FOUNDATION OF HEARTS have been named preferred bidder for control of Hearts and are now in pole position to negotiate a takeover on behalf of supporters.
The Edinburgh club’s administrators, BDO, have effectively dismissed a rival offer from Angelo Massone’s Five Stars Football Limited to award the Foundation preferred bidder status. The fans’ group must now agree a Creditors’ Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) with Ukio Bankas administrators to take Hearts out of administration.
Tynecastle staff were told the news this morning at a 9am meeting as BDO continue to negotiate a delicate situation with the aim of selling the club as a going concern.
Around 6000 supporters have pledged money to the Foundation, who plan to run Hearts through a monthly membership scheme for fans. Involved with the umbrella group are six key supporter organisations – Federation of Hearts Supporters’ Clubs, Foundation of Hearts, Heart of Midlothian Shareholders’ Association, Heart of Midlothian Supporters’ Trust, Hearts Youth Development Committee, and Save our Hearts.
Valnetas UAB, the administrators for bankrupt Ukio, gave permission yesterday for BDO to name the Foundation as preferred bidder and will now work with them in an effort to save Hearts from liquidation. Ukio are owed £15million by the club and own Tynecastle Stadium as security over the debt but, having threatened to liquidate Hearts, they are willing to negotiate a CVA at an acceptable price.
Bob Jamieson’s HMFC Limited were discounted from the bidding process last month and, with Massone now cast aside, Hearts’ future lies in the hands of the Foundation. “This is an important day in the pathway towards putting Heart of Midlothian back on its feet,” said Foundation of Hearts chairman Ian Murray.
“We are proud that the bid backed by the Foundation of Hearts has been named preferred bidder. Let us be clear, though, the journey is only beginning. Our bid has not yet been accepted, albeit we are hopeful an agreement can be reached.
“In order to make this happen we need as many supporters as possible to sign up to make a monthly contribution via direct debit. Our plan is to draw down our first direct debits on September 2 and every single pound matters. Now, for the first time, the fate of Heart of Midlothian really is in the hands of us, the supporters of this remarkable football club.”
The Hearts manager Gary Locke stressed that whoever ultimately gains control of the club must make stability their number-one priority after years of turbulence during Vladimir Romanov’s stewardship.
“All we want as a staff and a group of players is for the club to move forward in the right direction,” he said. “I’m hoping that’s going to happen in future. If that’s the case then we’ll all be delighted. All we want is a Heart of Midlothian Football Club that everyone respects.
“I love coming in to work here and I certainly want the players to love coming in to work for Hearts. If we can do that and have the right people in place then we’ll all be happy. All the club has wanted for the last two or three years is a wee bit of stability. I’m sure we’ll get that whoever takes over.”
The Foundation have £3.75m available through pledges to fund Hearts over the next three years. Their cash offer for a CVA will need to increase, with Valnetas having privately stated £5m as an acceptable amount. Agreeing to the Foundation being preferred bidder indicates they may settle for less, with the Foundation’s most recent up-front offer totalling under £3m.
If a CVA can be agreed with Valnetas, they will hand over Ukio’s 29.9 per cent shareholding in Hearts to the Foundation. Another Lithuanian company, Ukio Bankas Investment Group (UBIG) own 50 per cent of the shares. The Foundation would then need to negotiate a token payment to UBIG for those to be released but that could be delayed until administrators are appointed for the insolvent investment group.