CEO McKinlay is full of optimism following his first year at Tynecastle
Hearts Chief Executive Andrew McKinlay shared his upcoming thoughts for the season and reflected on a positive summer of change at Tynecastle. Jamie McIntosh reports.
When Andrew McKinlay was appointed Hearts Chief Executive in August last year, the atmosphere in Gorgie was very different to what you’d find today.
Hearts had just been demoted to the Scottish Championship following the premature ending of the 2019/20 Scottish Premiership campaign, and it was a difficult time for the club.
After winning the Championship last season, the Jambos sit second in the cinch Premiership, only behind rivals Hibs on goal difference, who they meet at Tynecastle on 12th September.
As well as succeeding on the pitch, Hearts made history off it on Monday, by becoming the largest fan-owned club in the UK. Despite a short delay due to the pandemic, McKinlay explained there was never any doubt the handover of shares would be carried out.
“We always knew we were going to do this,” he said.
“The pandemic delayed it a bit, but it’s historic. The last seven years have been building up to this. It’s a massive day for the club and it shouldn’t be underplayed at all.
“I was hugely aware of the whole fan-ownership set-up. I’d been at the SFA when Hearts went into administration and came out again. I was quite close to the arrangement and how it was going to work.
“When I was interviewed for this role, one of the FoH directors was on the interview panel and asked me what my view was on fan ownership. I said I was relaxed about it.
“If you don’t work with the fans, it’s not going to be very good for you. They are the football club. Me and others will be here for a period of time but the guys in the stands will be here forever. It’s their club.”
Despite arriving at the club during a turbulent spell, McKinlay is pleased with some of the changes the club has made during his tenure as CEO, and believes the club is heading in the right direction.
“I came in just after the demotion and it was difficult. We got back up and started this season well. I’ve had the support of Ann and we will continue to work closely. We brought in Joe Savage as sporting director, made some change on the recruitment side. Hopefully the fans can see where we are trying to go with the club.
“It’s going in the right direction. We are pleased with the players we have brought in, and it was great on Saturday to see the bench looking stronger. If feels like we are building a decent squad which can challenge in the Premiership.”
Joe Savage was appointed sporting director in December following former chief scout John Murray’s retirement after 25 years at the club. McKinlay insisted that the sporting director role was going to be crucial moving forward.
“It’s not for me to comment on the past, but we have made it clear it was always about quality and not quantity. You need enough players to have a squad. If you have too many, then you can’t keep them all happy.
“We identified positions we needed, and in all of them, we’ve managed to get exactly what we were looking for. I don’t think anyone brought in is just here to fill a seat. They will all challenge for a first-team place.
“All of us have driven that change culturally. We knew we needed a sporting director. That was a hugely important appointment. We looked at a few people last summer then decided to put it on hold.
“We waited a few months to let Robbie settle in, then we have conversations with a few people and spoke to Joe. His enthusiasm and work ethic, we just knew this was the right person for us.
“Joe came in at Christmas and since then has been building his own team. We needed to strengthen the data and analysis side, how we identify players. I think that’s starting to bear fruit. It doesn’t mean every signing will be good, but you hope more are good than not good.
“I know it’s been a concern that a lot have come in over the last few years that just haven’t done it. I’m sure when they were signed there was an expectation that they would be good, but we are trying to avoid that.”
Following an opening day victory over Celtic, Hearts racked up away wins against Dundee United and St Mirren, as well as a 1-1 draw against Aberdeen, and McKinlay admitted he’s content with the way Hearts have started their Premiership return.
“I’m hugely pleased by this season’s start. I kept getting asked the question about ‘what’s going to happen when you get off to a bad start?’ No-one asked me ‘what’s going to happen when you get off to a good start?’ I kept saying that I didn’t expect to get off to a bad start.
“The fixtures came out and we had some big games early on. Our friends across the city are telling us they’re top of the league. I look at the four games they’ve played, and I think we’ve had harder games so far. I’m looking forward to playing them here.”
Following the return from the international break the first Edinburgh Derby of the season will take place at Tynecastle and McKinlay said he is fully expecting Hearts to top the table after victory on the 12th.
“It would be magnificent,” he said.
“I’m fully expecting it and I know our fans will be expecting it. After everything we’ve achieved so far this season, if we don’t do it on that day, then it will be doom and gloom. That’s the nature of these games. I’m confident, I’m sure the players will be and I’m sure Hibs feel the same. It’s fantastic for football in Edinburgh that we will get the spotlight for once as opposed to the other side of the country.”