A CONSORTIUM believed to be frontrunners to take over Hearts has slipped down the pecking order after irking the club’s Lithuanian owners, it has been claimed.
The move came as Lithuanian administrators said today Vladimir Romanov’s troubled Ukio Bankas would be sold within the week.
The fan-led Foundation of Hearts (FOH) is understood to have last held formal talks with Tynecastle chiefs in October, with a club source now saying the group had “marginalised themselves”.
It is thought an “opportunistic” £450,000 takeover offer made during Hearts tax battle with HMRC over unpaid VAT and PAYE may have tarnished the consortium’s perceived credibility.
An insider said today: “It doesn’t look like the foundation is the future for Hearts” while a source close to take-over talks said the foundation – led by city businessman Alex Mackie – were “not serious contenders anymore”.
But sources at Foundation of Hearts – which is backed by two of the club’s largest fans groups – say it is still in the running and confirmed rumoured talks with Norwegian investors will be held later this week.
It comes on the day Hearts released a statement pledging to work with Supporters Direct Scotland (SDS), a government-funded body lobbying to transfer control of football clubs to their fanbase, to thrash out a blueprint for fan ownership.
An FOH spokesman welcomed the development, hailing it a “positive move”.
He added: “Others might think we aren’t serious but we certainly are.
“We back fan ownership and we have never moved from the position. I think we are in good shape and are probably more positive today than we have been.”
Meanwhile, crunch talks between SDS and Hearts director Sergejus Fedotovas took place to explore whether a credible fans’ takeover would still be considered in the wake of reported interest. Mr Fedotovas said in a statement: “We have a responsibility to protect the business and ensure that we give Hearts the best prospects for the future, even once the club has been sold.
“Our aim is to secure a solid and stable future for the club and we do believe that the supporters should play an integral part in this process. Paul Goodwin, head of SDS, said: “The meeting with Sergejus Fedotovas was productive and we agreed that the community ownership model was still an option that would be considered alongside any other offers that the club might attract.
“With that in mind we agreed to embark on a series of planning meetings over the coming weeks.”
Continued uncertainty over the club’s future comes after Lithuanian central bankers said today Ukio, in which Romanov has a 64.9 per cent stake, is to be sold to rival Siauliu Bankas AB. The news came after LithuaBank of Lithuania executives insisted the sale would be the least costly and speediest way of resolving problems.