HEARTS administrator Bryan Jackson expects to announce a preferred bidder for the Tynecastle club within the next four weeks after receiving three rival offers by 5pm yesterday.
United supporters group Foundation of Hearts, who lodged their bid on Thursday, have been joined in the quest to own the club by two other parties who have requested anonymity. One is understood to be the American sports investment company Club 9 Sports in conjunction with Peebles-based businessman Bob Jamieson.
It is believed that the other bid has come from former Livingston owner Angelo Massone, the Italian businessman who had an offer for Hearts rejected before they went into administration. Five Stars Football Limited, a company incorporated in June 2012, lists Massone as its founding director and currently sole director. It was this company which put in an offer for Hearts to Vladimir Romanov in November 2012.
Last night it was reported that Five Stars Football Ltd had made the largest cash offer for the club ahead of yesterday’s deadline, but it is unclear how much working capital they have at their disposal.
Over the past couple of days, Club 9 has privately been playing down its association with Jamieson, a former Hearts sponsor who has been linked with two previous attempts to buy the club. It is understood that Jamieson did initially get the American club interested in making a bid for Hearts, but that, aware of his lack of credibility, they have let it be known that he will have no significant part to play in running the club should their bid be successful.
Club 9 has been in touch with the Foundation of Hearts since its intention to bid was announced. The two organisations have agreed to keep in touch, but there is at present one crucial difference between their intentions that would rule out any formal alliance: Club 9 wants to sell Tynecastle and move Hearts to a new ground, while the Foundation wants to keep the club at its current home.
“I would like to (tell you who they are), but unless they give me permission to do so, I can’t disclose their identities,” said BDO joint-administrator Jackson. “It’s up to them if they wish to do so at some point.”
Jackson also revealed that none of the three bids is initially acceptable to BDO, but says that is normal practice ahead of further negotiations. He has warned Hearts supporters to prepare for a lengthy wait for the club to come out of administration and says it is “unrealistic” to do so before the end of August, which would lift the current transfer embargo for manager Gary Locke.
“Unfortunately, it’s never as easy as people think,” said Jackson. “We need to go through the bids in detail. We will then go back to the respective parties and discuss it with them. We also need to report to the bank as well to get their views on the bids and look at the conditions. Then at some point, we will hopefully go with one bidder.
“We have these two other parties (UBIG and Ukio Bankas) to talk to about it and we don’t know how they will react. People will have to be patient – it doesn’t happen overnight. These processes take a number of weeks, not days, and perhaps even months, but I would like to think we would go to a preferred bidder status within about three to four weeks.
“Unfortunately it is unrealistic (to come out of administration before 31 August). These matters will always go on for a few months, but we have now got funding for three or four months without anything else happening, so we know we’ve got some time.
“They (the bids) are never acceptable. The first bids always have a whole load of conditions on which you would expect. Some of them we would never be able to accept – it’s not possible. So we have to sift through that, go back and see if we can amend it, then try to get these bids into the best final version. Then that gives us a situation where we can go with a preferred bidder.”
Jackson is encouraged by the response of Hearts supporters who yesterday pushed season ticket sales since administration through the 3,000 mark, giving the club a total of 10,000 for the forthcoming campaign. It will allow BDO to run the club and also continue to resist offers for players, such as the bid from Nottingham Forest for midfielder Jason Holt which was rejected yesterday. “We have just got there today with the 3000 barrier,” said Jackson. “We are delighted to have reached that target. That has given us the funding we said we needed on day one.
“The fanbase has come through. We do feel so much more comfortable now we have hit the barrier, which means we can keep the rest of the team intact and reject offers for players.
“Under the right guidance, the club has the potential to be successful both on and off the pitch, and it is encouraging to see that a number of prospective owners have clearly recognised this. In the meantime, we will continue to run the club and support the manager in his preparations for the forthcoming season.
“We all want the club to exit administration as quickly as possible, but it’s important not to get carried away: we’re still much closer to the start of the process of concluding a sale rather than the end.”
Former Hearts assistant manager Peter Houston, meanwhile, has expressed his concern over the possibility of the club finding itself in foreign ownership again following the ultimate catastrophe of the Vladimir Romanov regime.
“Being honest, I think the Hearts fans will feel more comfortable with the Foundation than with another foreign owner,” said Houston.
“Mr Romanov has gone, or almost gone, and I think you tend to trust the people you know have got Hearts at heart in many ways. If it is a fans-based consortium which takes over, I think it will suit Heart of Midlothian Football Club.
“Great credit to Hearts fans for rallying round, buying the season tickets to make sure they have survived this period of time and there is now light.
“The biggest thing for me is for Hearts to get it done and dusted as quickly as possible. From Gary Locke’s perspective, he will want to know what direction he and his players are going and how it is going to work out.
“If it is a fans-based consortium which takes over, the one thing that is sure is that it is going to have the football team at heart.
“If you ask most supporters, I think they would back the Foundation. It is community-based and I think that is the way clubs are going to become in many ways in the future. The biggest thing for Hearts just now is making sure they are still alive and well.
“I know they have a good manager in Gary and he has been very fortunate that guys like Billy Brown and John Robertson have been in helping him out for free. That just shows you the pulling power of Hearts and the affection there is for the club among ex-players and staff.
“The supporters have certainly rallied round and it’s been important they got that initial amount of money they needed to make sure they are still here come the start of the season. I’m delighted to see that.
“I don’t know what the next procedure will be, but from a football perspective it’s important Hearts are still there. I think they would prefer not to go down the newco route, but who knows what can happen? We still don’t know the total ins and outs of what has been going on at the club in the last few years in terms of debt.”
• HEARTS have rejected an improved offer for midfielder Jason Holt.
The administration-hit club confirmed they had turned down a “second bid from a Championship club” following reports Nottingham Forest had renewed attempts to sign the 20-year-old.
Hearts fans have allowed the club to rebuff transfer offers after generating more than £750,000 of income since the club went into administration last month, mainly through season ticket sales.
Hearts managing director David Southern said: “It’s thanks to the fantastic fundraising efforts of the supporters that we are in a position where we do not have to sell our best talent for below market value.
“Gary Locke has a small squad and will face a challenging season, so to rid him of another player would not benefit him or the club.”