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The sweetness of a sugar 'mummy' is still irresistible, despite all that has come before

IT is nearly a decade since Ann Budge made her personal fortune by striking a deal worth about £40m, and the lady now being called "the Queen of Hearts" does not seem to have lost her knack for driving a hard bargain.

Lean on me ... when they're not strong, Ann Budge will help Hearts carry on ... Picture: Graham Hamilton/Newsquest
Lean on me ... when they're not strong, Ann Budge will help Hearts carry on ... Picture: Graham Hamilton/Newsquest

There has been an understandable rush to acclaim Budge's involvement in the proposed takeover of Hearts because of what it means for the club. It is thanks to her that there is a real prospect of control finally being wrestled out of Lithuanian hands and into those which can be trusted, in Edinburgh. But she has not sleepwalked to the brink of this takeover, nor has she involved herself out of any dreamy idealism. Budge reportedly thought long and hard before getting fully involved.

If she was to suddenly appear on the Gorgie Road before any imminent Hearts match, a crowd would quickly gather to carry her shoulder high into Tynecastle.

Yet there will have been a pang of disappointment among some when they read the small print of last week's news of her emergence and saw that her £2.5m contribution eventually will have to be repaid in full, plus the appropriate level of bank interest.

Budge is effectively buying the club for a while, appointing the people she wants on to a new board of directors, having the pleasure of running it for at least three years (it will be a pleasure, surely?) while knowing she has a legally-binding exit strategy which means she is not out of pocket when it is all over. There is a risk that the Foundation of Hearts won't have enough resources to repay her £2.5m, but the group is so well organised that it seems unlikely.

The reaction to her intervention is interesting because it shows that Scottish football is not finished with wealthy benefactors quite yet. For all the hours being put in by the impressive Foundation of Hearts, by Supporters Direct, or by the likes of the Rangers Supporters Trust at Ibrox, the magnetism of a fan with serious money remains powerful.

No two clubs in Scotland have suffered more from the whims and character flaws of reckless individual owners than Hearts and Rangers. Yet there was an understandable eagerness to embrace Budge, just as there are countless Rangers supporters who yearn for the day when Dave King's multi-million cheques are making it seem like the good old days at Ibrox.

The Foundation of Hearts has constructed a superb structure for eventual fan-ownership. Its mobilisation of the support has been excellent. But it also acknowledged the vital contribution Budge's money will make in securing the transfer of UBIG and Ukio Bankas's 79% shareholding, easing the club from administration and securing some precious stability and breathing space over the coming summer. When the Vladimir Romanov and Sir David Murray/Craig Whyte reigns collapsed in varying degrees of shame and disgrace, the same protest was heard at both ends of the M8: "This must never be allowed to happen again". Or, to put it another way, clubs like Hearts and Rangers should never again leave themselves open to the caprice of a wealthy individual who can effectively assume complete autonomy.

By that logic there could be no place for a benevolent figurehead like Budge. The essence of fan ownership is a shared, collective control of a club's shareholding and its management and decision-making. Budge is a season-ticket holder in Tynecastle's Wheatfield Stand, she is as committed and genuine a Jambo as the rest of the near-8000 who have stumped up their money every month to save the club. She can be trusted.

But she is still a canny businesswoman and her offer of huge investment came with conditions. One was that she would be repaid in full and another was that, while she had the keys, she would call all the shots. Her terms were acceptable because, if the sugar daddy or sugar mummy ticks the right boxes, they are as useful and irresistible as ever.

And Another Thing . . .

Neil Lennon instructed his Celtic players to head for the corner and acknowledge the Green Brigade after their startling reappearance at Parkhead yesterday and he was full of praise for the noise and energy they brought. There's no dispute over that, but leaving aside their controversy and baggage it's still an odd sort of support they bring. They dominated the crowd yesterday and yet they were a distraction, their own self-contained sideshow.

Their repertoire of songs and chants is delivered with little regard to what is happening on the pitch. Often when the team scores a goal, or concedes one, barely a beat is missed. The songs and constant thump of the drums become unrelenting background noise with no connection to the opposition or to whether their own team needs a lift. The rest of the fans around the ground are far, far more engaged with the actual football.

Maybe some were pleased to see the Green Brigade back but, in 90 minutes of chanting, only twice were their songs taken up by the rest of the ground. There is a difference between atmosphere and noise.

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