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Early call ends months of frustration for Budge & Co

THE big days are filled with all the wee things.

DONE DEAL: Ian Murray MP speaks to the media after the news that a CVA has been agreed. Picture: Alan Rennie/SNS
DONE DEAL: Ian Murray MP speaks to the media after the news that a CVA has been agreed. Picture: Alan Rennie/SNS

Ian Murray lives a twin existence these days: part saviour of Hearts, part member of parliament. His diary yesterday included a lunchtime speech to his local Rotary Club. The afternoon was occupied by constituency office business. At night he had community council matters to address. And in between? It felt like every waking moment was spent talking to the media about his beloved club, or else thinking about it.

The good news broke early. A Ukio Bankas creditors' committee sat to meet at 8am their time - 6am on the Dalry Road - and when they voted to accept a £2.5m CVA (company voluntary arrangement) the skies cleared and sunlight shone down on Hearts.

A call was made to Bryan Jackson, the administrator for BDO who has been running the club's affairs since last summer, and the good news was relayed. It spread to Ann Budge, who will sign the cheques to deliver the takeover for her BIDCO vehicle before eventually passing it on to the Foundation of Hearts, to Murray, who has been the tireless focal point of that impressive fans collective, and to the supporters and broader public which had been desperate for a successful resolution after months of painstaking negotiations.

It has been a triumph for Jackson, for Murray, for Budge and for thousands of Hearts fans. Collectively they refused to yield to the threat of their club simply running out of money and collapsing into liquidation. They bought shares, they invested, they took season-tickets, they put coins into collecting buckets, they held fundraising events and they rallied and formulated a strategy to haul their club from the abyss.

One by one the hurdles have been cleared. A CVA had to be devised and financed to save the club. UBIG had to approve it. Ukio Bankas had to do the same. A sale-and-purchase arrangement was next on the agenda. That's where Hearts are now. They can see an escape from Lithuanian control and a way back into the safety of protective, familiar, comforting Scottish ownership. Eventually those running the club should be the safest hands of all: their own people, their own fans.

There have been parallel forces at work in the saving of Hearts. Jackson has run the club, rallied the fundraisers, done the deal with the Lithuanians, kept the ship afloat, bought precious time and taken them across the finishing line.

"This is one of the final hurdles in the transfer of ownership of the club," he said yesterday, the relief obvious.

The Foundation has mobilised the support and presented a convincing, persuasive case for fans to cough up their money - for the umpteenth time - and trust them with it. They have delivered a model which has been transparent, uncomplicated and successful. Budge? When her club was crying out for someone who could deliver the upfront readies Jackson needed to reach an agreement with the Lithuanians, she answered the call.

Right now it seems almost incidental that Budge will become the first female owner of a major Scottish club. At 66, she will become a big figure in Scottish football, a refreshing new voice, for as long as she holds the reins before handing them to the Foundation. She'll be the majority shareholder and chairwoman, holding 79% of the stock. She'll form a small board of directors, including representation from the Foundation.

The Foundation will pay £1m for immediate working capital and another £1.4m per year for each of the first two years. In return, a legally-binding contract will be signed, guaranteeing the transfer of control to the Foundation within three to five years. Budge will get all of her money back from the Foundation and return to life as an ordinary fan and season-ticket holder, just like all the rest of them but, of course, not like any of the others at all.

The interest will not end there: how will Hearts fare, how will they prosper, under this form of football socialism, this model of collective ownership? All that is for the months and years ahead. Right now it's a case of agreeing all the small print, all the little elements which come together in a major business transaction.

"The sale and purchase agreement includes all the conditions for both parties," said Murray. "Like 'we will pay you x if you release security y'. The transfer of the shareholding, all the liability undertakings, it all has to be done. But the process of the sale and purchase agreement has been ongoing for a few months, it's not just going to start today. Hopefully it won't be too long until that's done.

"This is probably the second most important day in Hearts' modern history: the most important day will be when the sale and purchase agreement is signed and is winging its way - by plane or otherwise - to Tynecastle."

That plane, when it comes, won't get as high as the Hearts fans felt yesterday.

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