Ex-IFA chairman Gerry Mallon in mix for Hearts role
It is a new era for Foundation of Hearts. From playing a pivotal role in saving the club to generating key funds for both the new Main Stand and playing budget, they are now in their first few months of being the largest fan-owned club in the UK.
Since that day in August when the Ann Budge transferred her majority shareholding to Foundation of Hearts, the organisation have gone from strength to strength.
As of last month, more than £12.6million has been pledged.
That is reflected in the candidates standing for election.
Louise Strutt who runs her own independent financial advisory practice in Edinburgh, Andrew Brown, general manager of IBM’s technology business in the UK and Ireland, Brian Muir who worked as head of security at Hampden Park and Andrew Robertson, national director of coaching for bowls for 15 years.
Then there is Gerry Mallon.
The highly qualified 51-year-old is chief executive of Tesco Bank having previously held key leadership roles at Northern Ireland’s largest bank Northern Bank as well as Ulster Bank.
But, most interestingly, is the six years he spent as chairman of the Irish Football Association until 2020.
In that time the country qualified for the European Championships under Michael O’Neill, nearly reached the World Cup, soared up the FIFA rankings and saw the redevelopment of Windsor Park.
“I have always been crazy about football, and I got to know the Irish FA via becoming title sponsor of the NI premier league,” Mallon said.
“In 2014 I joined the board of the IFA and became chairman, serving two terms. We qualified for the Euros, narrowly missed out on World Cup qualification because of an incorrect penalty decision – I’m still bitter – completed a £36m redevelopment of Windsor Park and gave financial stability to a once-precarious organisation.”
But how did he end up with an interest in Hearts?
A Liverpool fan, he was keen to take in football with his son and they were tempted to Tynecastle Park due to the Northern Irish contingent at the club at the time which included Austin MacPhee and Aaron Hughes, who Mallon knew from his time with the Irish FA, plus the likes of Kyle Lafferty, Conor Washington and Michael Smith.
“If you come from Northern Ireland then Scottish football means two teams, and you get told which one you’re allowed to support,” he said. “I rejected that sectarian toxicity and so spent most of my life ignoring Scottish football.
“When we moved to Edinburgh my son and I concluded that we needed a local team to watch and support. Given who I knew through NI Hearts was the one we tried first. We never looked back.”
Mallon’s interest in Foundation of Hearts grew after chats with the organisation’s chairman Stuart Wallace having offered support through a difficult time.
Wallace and the group faced criticism earlier this year when the club suffered an embarrassing defeat to Brora Rangers in the Scottish Cup and pressure was mounting on manager Robbie Neilson with a section of the supporter base wanting Foundation of Hearts to put pressure on the club.
Mallon gave Wallace his support and is now keen to get involved, hands on, with the foundation.
“My experience in running businesses, corporate governance and football gives me the capability to help FOH at this crucial stage,” he said.
“There is an opportunity – and a need – for a reset in strategy and approach as we have now entered a new phase.
“I am keen to play a role in helping shape and deliver that new approach: with strong engagement with Foundation members, clear goals, and transparency and accountability against the objectives we set.”
Mallon’s candidacy has been approved by his employers and members will be able to select their choice via a digital ballot soon.