospect of Tynecastle being turned into a Tesco or a block of flats. 

Halliday admitted that there was a lot of questions being asked with regards to how the club was being run at the time and recalled the bizarre sacking of manager George Burley. 

“At that point, we were worried at how it was being run. We had George Burley as a manager, we were top of the league and he got sacked, so I’m sure you had Hearts fans wondering ‘what’s going on here? ‘

“As a fan, I was worried. 

“People on the Foundation board at the time, especially Alex Mackie, started to have a real concern that this is only going to end one way. That’s how we set up the Foundation of Hearts. 

Aptly named Heart & Soul Day, the club and FoH celebrated the historic occasion.

“Bryan Jackson [Hearts Administrator] was speaking to me a couple of weeks ago, and he said ‘normally when a football club hits the wall, it’s too late for the fans to rally behind the club, because it’s already just about there. 

“Because we’d set up a couple years previous and we had everything in place, when the crisis happened it meant there was somewhere for the fans to go, somewhere for them to turn.

“They got right behind the Foundation of Hearts vehicle and that was crucial, because that convinced Ann Budge to come on board and gave us hope for the future, because it was a basket case, we were gone, finished. 

“No money in the bank, season tickets sold, and money spent.’

Garry was keen to point out the part Hearts legend Gary Mackay played in the early stages of the setup. 

“He [Mackay] was crucial at the beginning,” he said. 

“I had a friend that died, and I held a charity football match. Gary came along with a couple of Hearts legends and a Hibs legend, Paul Kane. We played Radio Forth All-Stars in a charity football match to raise money for Marie Curie. Gary brought along a set of strips; and Paul Kane wouldn’t wear the Hearts strip,” he laughed.

“We went out and won 5-0 and I kept in touch with Gary and that’s when I pitched the idea to him, and he said he knew a couple guys with the same idea.

“He then got us in touch with Donald Ford (another Hearts legend). That was pretty surreal. He was my brother’s idol, so I don’t even remember the first meeting with Donald, because I just couldn’t wait to tell my brother about it.

“Then it got to a stage, where Gary went right that’s fine just get on with it now. He comes back and helps out now and again, but his role really needs to be mentioned in the beginning.”

With the five founding members complete, an open meeting was held with anyone and everyone invited to attend. Garry recalled how Ann Budge was immediately interested with what was being said.

“We had an open meeting up at Alex Mackie’s office and we invited the ordinary fan, right up to various different businesspeople around the community. 

Monday marked a special day in Hearts’ storied history. (Photo Credit – STV)

“Ann was there, and she must have liked what she heard because she hung around, but she also brought people to the table. 

“People like Robert Wilson, who’s sadly no longer here. She brought Alistair Bruce to the table, who’s still on the board, through the marketing. 

“Robert said at the time, if you want to have fan ownership then you need to make sure it’s going to work. 

“He set about pulling together a proposition document and it was real ‘you need to have that done by the next meeting and it was proper red pen stuff.’ ‘See me’ if you hadn’t done the stuff.

“Then after a few months we had a document that proved fan ownership would work at a club of this size. 

“That gave us the confidence to keep pushing forward.”

Following everything that has been achieved since Garry’s ‘wee idea’, he has decided to step down and go back to being ‘just a fan’ after over a decade of being involved with the club. 

“I’ve done 11 years. You’re only supposed to do 9, but because of the BidCo agreement was a couple of years in. 

“So, I’ve been 11 years and at this next AGM I’m going to step down and I’ll go back to being just a fan.

“I’m not running away; I’m heavily involved in a fan reward scheme; we do a lot of good stuff here. We get the fans in and give them awards when they’ve reached a certain amount of pledge. If the board want, I’ll continue to do that, but I’ll just be a listening ear now.”

Garry can step down with his head held high, as one of the five founding members of the Foundation of Hearts, now the majority shareholders of Heart of Midlothian Football Club.

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