At the start of August 2019, I put out what I referred to as Part 1 of my Chairman’s Statement. This was kept deliberately high level, focusing as it did, on our objectives and achievements over the past 5 years and our key strategic objectives for the next 3 years.
I promised to follow this up with a more detailed paper, focusing on our plans for the current season/financial year. Given what is currently going on across social media and the “demands for action”, from supporters and media alike, I will forego the Business Plan update for now, and address only the matters surrounding our disappointing start to the season.
I would effectively like to make a 2 part statement. The first, I address to all genuine Hearts Supporters; in the second I will address recent media coverage.
To the Supporters I say this:-
Like every other Hearts supporter at the moment, I am hugely frustrated with the results… or indeed lack of them… from the first 5 Premiership fixtures. There is no way any of us set out at the start of the season believing we would be languishing in the bottom half of the table at this point… let alone in bottom position. Clearly, what we wanted to do, was to have the same kind of start as we had last season… without the catalogue of injuries that then befell us. However, as we all know, that has not happened. So what do we do about it?
What we do not do is over-react, throw all of our plans out of the window and start again! I am frequently asked in what way running a football club is different from running a “normal” business. While there are many differences, I firmly believe that one thing is the same, no matter what business you are running. In simple terms, it is essential for the Board to have a plan and to continuously measure performance against that plan, year on year, learning from past mistakes and adjusting our plans accordingly. That is precisely what I, and the Board, have been doing.
· In season 17/18, when we finished 6th what did we do? We discussed the situation at length and we responded by investing heavily during the transfer window, to re-shape the team. In season 18/19, we, like every other Hearts supporter were delighted that our actions seemed to be paying dividends when we were riding high in the early part of the season. Then disaster struck and we suffered an unprecedented level of injuries. This meant that for the second year in succession, it looked, as though, achieving our football target of finishing in the Top 4 was at risk.
· What did we do? We went back to the planning board. In January, 2019, well before the end of the season, we took action and modified our plan to focus our investment entirely on strengthening our football operation. We put a halt to all new infra-structure developments, ring-fencing our resources to secure those players we believed were key to our future success, while recognising that we would, once again, aim to further strengthen and expand our first team squad in the summer. This we did.
· We all know that while some of these new signings have been settling in and while we are still carrying injuries to a number of our key players, our performances in the early part of the season have been hugely disappointing. However, the Board firmly believes it is too early to be panicking and tearing up our plans.
Our decisions have been taken against the following backdrop:-
· We have a very strong squad… arguably the strongest we have put together over the last 6 seasons.
· We have the mix of youth, experience and quality that we have been striving for and building towards since we returned to the Premiership in 2015.
· We have still not seen our first choice starting XI playing this season, as we are still awaiting the return of a number of key players.
Of course, we hear the criticism… you have wasted money, you have got too many things wrong, you have made too many bad decisions, you have given Craig Levein too long, etc, etc.
Have we made mistakes at times? Unquestionably, yes. However, running a football club… like any business… is not an exact science. None of us will get every decision right… and it is so easy to be wise after the event and say “I would never have done that!”
The simple fact is that we plan, make decisions and review on a continuous basis, focusing on how/what we can do better to get to where we want to be.
In short, we have invested heavily over recent years… never more so than this year… to build what we believe will be a winning squad and we remain confident that this investment will pay dividends. We have planned in a specific way for this season, including catering for injuries, etc., as they come along. My message is simple. I would urge you to continue to support the team while we work through this difficult period.
Be assured that we are not ‘burying our heads in the sand’; we are in constant dialogue about performances and what is going wrong on the pitch; and we are waiting (im)patiently for the return from injury of some of our key players… and no-one is more impatient than those players themselves.
With regards to recent media coverage surrounding the club, I would say this:-
Some coverage has been fair and has accurately reflected the facts of the situation, while other coverage has been woeful. Certain reporters and pundits have made numerous ill-informed “statements” regarding how things operate at the Club, how decisions are made and who is involved in the decision-making process. They present these opinions as though they are fact. They are not.
They are aimed at whipping up yet another media frenzy around the set-up at Hearts, which they simply cannot understand. To repeat just a few of these inaccurate claims: the Board is weak; Craig is running the club; I have lost control; decisions cannot be taken about the Manager because he sits on the Board…
I would simply point out that, unlike other Managers, who may get called in front of the Board if/when things are going wrong, Craig has to present to the full Board at every Board meeting, on how things are going against plan, across all areas of the football operation, including highlighting issues and discussing courses of action.
Our Board has 4 non-executive directors, appointed because of their business acumen and experience, whom I, as Chairman, consult with on a very regular basis both individually and as a group. This includes discussing on-field, as well as off-field, matters and personnel. So, the suggestion that Craig’s attendance at formal Board meetings, inhibits open and frank discussion about his or the team’s performance and/or future, is palpable nonsense.
This brings me to recent media speculation. I can confirm that I have spoken to no other manager about the possibility of joining Hearts and names being publicly linked to the club are pure speculation. I have, however, fielded numerous, unsolicited phone calls from Agents… who are rarely shy of trying to further their cause by leaking “made up” stories to the media!
In short, our Board remains behind the Manager, his coaching staff and his team… not because he is “untouchable”, not because he is “all-powerful”, and not because we are “weak”, as has been suggested. We remain behind him because we believe in the plan we have jointly put together.
We will continue to scrutinise our on-field performances and should we feel our plans are going astray and our approach needs to be adjusted, we will respond accordingly.